What Constitutes Impaired Driving (DUI) in California?

A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs can throw a wrench in your life. A criminal conviction can affect your employment, your reputation, your finances, your ability to apply for an apartment or credit card, and other areas of your life. Just because you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, however, does not mean you are guilty. Below, our experienced California DUI defense lawyer discusses how California law defines unlawful impairment under the criminal code.

“Per Se” DUI in California

California Vehicle Code Section 23152 lays out the various driving offenses involving alcohol and drugs. Section 23152(b) identifies the most common form of DUI charge, which sets a limit to a driver’s legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) by weight. In California, as in other states, it is illegal for any driver to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or more. If a driver has a BAC of 0.08% or greater, they may be found guilty of DUI, regardless of their actual or perceived level of impairment. This is often known as a “per se” DUI because the driver is considered to be under the influence of alcohol simply by nature of their BAC regardless of their faculties.

Commercial drivers face a lower bar for DUI conviction. Commercial drivers can be arrested for DUI for driving with a BAC of 0.04%. This includes anyone who has a passenger for hire in the vehicle, such as an Uber or Lyft driver.

Minors and Defendants on Probation: Zero Tolerance

California law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from driving a motor vehicle with a measurable amount of alcohol in their system. Minors can be arrested for driving with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. The same applies to drivers who are already on probation for DUI.

Impaired Driving

Even if a driver does not have a BAC of 0.08% or higher, however, the driver may still be charged with DUI. Any driver who is “under the influence of any alcohol beverage” may not drive a vehicle. The prosecutor must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was actually under the influence, or impaired, by alcohol at the time of driving. The government may use evidence of erratic driving, failure of sobriety tests, or other circumstantial proof to demonstrate that the driver was under the influence while driving.

DUI and Drugs

Drivers may also be charged for driving while under the influence of drugs or driving under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol. The DUI laws cover any drug that can cause impairment, whether the drug is an illegal controlled substance, a prescription drug, or even an over-the-counter medication. If a driver is pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, they will be required to submit to a blood test, and if they test positive, they may be charged.

Drivers can be charged for driving under the influence of illegal drugs like heroin, legal or prescription drugs such as marijuana or Xanax, and over-the-counter drugs such as sleeping pills. Drivers cannot be charged for driving “under the influence” of drugs that risk no impairment, such as antibiotics.

What is “Driving?”

It’s important to keep in mind that a driver must actually “drive” a vehicle while sufficiently impaired to be convicted of a DUI. In some states, it’s enough for a person to sit in the driver’s seat while the keys are in the ignition. In California, however, the prosecution must demonstrate that the driver actually drove the car–meaning volitional movement of the vehicle. Circumstantial evidence can suffice to show that the driver did drive the vehicle, even if the police did not see the vehicle in motion (for example, if the police find the vehicle already crashed).

Get Help Defending Against Southern California DUI Charges

If you’ve been arrested for DUI or other criminal charges in Los Angeles or Southern California, call McReynolds Vardanyan, LLP, in Glendale at 818-855-2115. Our California criminal defense attorneys will fight for your rights and your freedom throughout every step of your case.

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