Most drivers in California know that they can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) when a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level exceeds 0.08 percent.

What you may not know is that exceeding the legal BAC limit is only one of the reasons a driver can be charged with driving under the influence in this state.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S “PER SE” DUI LAW?

Here is how the state’s “per se” DUI law – California Vehicle Code (VC) 23152(b) – reads.

“(b) It is unlawful for any person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”

This is called a per se DUI law, from the Latin phrase meaning “by itself.” It does not matter how well you are driving; by itself, a 0.08 or higher BAC measurement constitutes driving under the influence.

A per se DUI law makes it easier for a prosecutor to win a conviction. Breathalyzer tests and the purported “science” the tests are based on are considered incontrovertible by most law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and jurors.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S “OTHER” DUI LAW?

The per se law is the “b” section of the law, but California Vehicle Code (VC) 23152(a) explains the other way that you can be charged with driving under the influence in this state:

“(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.”

While the per se DUI law – (VC) 23152(b) – is based on a supposedly “objective measurement,” (VC) 23152(a) gives a police officer much more latitude at a DUI stop.

If an officer reasonably believes that you are too impaired to drive properly and safely, that officer can charge you with driving under the influence, even if your BAC level measures below 0.08 percent or you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer.

HOW IS DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE DEFINED BY CALIFORNIA LAW?

California law says that you are driving under the influence if “your physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that you no longer have the ability to drive with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.”

It does not matter how much (or how little) alcohol you’ve consumed. If that alcohol has impaired your judgment or your ability to drive, you can be arrested and charged.

After only one beer, you can be taken into custody and charged with DUI if you appear to be intoxicated. What will happen if you are accused of DUI, but your BAC level measured below 0.08 percent?

WHAT’S YOUR TOP PRIORITY IF YOU ARE ARRESTED FOR DUI?

The first thing that you must do if you are charged with driving under the influence in southern California – under any circumstances – is to obtain the advice and representation of an experienced Orange County DUI attorney.

You’ll need to do that immediately.

What will happen depends on the details of the charge, aggravating circumstances, and whether the driver has any prior alcohol-related driving convictions.

If it is your first DUI offense, no one was injured, and no property was damaged, you may be offered a plea bargain, especially if you tested below the 0.08 percent level.

IF THE CHARGE IS DUI, WILL YOU BE OFFERED A PLEA BARGAIN?

Of course, if you are genuinely innocent of driving under the influence, you should fight the charge aggressively with a good lawyer’s help and reject any plea deal.

And before you accept any plea agreement – or sign any legal document after a driving under the influence arrest – you must have a DUI lawyer’s insights and advice.

If you “blew” under 0.08 percent, it’s your first offense, and you are offered a plea deal, here is how it will work. The DUI charge will be dismissed, and you will plead guilty or no contest to a “wet reckless” charge, which is significantly less serious than driving under the influence.

EXACTLY WHAT IS A WET RECKLESS CHARGE IN CALIFORNIA?

Wet reckless is a misdemeanor charge that lawmakers adopted to encourage DUI defendants to take a plea deal so that more cases can move quickly and smoothly through the system.

While you should fight a driving under the influence charge if you’re innocent, if the evidence against you is persuasive, you should seriously consider a plea agreement if it is offered to you, and heed your attorney’s advice.

A wet reckless conviction usually means that you will avoid jail time, pay a lesser fine, and spend fewer hours in a DUI class.

Because convicted DUI offenders are barred from several employment categories, pleading to wet reckless may be the way to save your job.

WHEN SHOULD YOU FIGHT FOR A DISMISSAL OR AN ACQUITTAL?

On the other hand, there may also be good reasons to reject a plea bargain for a driving under the influence charge.

For example, if you are an immigrant in southern California, a wet reckless conviction might draw the attention of immigration officials. And of course, it is always better to avoid having any criminal convictions at all – if you can.

Even if you plead to wet reckless, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may still suspend your driver’s license – although your attorney may be able to help with that – and your auto insurance rates may skyrocket.

HOW CAN A DUI LAWYER HELP?

A DUI attorney might be able to help you retain your driver’s license – you must schedule a hearing with the DMV within ten days of the arrest to challenge what is otherwise an automatic license suspension – but not even a good attorney can stop your auto insurance costs from rising.

Finally, you should know that if you accept a plea bargain and a wet reckless conviction, if you are then charged with any alcohol-related traffic offense within ten years of the wet reckless plea, that plea will be counted as a prior DUI conviction.

If you are charged with driving under the influence, a plea bargain is not necessarily your only option. A qualified DUI attorney will thoroughly explain all of your options and rights and will guide you – as successfully as possible – through the DUI process.

Driving under the influence is a serious charge. A conviction will very negatively impact your life. Get the legal help you need – immediately – if you are charged with DUI. That is your right.