Your Orange County DUI Case: The Basics

What a night. You met up with friends at Fashion Island for a little retail therapy. Afterwards, you had a few glasses of merlot at a restaurant. You probably should have eaten something, but you were feeling no pain heading back to the car. Next thing you know you are being pulled over at a Sobriety Checkpoint right at Jamboree Road and Santa Barbara. Now you have been arrested for Driving Under the Influence. What happens now? What do you do? Here is some basic information to help you with your DUI case in Orange County.

Who Is Involved?

If you've been arrested for a DUI in Orange County, it is likely that you are initially dealing with the California Highway Patrol or one of the local law enforcement agencies like the Newport Beach Police Department, the Santa Ana Police Department or the Irvine Police Department. Your criminal case will be heard at one of the branches of the Orange County Superior Court depending on where you were arrested. If you cannot afford a defense attorney, your case might be handled by the Orange County Public Defender's Office. The administrative aspects of your case will be addressed through the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Legal Limits

According to California law, it is "unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug" or who has a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more "to drive a vehicle." If you are under 21 or a commercial driver, you are subject to even more stringent standards. A DUI in Orange County can lead to criminal and administrative penalties, which vary depending on the specific circumstances of your case, but can include jail time, fines, probation, community service, and license suspension.

The Stop

Often, police officers will pull you over if they notice you are driving erratically. However, they can also set up Sobriety Checkpoints where they will randomly question motorists. Generally, the officer will ask you whether you have had anything to drink and will observe you for signs of intoxication. If his suspicions are aroused, he will then ask you to submit to a Field Sobriety Test where he asks you to walk a straight line, stand on one leg and follow an object with your eyes.

In Orange County and the rest of California, the officer may decide to use a preliminary breath test at the side of the road to assist him in determining whether you are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. You have the right to refuse this preliminary screening test and the officer should advise you of that right. Regardless of whether you take the test of not, the officer can still arrest you if he has probable cause to do so.

At the Station or After Arrest

Once you are at the police station or are under arrest, the officer will likely ask you to take a chemical blood or breath test. By driving in California you are deemed to have already consented to take this test when lawfully arrested for a DUI. The officer should tell you that you may choose testing by either blood or breath, and that the refusal to take or complete the test will lead to suspension or revocation of your driver's license.

Under California law, you do not have the right to have an attorney at this point before stating whether you will submit to the test, deciding which test to take, or during administration of the test. The officer should advise you of this and of the fact that refusal to submit to this test may be used against you in court.

If you refuse or fail the chemical test the officer will likely take your driver's license and issue you a temporary permit, usually good for 30 days. You have 10 days to request a hearing with the DMV on the suspension or revocation of your license.

What's the Difference Between the Administrative Hearing and the Criminal Case?

The administrative hearing at the DMV is a separate proceeding from the criminal case. This portion of a DUI case concerns your "driving privilege and the circumstances surrounding the arrest, not whether you are innocent or guilty of a criminal act," and only limited issues will be addressed.

The Criminal Case

The first court appearance in your criminal case will likely be the arraignment when the charges are read against you and you enter your "plea" (guilty, not guilty, no contest). You may proceed to a pre-trial hearing or a preliminary hearing. If you do not resolve the case by plea bargain or have the case dismissed, you will proceed to trial.

Getting an Attorney

Being convicted of driving under the influence, even on a first offense involving no injuries, can lead to serious penalties. Beyond that, it can lead to increases in insurance rates and a criminal record. For this reason, it may be a good idea to talk to an attorney about helping you with your DUI case. Check out FindLaw's section on Using a DUI Lawyer for more information.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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