In case you are facing a felony or a misdemeanor driving offense in the State of California, the possible sentencing may be severe, based on the type of the charges against you. In addition to losing your driver’s license, you may also be subjected to prolonged incarceration periods, heavy fines, mandatory school programs, and probation. In other cases, it may be hard for you to find employment if a criminal record keeps showing in your background checks.

At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have a deep understanding and experience when it comes to how driving crimes are prosecuted and the court processes. Our attorneys have helped several alleged drive crimes offenders to get the best possible results to the charges against them, and are ready to help you any time you reach out to us. In the following sections, we look at what driving crimes are, and the cases we handle.

California Driving Crimes

California driving crimes vary from minor violations of traffic rules that are charged as infractions and have minor penalties, misdemeanor charges whose penalties include jail time, fines, and probation, to felony crimes that may result in long state prison sentences. Most driving offenses will result in the suspension of an offender’s driving license, and any of them may impact your driving record negatively.

The following are the common driving crimes charges you can face.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (Vehicle Code 23152b)

Vehicle Code 23152b criminalizes DUI of alcohol. A California DUI happens when a motorist or motorcyclist operates a vehicle or motorcycle while intoxicated with alcohol so that their ability to drive is impaired. The standard legal BAC limit that an ordinary driver or motorcyclist should have when operating a vehicle/motorcycle is 0.08%. This means that any person would be automatically considered legally intoxicated if their BAC registers a .08 percentage regardless of whether they are impaired or not. This is known as per se DUI.

Drivers, who are under the age of twenty-one years, can be charged with DUI of alcohol if their BAC is as low .01%. This means that the State of California has a Zero Tolerance Law for underage drunk drivers. Moreover, for commercial driver’s license holders, the standard legal limit is 0.04%.

The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol vary depending on several factors. Among them are the number of times you have been convicted of DUI within ten years and the circumstances surrounding the case like refusal to submit to chemical tests and whether your DUI resulted in deaths or injuries.

The penalties for a first DUI offense include:

  • A maximum of six months of a county jail sentence
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Up to five years of summary probation.
  • A criminal court driver’s license suspension for six months, which can go up to a year if you refuse to submit to chemical tests. After serving a month of your sentence, you may be eligible for an IID restricted license).
  • Up to four months of driver’s license suspension by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
  • Up to nine months of DUI School program
  • A mandatory Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installation for six months

The punishments for a second offense DUI include:

  • A maximum of a one-year of a county jail sentence
  • A maximum fine of $1,000 which is bound to increase after the addition of penalty assessments
  • A one-year driver’s license suspension by the criminal court, which could go up to two years upon refusal to take chemical tests. Once you have served three months of your sentence, you will be eligible for an IID restricted license.
  • A one-year driver’s license suspension by the DMV
  • Up to five years of informal probation
  • Eighteen or thirty months of DUI School program
  • A mandatory IID installation for one year

For a third offense DUI, these are the punishments:

  • A maximum of $1,000 in fines, which may go higher after the addition of penalty assessments.
  • A one-year of a county jail sentence
  • A one-year license suspension by the court. The suspension may go up to three years if you decline to take chemical tests. After serving six months of your jail time, you qualify for an IID restricted license.
  • A mandatory IID installation for two years
  • Up to five years of summary probation
  • A one-year license suspension by the DMV
  • A mandatory DUI School program for thirty months

For fourth subsequent DUI offenses, the consequences are:

  • Up to three years of State prison sentence
  • Formal probation
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Thirty months of DUI School program
  • Up to five years of license suspension by the court

Depending on the facts of your DUI case and the aggravating factors present, the prosecutor can charge you with other forms of DUI. They include:

  • DUI on a suspended license
  • DUI with a minor
  • DUI over the speed limit
  • DUI causing injury/great bodily injury
  • DUI homicide/ Watson murder
  • DUI hit and run
  • Non-immigrant visa DUI
  • Underage DUI
  • Commercial DUI

A conviction of any of these offenses can change your life negatively. Luckily, there are several legal defenses against these charges. These defenses can get your charges to be dismissed or won. They include:

  • Failure of the arresting officer to follow the set rules for administering chemical tests
  • Illegal stop or arrest
  • Miranda rights were not read to you
  • False BAC results

Where your attorney cannot get you an acquittal or dismissal, he or she may be able to have your charges be lowered to wet reckless or dry reckless, which has lenient penalties.

Vehicular Manslaughter (Penal Code 192c)

If, as a result of driving in the commission of a careless or negligent non-felony act, another person died, you can be prosecuted under the Penal Code 192c vehicular manslaughter. Note that your negligent act need not be unlawful for you to be convicted of this offense. Examples of negligent acts include talking on the phone or sending text messages while driving, speeding, or driving into a stop sign.

However, if, as a result of driving in the commission of a careless or negligent felony act, another person died, you may face Penal Code 187 charges of second-degree murder. Also, in case your negligent act showed great disregard for human life, you can be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter. Also, if you were under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both during the commission of the negligent act, you can face vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges.

Vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler offense. This means it can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor sentence includes a maximum of a one-year jail sentence while a felony sentence includes up to six years of a State Prison sentence.

If you caused the accident for financial gain, the judge could impose a State Prison sentence of up to ten years. Moreover, in case you committed vehicular manslaughter, and then flew the scene of the accident, five more years may be added to your sentence. Additionally, your driver’s license may be suspended for one year. However, the suspension period varies depending on the circumstances surrounding your vehicular manslaughter case.

To beat vehicular manslaughter charges, your attorney can present various legal defenses. They include: your actions were not negligent or grossly negligent, it’s not your negligent act that led to the crash, and you had an emergency, which compelled you to act the way you did.

Driving on a Suspended License (Vehicle Code 14601)

Under VC 14601, it is a misdemeanor offense to operate a motor vehicle after the court, or the DMV has suspended your license. The penalties for violating this Vehicle Code are based on why your license was revoked in the first place. They often include jail terms, fines, and additional time of license revocation

Your license could be suspended due to any of these reasons: reckless driving, DUI, having a habitual traffic offender title, and refusal to submit to chemical tests. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand the possible reasons why your license can be suspended and the general license suspension laws. Thus, we have the upper hand when fighting VC 14601 charges in court.

Note that the prosecutor needs to prove that you were aware that your driver’s license was revoked for you to be convicted of VC 14601. Thus, not being aware of the suspension is a valid legal defense your attorney can use to fight these charges. Other defenses are: the revocation itself was invalid or otherwise a mistake, and you had an IID restricted license in your possession, which you used appropriately.

DUI of Drugs (Vehicle Code 23152f & 23152g)

DUI of drugs (DUID) refers to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with any drug that impairs your physical or mental ability. This act is prohibited under Vehicle Code 23152f & 23152g. Note that the drug in question need not be illegal; even driving while intoxicated with an over-the-counter or a prescription drug counts as a DUID provided the drug impaired the ability to operate a vehicle safely.

The punishments for DUID are pretty much similar to those of DUI of alcohol. However, unlike DUI of alcohol, there’s no precise BAC level that a DUID offender is required to have for him/her to be convicted. Instead, any level of intoxicating drugs in your blood system can subject you to DUID charges. However, a conviction depends on proof that your behavior demonstrated an impaired ability to drive safely.

In case you pass a Breathalyzer test ( for alcohol testing), but the arresting officer still has a reason to suspect that you are intoxicated; nevertheless, he/she will administer a blood or urine test to see if you have intoxicating drugs in your blood system. Note that the California law of implied consent applies when taking drug tests just as it applies when testing for alcohol in your system. Therefore, if you refuse to submit to chemical tests, you risk facing enhanced penalties.

Most defenses for a DUID conviction are similar to those of DUI of alcohol. In addition to those defenses, your attorney can use ‘insufficient amounts of the drug in your system to result in intoxication’ as a defense. He or she can also use the defense of false signs imitating the effects of drugs.

Hit and Run (Vehicle Code 20002)

VC 20002 prohibits fleeing an accident scene without identifying yourself to the party/parties involved or the authorities. Doing so will be committing a hit and run offense. This offense is a wobbler; meaning the prosecutor can choose to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. You will be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run in case the accident resulted in the damage of someone else’s property.  On the other hand, you will be charged with a felony hit and run in case the accident resulted in the injury or death of another person (other than you).

VC 20002 applies to any car accident irrespective of which party is to blame, the degree of damage caused, or the severity of the injuries. Consequently, these laws, especially misdemeanors, trap several drivers who don’t understand the criminal justice system of California State, and who didn’t know they were committing an offense.

Normally, the law requires that whenever you get involved in a crash, you should stop and help any person at the accident scene who needs medical attention. Also, you are supposed to exchange contact information with any other driver who is present at the scene and wait for the authorities to arrive-not doing these amounts to a hit and run offense.

If convicted of VC 20002 as a misdemeanor, you will be subjected to a maximum of six months of a county jail sentence and a maximum fine of $1,000. For a felony conviction, you will face a maximum of a one-year of a county jail sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.

Common legal defenses for a hit and run offense include:

  • The injury or property damage was only limited to you
  • You made an effort of good faith to leave your contact details as the damaged property owner wasn’t present when the accident took place.
  • You did not realize that you’d been involved in a crash; neither did you realize that you had damaged another person’s property.
  • It wasn’t safe for you to remain at the accident scene, or there was an emergency that forced you to leave at the time.
  • It was another person and not you, who was involved in the crash

Evading an officer (Vehicle Code 2800.1)

As per California Vehicle Code 2800.1, it’s an offense to deliberately try to dodge a police officer that is pursuing you as long as their (police) vehicle lights and sirens are on, and the police officer is putting on distinctive regalia which identifies him or her as an officer. This is charged as a misdemeanor crime whose penalties include:

  • A maximum of one year of a county jail sentence.
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Your vehicle will be impounded for a maximum of thirty days

However, you may face sentence enhancements under Vehicle Code 2800.2 & 2800.3. The crimes stipulated under these vehicle codes are similar to but distinct from VC 2800.1 because they are more serious. Vehicle Code 2800.2 is a felony reckless evasion of a peace officer. It applies when one operates a vehicle with gross disregard for human life while dodging the police. On the other hand, Vehicle Code 2800.3 is charged when while evading an officer, you caused injury/death.

When defending VC 2800.1 charges, our attorneys will first ensure that:

  • The law enforcement had, at the minimum, one flashing red light, which you noticed or should’ve noticed.
  • Law enforcement was in a formal police uniform.
  • The siren was on

In case the officer you were evading didn’t meet the above requirements, your case may be dismissed.

Another defense is that you were not willfully evading the police officer. It could be that you didn’t hear or see him/her, you were incapable of safely pulling over because of traffic, you were hurrying somewhere like the hospital, or you were faced with any other emergency.

Driving Without a License (Vehicle Code 12500)

Driving without a license is addressed under Vehicle Code 12500. It is defined as operating a motor vehicle while not having a valid driver’s license issued by the California DMV. However, this offense doesn’t apply to California residents who are exempted from the legal requirement to have a California driver’s license.

VC 12500 is different from, operating a vehicle with no license in your immediate possession and driving on a suspended driver’s license. The former is referred to as failure to present a valid driver’s license, prosecuted under Vehicle Code 12951.

Operating a vehicle without an authenticated license is charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction. If it is a misdemeanor, it’s punishable by a maximum of six months of a county jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000. However, if it’s an infraction, its punishments include up to $250 in fines.

In case you moved to stay in California in the last twenty days, you didn’t operate the vehicle on a public highway, or your main residence is located outside California, you may be able to have your charges dismissed.

If you did not have a valid driver’s license but acquired one soon before your hearing in court, an experienced attorney could get you penalty leniency, or get your charges reduced to VC 12951, failing to present a valid driver’s license.

Drinking Alcohol in a Vehicle (VC 23221)

It’s against California open container laws for a person (passenger or driver) to consume an alcoholic drink while in a vehicle on a highway. This is a different crime from driving under the influence, whose conviction carries less severe punishments and stigma as compared to DUI convictions.

Before he or she can charge you, the prosecutor needs to prove that you consumed an alcoholic drink, in a vehicle, on a public road. However, the law doesn’t apply to passengers in buses and limousines and taxis that are licensed to carry passengers for hire, for example, rented limousines and party buses.

VC 23221 is charged as an infraction. This means the only punishment for drinking an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle is a maximum fine of $250.

Vehicle Code 23221 might not be very serious for individuals that are twenty-one years old and above, but it is for minors. A minor who is caught drinking an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle would face more significant punishments since they are below the stipulated drinking age.

For example, any person below twenty-one years who knowingly operates a vehicle that has an alcoholic drink, even if nobody is consuming it, may be prosecuted under VC 23224 possession of alcohol (which is another one of open container laws) unless he or she is in the company of, or is acting at the parent’s or responsible adult relative’s direction, or he/she is employed to transport the drink. The same applies to any passenger below twenty-one, who knowingly controls or possesses an alcoholic drink.

VC 23224 is a misdemeanor whose potential penalties include a maximum of six months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Additionally, under twenty-one drivers caught drinking in their vehicles could face DUI penalties, which include license suspension for one year in case they have detectable alcohol in their blood system.

Common defenses to drinking alcohol in a vehicle include inadequate evidence. Your attorney may also keep you from being convicted by proving that the vehicle in which you were was a for-hire vehicle, or you weren’t on a highway when you drank.

Contact a Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we possess the necessary skills and experience to create a strong defense and boost the chances of getting you the best possible outcome for any of the driving crimes mentioned above. We are available to help any time you need us by providing the best possible legal representation that may bring a difference to your case, and advice when you need it. Contact us at 714-262-4833 for consultation or to share your case details so we can start developing a solid defense.