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DUI/DWI Defense

DUI Overview

Being charged with a DUI is stressful because it opens the possibility of expensive fines, suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, a damaged reputation, and even jail or prison time. However, there is hope because these penalties can be avoided through a strong legal defense. 

Both the US Constitution and California Law grant you fundamental rights that law enforcement officers must respect at all times. The reality is that police often violate Constitutional rights while conducting their investigations. If your rights were violated this may be grounds to dismiss the charges against you. Furthermore, police breathalyzers and blood tests are prone to error and a skilled attorney may be able to get your test results removed from evidence. 

Shaffer Cormell is a top-rated criminal defense attorney who will vigorously advocate getting your DUI charge dismissed before it causes further harm to your livelihood and reputation. 

 Why You Should Fight Your Case

Pleading guilty is almost never a good idea when you have been charged with a DUI. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty and this is a high standard to meet. There are hundreds of interfering substances, medical conditions, and possibilities for equipment malfunctions that can cause police breathalyzers and blood tests to give inaccurate results. Furthermore, police officers often violate a driver’s Constitutional rights over the course of their DUI investigation. Shaffer Cormell will take advantage of every mistake made during your investigation to get your case dismissed. Shaffer has over 28 years of criminal defense experience and knows how to present your side of the story to persuade the court to drop the charges against you. 

A DUI charge creates the possibility of significant legal consequences. If you are found guilty, you will have a criminal record. A DUI is either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances. Most DUIs are misdemeanors and typically require payment of a significant fine but jail time may be required as well. The most common way a DUI can become a felony is if you injure someone else in an accident caused by the DUI. A felony DUI is significantly more serious than a misdemeanor DUI because it increases the fine you will have to pay and opens the possibility of a prison sentence. If your DUI caused “great bodily injury” to another it can become a “strike” under the California “three-strikes” law with severe long-term consequences. It is in your best interest to defend against your DUI charge so that you can avoid these penalties. 

The DUI Investigation 

DUI arrests typically begin with a traffic stop. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by government officials. This means a police officer must have reasonable suspicion you have committed a traffic violation or crime before initiating the traffic stop. If the officer did not have reasonable suspicion any evidence gathered after the stop, including sobriety tests, breathalyzer results, or blood test results, cannot be used against you in court. Shaffer Cormell will zealously work to suppress any evidence gained in violation of your Constitutional rights. 

However, if the traffic stop was Constitutional the officer will then begin an investigation. A DUI investigation often begins with the question “have you been drinking?” Regardless of how you answer, the officer will usually ask you to participate in a series of field sobriety tests. Common sobriety tests include instructing a driver to follow the tip of a pen or finger with their eyes without moving their head, standing on one leg for 30 seconds, or walking toe-to-heel in a straight line. You may refuse to participate in these tests but your refusal will be grounds to arrest you so it is worth cooperating because there is a small chance the officer may decide to let you go. It is important to note that these tests are designed to make you fail. The officer is the judge of your performance and their goal is to make an arrest, not let you go. Even if you perform the sobriety tests near perfectly, an officer can still find grounds to call your sobriety into question. For example, even sober people “sway slightly” when standing on one leg but an officer will use this as evidence you are intoxicated.

The final field sobriety test is blowing twice into Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) device colloquially known as a breathalyzer. If you have been drinking, you can and should refuse to take this test (you should not refuse the second breathalyzer test at the police station for the reasons explained below). Refusing to take this first breathalyzer test will be grounds to arrest you but if you have been drinking you will fail the test and get arrested anyway. Do not try to “trick” the breathalyzer by chewing gum, sucking on a penny, or attempting any of the various other urban legends that circulate because they do not work. If you have been drinking alcohol, the PAS device will detect it. Period. However, if you refuse to take the test it is one less piece of evidence the state has against you.

If you blow above .08 or refuse to take the test the officer will arrest you. A formal arrest marks a new phase in the DUI investigation. After being arrested you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. These rights are commonly known as Miranda rights. The officer is Constitutionally required to inform you of these rights upon your arrest so if they fail to do so make a mental note to tell your attorney you were not given your Miranda rights. You can and should refuse to answer any questions (other than giving your name) the police ask you after you have been arrested. You can respond to any question the police might ask you by saying “I refuse to answer until I have spoken with my attorney.” Do not attempt to “talk your way out” or explain yourself after you have been arrested because anything you say will be used as evidence against you. Choose to remain silent. After being arrested, the officer will take you to a police station, jail, or hospital for either a blood test or a second breathalyzer. You must participate in this second test or you will be charged with a “refusal” which triggers tougher DUI penalties and an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension. After being arrested, you should cooperate with the police in everything except for answering questions. 

For most misdemeanor DUI arrests, the police will release you within a few hours of arrest and booking. However, a felony DUI may require you to post bail. The police should give you two documents before your release: a citation to appear in court and a pink temporary license. The police will confiscate your real license and mail it to the DMV if you are a citizen of California. 

The DMV Process

You must contact the DMV within 10 days of your DUI arrest to request a DMV hearing. If you fail to request a hearing within 10 days you forfeit the right to do so and your driver’s license will automatically be suspended after 30 days. Therefore it is imperative that you request a DMV hearing as soon as possible after being arrested for a DUI. Your lawyer can request a hearing on your behalf and handle all the proceedings with the DMV. It is preferable for your attorney to contact the DMV because they may be able to schedule the hearing farther out which buys valuable preparation time. 

Your attorney will conduct the hearing on your behalf. You may or may not be asked to attend. Your attorney will use the hearing to argue why the DMV should not suspend your driver’s license and to gather evidence that may be useful in court. For example, it is possible to subpoena the breathalyzer’s maintenance and calibration logs which often reveal a history of malfunctions and inaccurate readings. Your attorney can also subpoena the arresting officer to testify at the DMV hearing and elicit testimony about poor DUI training and mistakes in the investigation. 

The DMV will consider the information disclosed during the hearing and issue written findings regarding the status of your driver’s license. The decision typically gets mailed within 30 days after the hearing. If the DMV finds it in your favor, they will not suspend your license (although a DUI conviction in court may trigger a suspension later). If the DMV finds against you, your license will be suspended within a few days after receiving notice. 

If your license gets suspended, you can usually get a restricted license within 30 days. A restricted license allows you to drive to and from work-related activities and any court or DMV imposed alcohol programs. You must abide by these restrictions because driving with a suspended license is a crime in California and can lead to jail time, a probation violation, and a longer license suspension. Another option is to apply for an ignition interlock device (IID) license. An IID license will install a breathalyzer in your car that will prevent it from starting if the IID detects alcohol. 

The DUI Court Proceedings  

Most people who are arrested for a DUI get charged with two specific misdemeanor crimes: DUI under Vehicle Code 23152(a) and Excessive BAC under Vehicle Code 23152(b). Your attorney can attend all the court proceedings on your behalf unless you are called to testify or the case goes to trial. DUI cases typically involve multiple court dates and take several months to complete. Your attorney will use this time to collect evidence, file motions, and negotiate with the judge and prosecutor to dismiss the case or reduce the charges. 

One possible outcome is a settlement where you plead guilty to the DUI or a lesser charge in exchange for more favorable sentencing. If you decide to settle, you can plead in person before the judge or your attorney can have you signed notarized documents affirming your plea outside of court (these documents are known as a Thal waiver). 

If your case is not dismissed or no settlement can be reached, it will be set for a jury trial. Oftentimes prosecutors and judges are willing to offer better settlement deals after a case has been set for trial because there are more trials on the docket than courtrooms available to accommodate them. Also, the district attorney may become aware of problems with the prosecution’s evidence after looking at the case more closely. The majority of cases never make it all the way to trial because the case will either be dropped or a settlement will be reached.

If your case does make it to trial, the prosecution will present evidence to the jury to persuade them you are guilty. After the prosecution presents its case, your attorney will have an opportunity to defend you and argue your innocence. After each side has presented their case, the jury will deliberate then issue a final verdict. Generally, the jury’s verdict must be supported by a majority of the jurors. However, the verdict must unanimous if it is a six-person jury. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will determine your sentence. For misdemeanor DUIs, the sentence typically includes a costly fine, mandatory alcohol education courses, and a suspended driver’s license. Jail time is also a possibility. For a felony DUI, the sentence will be an even more expensive fine, mandatory alcohol education, and the possibility of a prison term. In either case, your driver’s license will always be suspended. Judges weigh the totality of the circumstances when determining what sentence to issue. Factors such as whether this was your first DUI, whether you have a pre-existing criminal record, the extent of property damage caused by your DUI, or any personal injury that resulted from your DUI, will all be taken into consideration in determining your sentence. For example, if this was your first DUI and you have a clean criminal record you will almost certainly get a lighter sentence than a repeat offender. 

Although paying fines, attending alcohol education courses, and losing your driver’s license is inconvenient and cumbersome; the most damaging consequences of a DUI conviction are the long-term effects it will have on your life. You will have a criminal record and this will make it more difficult to secure loans and could also interfere with your career. A DUI is also a significant blemish on your driving record and will affect your auto insurance payments. Investing in a top-notch criminal defense attorney is your best option for avoiding these outcomes.