What is a DUI and DWI in California? | CourtRecords.org
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What is a DUI in California?

In California, charges for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is one of the most severe traffic violations and is considered misdemeanors. While a DWI charge relies on checking the driver's blood-alcohol level, a DUI charge can be made if the officer on the scene has probable cause to believe the driver is impaired, even if the driver's blood-alcohol level is lower than the legal limit.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) maintains records of traffic violations, including DUI's. The California Superior Court hears DUI and DWI cases, and the Clerk of Circuit court in the county where the DUI or DWI was heard maintains these records.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in California

A DUI and a DWI fall under the category of a DUI, but there are disparities between them and reasons for said disparities. A driver can catch a DWI charge for having a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher, according to California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a). A DUI charge can be given if the blood-alcohol level of the driver falls below .08, but the officer still believes the party is intoxicated and could be a danger to other drivers, as per California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b-g).

What happens when you get a DUI for the First Time in California?

A DUI case starts with being pulled over by a police officer. If the law enforcement officer suspects that the driver is intoxicated, the driver will be subject to a breathalyzer or sobriety tests. If the driver fails these tests, an arrest will typically be made. Following an arrest, the party will have their license taken away and be subject to other tests that may bring on additional charges. After booking at the police station, parties may be released on bail.

After an arrest and booking, the case will be brought to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for license suspension no more than 30 days after the arrest. The driver will then have a DMV hearing, providing the opportunity for contesting the charge and cross-examination of the police officer.

Following the DMV hearing is an arraignment. Arraignment is when the party being charged goes to court, where an offer or deal may be extended. Parties are typically advised to hire a lawyer to represent one's case. Pleading guilty moves the trial to sentencing.

Pleading not-guilty will move the case to the pre-trial phase to fight the charges or ask for another plea deal. Typically, a pre-trial is as far as a first-time DUI case will go, but occasionally the case moves to trial. A trial will include a jury, opening statements, the presentation of the claim against the party, a defense, closing statements, and a verdict by the jury.

Being found guilty in either the pre-trial or trial phase can result in:

  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
  • Suspension of license for six to 12 months with an ignition interlock device (IID)
  • Three to five years of probation

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in California?

After a first-time DUI in California, jail time is not likely. Jail time may be served if the offender had a blood-alcohol content of .16% or more, if there was a minor in the vehicle at the time of arrest, if the arrest involved the injury of another person, or if the driver was not licensed or was using fake identification.

What are the Typical Penalties for a DUI Conviction in California?

When someone is charged with a DUI, penalties can vary, but typically include a range of the following:

  • Increased insurance payments
  • Three to five years of probation
  • Traffic or DUI school for up to nine months
  • Fines of up $2,000
  • License suspension or installment of an IID
  • Jail time of up to six months
  • Jail time with work release (depending on county)

If the offender gets another DUI within this time frame, penalties will be harsher.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in California?

Typically, a DUI in California remains on a party's record for ten years. Under California penal Code 1203.4, parties can petition to have this charge removed or expunged if the driver completed probation and did not serve time in prison.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Find DUI Checkpoints in California?

In California, DUI checkpoints, or "sobriety checkpoints," are legal. Parties can find out where the inspections are by an online search of law enforcement agency websites and news outlets as it is required to notify the public of sobriety checkpoints.

Which is Worse; a DUI or DWI?

A DWI is typically a more serious charge in California because it comes with proof of intoxication with no uncertain terms and brings more severe consequences as per California Vehicle Code.

What is an Aggravated DWI in California?

In some cases, being charged with an aggravated DUI could result in a misdemeanor. An aggravated DUI could be charged as a felony if the driver:

  • Was driving with minors in the vehicle
  • Refused to take a breath or blood test
  • Was driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.20% or over
  • Received three or more DUI convictions in 10 years
  • Got into a vehicular accident resulting in injury or death
  • Was caught driving 30 mph over the speed limit while under the influence

What Happens When You Get a DWI in California?

If a driver is charged with a DWI after being pulled over, the party is typically arrested and booked. The process is similar to being charged with a DUI, although a DWI may have more severe consequences.

Depending on the severity of the case, the driver could be released on bail or held until arraignment. In an arraignment, a plea deal may be offered if the driver chooses to plead guilty. If not, the arraignment will set a date for a pre-trial. First time DUI cases may end at pre-trial, but a case that may be considered a DWI that the party chooses to fight will most likely move to trial.

According to California Vehicle Code Section 40000.1-41610, being found guilty of a DWI misdemeanor in either the pre-trial or trial phase can result in:

  • Fines of up to $2,000
  • Suspension of license for six to 12 months with an ignition interlock device (IID)
  • Three to five years of probation

If the DWI ends up being charged as a felony, the penalties will reflect that. A charge that causes injury or death could result in:

  • Fines of up to $5,000
  • Suspension of driver's license for five years and 30 months of DUI school
  • 16 months to a maximum of 16 years in state prison

A charge that comes after multiple DUI convictions could result in:

  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Suspension of driver's license for four years and 30 months of DUI school
  • A maximum of three years in state prison
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