Tens of thousands of arrests are made every year for driving under the influence – DUI – in the state of California. Because the first word in driving under the influence is “driving,” most people think that you actually have to be driving in order to be charged with DUI in California.
As DUI lawyers in Orange County, we have to tell you that most people are wrong. You are about to read the real story – who can be charged with driving under the influence in California, when, and why. You’ll probably be surprised.
You’ll also learn more about your rights if you are charged with driving under the influence – whether you’re arrested while you’re driving an 18-wheeler, operating a tractor, or sleeping in the back seat of your car. Frankly, it can happen to anyone.
WHAT SHOULD EVERY CALIFORNIA DRIVER KNOW ABOUT DUI?
It’s important for California motorists to understand how DUI charges can arise. How can you be charged with driving under the influence if you are not driving? And what, exactly, is considered a vehicle?
Here are the answers that drivers need to know.
In California, you can actually be charged with driving under the influence even if you were not driving when you were approached or stopped by the police. Still, to be convicted of DUI, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in fact driving a vehicle at some point.
CAN THE POLICE ARREST YOU FOR DUI IF THEY DON’T SEE YOU DRIVING?
Here’s an example that might help: Let’s say that you have a single beer with colleagues after work. Then let’s say that you have some car trouble on your way home, so you pull off the road to look under the hood.
If a police officer approaches you and smells beer on your breath, you could be suspected of DUI, even though the police officer never actually saw you driving. You might be asked to take a field sobriety test or to blow into a breathalyzer, and it is possible that you could be arrested.
But let’s say that instead of driving home and having car trouble, after having one beer with your colleagues, you feel like a nap, so you crawl into in the back seat of your car and fall asleep.
If a police officer wakes you up, if your keys are in your pocket, and if your vehicle’s engine is cold, you are probably not going to be arrested for driving under the influence, and if you are, a good DUI attorney will be able to argue plausibly that you were not driving at all.
WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A “VEHICLE” IN CALIFORNIA LAW?
Motorists in California have been arrested for driving under the influence while walking or sleeping in parking lots, rest areas, or by the side of a highway. Others have been arrested for driving under the influence while operating golf carts, tractors, and riding lawn mowers.
The law in California requires a person actually to drive a “vehicle” before that person can be charged with driving under the influence.
However, the law’s definition of a “vehicle” is quite broad. A vehicle is “a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”
A motorized golf cart, for example, is legally a vehicle in California, and if you drive one after drinking, you could be arrested for driving under the influence. Motorized wheelchairs, tractors, mopeds, ATVs, and Zamboni machines all meet the definition of a vehicle under California law.
IS RIDING A BICYCLE A GOOD ALTERNATIVE TO DRIVING?
If you are too impaired to drive, riding a bicycle is not a good alternative in California. However, you will not be charged with driving under the influence if the police find you bicycling while you’re intoxicated. Instead, you’ll face a different charge – cycling under the influence or “CUI.”
You will not be sent to jail if you are convicted of CUI in California, but you may be fined up to $250, and you’ll establish a criminal record that shows a conviction for a misdemeanor. If you are under 21, a CUI conviction can also mean losing your driving privilege for up to a year.
When you are operating a motor vehicle of any kind, operating a boat, or riding a bicycle in this state, you can be arrested and charged with a criminal violation if your blood alcohol content (BAC) level reaches or exceeds 0.08 percent.
Moreover, if a California police officer reasonably believes that you are too intoxicated to operate a boat, bicycle, or motor vehicle safely, you could be arrested on the basis of that officer’s discretion alone.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE ABOUT DRINKING AND DRIVING?
If you plan to enjoy drinking alcohol with friends, it’s best to leave the bicycle and the car at home. Let someone else do the driving. Hire a taxi, a limo, a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, or find a designated driver you can trust.
If you drink and then choose to drive, you are risking an accident, injury, arrest, or worse. Do not put yourself and others at risk. The best advice for avoiding DUI trouble isn’t even legal advice – it’s just common sense: Don’t Drink and Drive.
California stringently enforces the laws against driving, cycling, and boating under the influence. If you are charged with one of these offenses in southern California, you must have the top-notch legal advice and representation that an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer will provide.
HOW WILL A DUI DEFENSE LAW FIRM HELP YOU?
An attorney will review the details of your case, the breath test results, and the statements of the arresting officer and any other witnesses. A good DUI lawyer will take advantage of any weakness in the state’s case against you to fight aggressively for justice on your behalf.
If you are charged with any of these alcohol-related criminal offenses in southern California – and even if it’s your first offense – you are going to need the advice and representation that a skilled Orange County DUI lawyer can provide, and you’re going to need that help at once.
Driving under the influence is a serious charge. If you are being charged with driving under the influence, a good defense attorney’s help is your right. Your future – and even your freedom – could depend on it.