DUI Laws

The first element of the crime is “driving” or “operating.” This language is designed to describe the level of control a person must have over the vehicle. In many states, the vehicle does not actually have to be moving, and a person sitting behind the wheel of a car, whether or not the engine is running, can be convicted of driving or operating the car. While passengers are generally not considered drivers or operators of vehicles, they can be considered “in control” if they grab the steering wheel or try to take control of the vehicle.

The definition of “vehicle” is broader than “motor vehicle.” A vehicle can be any product or means for transporting people or goods. A motor vehicle, by contrast, requires that it is be powered by a motor. These definitions encompass cars, trucks, motorcycles, and motor boats. A question can sometimes arise when the vehicle is inoperable and a distinction can be made between a vehicle that is immobile and inoperable. Another element of the crime is its location. While the earlier cases required the vehicle being operated “on a public highway,” most statutes now simply require proof that the crime took place within the jurisdiction of the San Diego Superior Court; this means the DUI applies to persons who drive on private property, including parking lots.

Purpose of the DUI Laws

The underlying purpose of the drunk-driving laws is to prevent operation of a motor vehicle when an individual is too intoxicated to have “adequate control.” The intoxication element is proven by one of two methods: (1) showing a certain level of blood alcohol (BAC) or illegal drugs in the operator’s system, or (2) showing the person was impaired. BAC does not rely on the law enforcement officer’s observations of the defendant’s conduct, but rather on the results of a blood or breath test. A common statutory scheme requires a person suspected of being drunk or under the influence of drugs while driving to submit to a breath or blood test. In California, this is called the “implied consent” law. The statute provides that by operating a motor vehicle in the State of California, an individual has given consent to be tested for alcohol in his or her system. After the sample is given, it is analyzed by a machine that measures the concentration of alcohol in an individual’s blood.

The .08 Distinction

The California limit for blood-alcohol content is .08, and anyone who tests over .08 or has the presence of drugs is legally intoxicated. Nonetheless, we have many ways to defend yourcase and to challenge the charges (see above discussion), such as by showing there was a failure in the test procedure (e.g. a malfunctioning machine), an improper sample, foreign substances in the mouth (in the case of a breath test), or improper preservation of the evidence.

The “Impairment” Distinction

In contrast to the requirement that one have a BA level over .08, proof of impairment may be used to obtain a conviction. This is based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident. It relies on the law enforcement officer’s testimony, statements of the defendant, and circumstantial evidence. Under this particular charge that is leveled against a defendant, the actual amount of alcohol in a person’s blood is not the key factor and may be deemed irrelevant since the focus is on whether the person’s ability to drive has been impaired.

Standard police tests for impairment include having an individual perform what are commonly referred to as FSTs or “Field Sobriety Tests.” These include having the subject walk a straight line with one foot placed precisely in front of the other; closing his or her eyes and standing with arms held out from the body and touching the tip of the nose when instructed; reciting the alphabet; and counting backwards. The law enforcement officer may make observations of a driver’s impairment by watching the person’s driving, which often leads to the stop. Often the time of the day (late night and early morning hours) and location of the encounter (neighboring areas of bars and nightclubs; areas where young adults frequent and/or reside, etc.) create the perfect environment for officers to patrol.

In addition, driving too fast or too slow, weaving from lane to lane, and going through stop signs have all been used as evidence to demonstrate impaired driving. A statement by a driver about how much he or she had to drink, and how recently, is also used as evidence of impairment when supported by testimony about the probable effects of that amount of alcohol ingested at that time on a person’s physical abilities. At Spital & Associates, we seek to exclude your “admission,” arguing it was obtained unlawfully. The focus turns on whether you were a “suspect” and should have been given a Miranda Warning (requirement that a defendant be admonished to remain silent as anything he/she says can be used against him/her), while the prosecution will seek to prove the opposite.