DUI Attorneys Serving Santa Rosa and all of Sonoma County
Our Santa Rosa DUI Lawyers know that people make mistakes. To err is only human. When a mistake lands you in jail, however, it can have consequences that haunt you for life. Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is one of the most dangerous errors we can make—yet it’s also one of the most common.
Sonoma County, the “Wine Capital,” arrested 2,303 people for DUI in 2013 (the latest year that data is available). Whether you didn’t believe you were intoxicated enough to get a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, thought you were safe driving a short distance, or are a repeat DUI offender, you need trustworthy, skilled legal help.
I’ve Been Arrested for DUI. Now What?
If this is your first DUI arrest, it’s important to know what to do during the arrest, booking, and court process. If this was not your first DUI offense, you may find that consequences have changed since your last arrest. During the arrest, mind what you say about your case—or don’t say anything at all. Request to have a lawyer present during questioning if you’re of sound enough mind to do so. Police can use anything you say against you in court. Unfortunately, police will typically have a record of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at your time of arrest, which will serve as hard evidence of your DUI.
In California, a person being tested for alcohol can choose between a blood and a breath test. The chemical test is required by law and the test results in a variety of data. Most importantly it shows the current blood alcohol level of the person being tested.
Legal limits for drinking and driving in California are:
- 0.08% for adults 21 and over
- 0.04% for commercial vehicle drivers
- 0.01% for drivers under the age of 21
You can refuse to take the BAC test, but in California, the penalties for refusal is a one-year license suspension for first offenders and a $125 fine. In most cases, the police will have other evidence that points to the fact that you were driving under the influence, such as reckless driving. Prosecutors may even use your refusal to take a BAC test as proof that you were over the legal limit. Refusing testing in no way guarantees avoiding a DUI penalty.
Breathalyzer Accuracy Information
A breathalyzer is a device for estimating blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample. Breath analyzers do not directly measure blood alcohol content or concentration, which requires the analysis of a blood sample. Instead, they estimate BAC indirectly by measuring the amount of alcohol in one’s breath. When your freedom is at stake, breathalyzer accuracy is crucial.
The breath alcohol content reading is used in criminal prosecutions in two ways. The operator of a vehicle whose reading indicates a BAC over the legal limit for driving will be charged with having committed an illegal per se offense: that is, it is automatically illegal throughout the United States to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. The breath analyzer reading will be offered as evidence of that crime, although the issue is what the BAC was at the time of driving rather than at the time of the test.
Factors of Error
Research indicates that breath tests vary at least 15% from actual blood alcohol concentration. At least 23% of all individuals tested will have a BAC reading higher than their actual BAC. Therefore many people convicted of DUI simply on the basis of a breath test result alone will be innocent drivers who are falsely convicted.
Calibration is the process of checking and adjusting the internal settings of a breathalyzer by comparing and adjusting its test results to a known alcohol standard. Law enforcement breathalyzers are meticulously maintained and re-calibrated frequently to ensure accuracy. However, if the test administrator calibrates the breathalyzer incorrectly or fails to recalibrate it before the next subject, then the results can be quite erroneous.
Non-specific Analysis and False Positives
One major problem with older breathalyzers is non-specificity: the machines not only identify the ethyl alcohol (or ethanol) found in alcoholic beverages, but also other substances similar in molecular structure or reactivity. The sensor inside the breathalyzer deals with gases such as Acetone and Ketones. These gases are normally radiated from our lungs and have some overlap on the alcohol detection curve. These side gases are much higher in people with higher levels of fatty acids. People on high protein diets tend to produce higher levels of acetone in their breath while a higher level of ketones may indicate a possible diabetic condition. Breathalyzers can falsely read as high as .03%.
One of the most common causes of falsely high breathalyzer readings is the existence of mouth alcohol. Alcohol may come from the mouth, throat or stomach for a number of reasons. The most common source of mouth alcohol is from belching or burping. Acid reflux disease and permeation of ethanol from the stomach into the esophagus can also cause mouth alcohol.
Breathalyzer tests are not always accurate. If you’ve been charged with a DUI in California and submitted to a breath test, you may still be able to challenge your result. You may be able to refute a breathalyzer test by showing that you are not the “average” person and that the standard formulas of conversion do not apply. Many breathalyzers assume that the tested individual is an “average” person and do not take into account variations in sex, height, weight, metabolism and whether that person has just eaten.
You may be able to submit new evidence:
- recent exposure to chemical compounds containing alcohol.
- improper handling of breath sample.
- breathalyzer device is defective.
Once police have booked you in jail for your DUI, they’ll let you have one phone call. Use it wisely—contact someone you trust who can help you post bail or contact your attorney.
Release from Custody/Posting Bail
Most people arrested for DUI are eligible for release from custody, either by posting bail or on their own recognizance by submitting a written promise to appear in court at a later date. If your loved one is eligible for release on bail, you have two options: you can post the bail amount yourself, or you can obtain a bail bond from a licensed bail bond agent. While this can be expensive, it is less so than paying your entire bail to the court. A bail bondsman guarantees that you will be at your hearings.
The police will likely confiscate your driver’s license upon arrest. You can’t get your license back until the end of your period of suspension. If the officer issued you an Order of Suspension and Temporary License, you can drive for 30 days from the date of the issuance. You only have 10 days to call the DMV for a DMV hearing after your DUI arrest. Your DMV hearing will determine whether or not you can keep your license. If you or your attorney fails to request a DMV hearing, your license will be suspended automatically for up to one year.
Prepare for Arraignment
The arraignment is the portion of your trial during which you enter your plea. Do not plead guilty. If you face a first time DUI charge, do not assume that you are going to be convicted automatically. It is possible to fight DUI charges and win the case. However, you must ensure that you have experienced, expert DUI counsel on your side to do this. A plea of not guilty will give you a jury trial, during which it is possible to show that you were not driving drunk, or challenge the merits of the case in another manner.
Penalties for DUI in California
DUI charges don’t just apply to driving drunk. Our state’s DUI laws also include medications. If you’ve taken illegal drugs before driving or an excessive amount of a prescription or over-the-counter drug, police can arrest you for DUI. Once convicted of DUI, the charge stays on your driving record for 10 years. The basic penalties one can face for a DUI conviction are listed below. For details on California DUI Laws and Penalties, visit our page dedicated to laws and penalties:
- Admin Per Se suspension. When you refuse to take a chemical test, the officer can take your driver’s license and issue an Order of Suspension. Under Admin Per Se laws, the officer will send a report and your license to the California Department of Motor Vehicles for review.
- Criminal license suspension. This is the loss of your driver’s license for at least 30 days, followed by a restricted license. You can only drive to and from work and to and from an alcohol treatment program on a restricted license.
- Fines. A DUI that doesn’t result in bodily harm or death results in a $390 fine and over $1,000 in penalty assessments. You may face additional DUI assessments as well. The maximum fine for a first DUI conviction is $1,000 plus more than a $2,600 penalty.
- Jail time. A 48-hour jail sentence or 90-day license restriction. The maximum jail time for a first-time DUI offense is six months. Six months is also the maximum time for a license suspension for first-time offenders (unless he or she refused a BAC test).
- Mandatory alcohol treatment program. You must pay for the program out of pocket (about $500) and attend it for three months. The program is nine months long if your BAC level was 0.20% or higher.
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). You must pay for an IID on your vehicle (about $800). You must blow into the device every time you wish to drive. If there’s alcohol on your breath, the IID will keep the car from starting.
If this is your second DUI charge as an adult, you face longer jail time and heftier fines than these penalties. License suspension periods differ as well. For a second offense, you face up to one year in county jail, $390-$1,000 in fines, a two-year license suspension, and 18 to 30 months of DUI school. For a third offense, the penalties are the same (except a three-year license suspension and 30 months of DUI school).
If you’re younger than 21 and facing a DUI charge, you may face two different offenses: possession of alcohol and violation of California’s Zero Tolerance Law. A minor in possession of alcohol charge occurs when police find an open container in the vehicle. To avoid this charge, the alcohol must be unopened and full, and there must be a legal guardian or parent present.
Breaking the minor in possession law results in a 30-day vehicle impoundment, fines of up to $1,000, and a one-year license suspension. The Zero Tolerance Law states that California doesn’t tolerate any amount of alcohol in a driver under the age of 21. Minors charged with drunk driving under this law face extensive fines, one-year license suspensions, criminal charges, and mandatory DUI school.
The courts may charge your DUI as a felony in certain situations. This may be the case if your incident caused someone’s injury or death, if you have three or more prior DUI convictions within a 10-year period, or if you have a prior felony DUI conviction. If you drove in a negligent manner because of your intoxication and injured or killed someone in the process, the courts can charge you with a felony DUI. A felony DUI can lead to up to five years in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and a criminal record.
Fighting a felony DUI conviction takes the expert help of a Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney. Your attorney should specialize in California drunk driving law and know how to utilize the best and most effective defenses. Every DUI case is different and will result in varying penalties. Your best chance of reducing these penalties or even avoiding them altogether is to hire a lawyer to represent you.
In Depth Examination of the Prosecutor’s Role in a DUI Case
DUI prosecutions are motivated by many issues that are not based on constitutional fairness or equity. Prosecutors, like all attorneys, are bound by ethical duties and a high standard of “fair dealing” with all litigants in our adversarial legal process. Prosecutors are paid by the state and government employees. They are lawyers who work for the government and are responsible for developing and presenting the government’s case against a criminal defendant. Prosecutors may be called county attorneys, city attorneys, district attorneys or states’ attorneys. Some jurisdictions may even have experienced police officers act as prosecutors in drunk-driving cases. The prosecutor’s role in a DUI case is critical and should not be overlooked when mounting a defense for a Sonoma County DUI case.
A prosecutor usually becomes involved in a drunk driving case through a referral from the police who have investigated, arrested, searched and processed an alleged offender. In making the decision whether to go forward with a case, the prosecutor usually considers three things: whether the case is legally sound, whether it can be proved and the relevant policy considerations. If the prosecutor exercises his or her prosecutorial discretion by deciding not to go forward with a case, it will usually be over.
The prosecutor assigned to handle a DUI trial will likely have knowledge of the defendant’s records. The prosecution or state has access to historical records. It is another matter whether those records are actually obtained and reviewed, and if so, at what point in the DUI trial process. Case load volumes are high, and prosecutorial resources are strained. It is likely that at some point near the beginning of a DUI trial proceeding, a prosecutor will obtain and review a defendant’s driving record and any criminal record. Without knowledge of the defendant’s past driving and/or criminal records, the prosecutor is not able to effectively negotiate charges and plea bargains.
If a person has been charged with a DUI, it is the job of the prosecutor to vigorously seek a conviction. Alternatively, if a person is charged with DUI but the facts of the case do not warrant a conviction, it is the job of the prosecutor to evaluate the situation and act accordingly. It is the prosecutor that must be convinced whether to go forward with the prosecution of a DUI offense or to offer a reduction in charges. To obtain a reduction, the prosecutor must typically be convinced that one is warranted. This means it is up to the defendant to show that a conviction is not warranted. Most defendants are unaware of what evidence will persuade a prosecuting attorney to reduce a charge. A reduced charge can translate to a reduced sentence, and diminish the penalties for DUI charges you are facing.
Like in many jobs, relationships are built and skilled DUI lawyers can approach an ethical and principled district attorney or state’s attorney with a proposal for reduced charges or dismissal of charges in a pending DUI case. Knowledgeable attorneys in the drunk driving defense field will know which prosecutors to trust and which ones not to trust.
When Do I Need a Lawyer?
It’s possible to handle your own DUI case without a lawyer. You’ll have to deal with your own arraignment, obtain copies of the police report, read up on California field sobriety tests, and do an assessment of your chances of winning at trial. However, leaving these important details to an experienced lawyer is often the better decision. You and your family may not understand the severe penalties for DUI in California, and without the help of a loyal, gifted attorney you may do something to make the outcomes even worse.
If you plan on pleading guilty to DUI charges, you may not need an attorney. However, unless the circumstances are definitely set against you (i.e., a BAC well over .08% or hard evidence of your intoxication), you should consider a plea bargain instead. Using a lawyer to bargain for a plea deal is possible when the evidence against you is uncertain. A lawyer can convince the prosecution to change your DUI charge to a lesser offense with a reduced sentence. For example, inconclusive field sobriety tests may allow your attorney to talk a DUI charge down to reckless driving instead. Get an attorney’s opinion on your case by speaking with the Law Office of Carolyn Vandyk.
Contacting a lawyer is the best choice with almost any DUI arrest. DUI penalties can exist on your record for years and cost you thousands of dollars in fees. Instead of walking into a hearing unprepared and without legal representation, trust the Law Office of Carolyn Vandyk — attorneys who know California DUI law and can use their knowledge to your advantage. We don’t believe that one bad decision should ruin your life. After your arrest, hire an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and secure peace of mind.
Importance of Hiring a DUI Attorney
A Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrest is a serious charge which could result in the loss of your driver’s license, thousands of dollars in court fines, the loss of your job, time in jail or even prison. A DUI conviction also acts as a prior, meaning that if you get a second or third DUI conviction, the penalties are drastically worse. Hiring the right Santa Rosa DUI attorney is extremely important if you are facing DUI charges and can help minimize or avoid severe penalties and consequences often associated with DUI, save your driver’s license, money, and a lot of stress.
The State of California, its law enforcement agencies, and the District Attorney’s Offices aggressively prosecute DUI cases. It is imperative that you have skilled representation to protect your rights. Some matters are extremely time-sensitive requiring action within 10 days of your initial arrest.
Additionally, a good DUI attorney may challenge certain aspects of your DUI charge based on his or her specialized experience and knowledge of breathalyzers, blood test, and chemical testing procedures. The attorneys at the Law Office of Carolyn Vandyk have the experience and knowledge to help fight for your rights and defend your DUI case. DUI charges are often brought against people with no prior criminal history. Because of this fact, many people charged with this offense have a difficult time understanding the court process and dealing with the criminal justice system.
Our Experience Often Gives Our Clients an Advantage
The Law Office of Carolyn Vandyk has successfully handled many DUI cases, including felonies involving severe injury and even death. We understand the prosecution’s experts and how they will testify. After a DUI arrest, we recommend contacting us immediately. We’ll set you up with one of our lead attorneys who will talk you through the process and tell you what to do. When you appear in court, it’s usually in your best interest to hire an accomplished DUI lawyer to stand by your side and fight for you. We will speak to the judge on your behalf and put your situation in its best light.
Your Santa Rosa DUI Lawyers
Our criminal defense attorney office is based in Santa Rosa, CA. We take on cases throughout the North Bay and Greater Bay region, including Sonoma County, Napa County, Marin County, Mendocino County, and Lake County. If you’re facing DUI charges, don’t hesitate to call the Law Office of Carolyn Vandyk for complete and efficient criminal defense. Our law group provides the aggressive, proactive legal help that you require when facing serious charges, such as a DUI.
Dial (707) 528-1100 day or night, 24/7, to get in touch with our attorneys regarding your case. We are here to help you when you need it the most.