Driving crimes in California are among the most common offenses that are committed almost daily. They range from minor crimes such as speeding to more severe crimes such as hit and run. The consequences of driving crimes range from fines, jail or prison terms, to suspension or revocation of a driver’s license. It is wise to seek an attorney to help you fight such charges and avoid the harsh penalties. If you are in Los Angeles, you can contact the LA Criminal Defense Attorney for representation in your case or seek expert advice on driving crimes.
An Overview of Driving Crimes in Los Angeles
Driving crimes in California are varied. Rolling traffic signs and speeding over the limit are less serious violations and often result in just fines, or an increase in the insurance coverage cost. Some crimes, however, carry harsh penalties, for instance, driving under the influence. When convicted of such crimes, you will either be fined or jailed depending on the intensity of the crime. Also, they can affect your future endeavors since they are entered into criminal records. Therefore, you can lose your driving privileges or even your job altogether.
The penalties associated with driving crimes depend on several factors such as the defendant’s criminal history and the kind of damages caused on a property or the injuries caused on the victim(s). The most common driving offenses in California are described below.
Driving Under Influence (DUI); California Vehicle Code 23152 to 23229.1
A DUI crime is often the most severe driving crime in California. Vehicle Codes 23152 to 23229.1 prohibits and punishes a person who drives any vehicle if they are under the influence of any form of alcoholic beverage. You could be convicted of this offense if the prosecution proves that, while driving or operating a vehicle, your blood alcohol content was 0.08% or above. The presence of a used alcoholic bottle or a beer bottle next to you while driving can also serve as evidence that you were drunk-driving.
Generally, DUI cases in California differ based on two major factors: prior DUI convictions in your criminal record and if a person was killed or injured during a drunk-driving accident. Most DUI cases are treated as misdemeanors. However, you would be charged with a felony if, during the incident, a person died or was injured. The penalties as well differ with the number of convictions and the charges filed.
A first-time DUI misdemeanor is punishable by not more than six (6) months confinement in jail. You may also face fines ranging from three hundred and ninety (390) to one thousand (1000) dollars. Also, your driver’s license could be suspended for a period of four (4) to ten (10) months. A second-time offense is also a misdemeanor charge, whose punishments include ninety-six (96) hours to one (1) year confinement in county jail and a suspension of driving license for two (2) years. You can also be required to pay fines of three hundred and ninety (390) to one thousand (1000) dollars in addition to the jail sentence.
Similar to the first and second time DUI offenses, the third offense is treated as a misdemeanor whose penalties include between one hundred and twenty (120) days to one (1) year as a jail term. Your license could also be suspended for three years plus a fine of between three hundred and ninety (390) and one thousand (1000) dollars.
DUI causing injury can either be viewed as a misdemeanor or a felony. If treated as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include between five (5) and one (1) year confinement in county jail and fines ranging between three hundred and ninety (390) to five thousand (5000) dollars. Also, your driving license could be suspended for a period of between one (1) and three (3) years. Where your DUI causing injury is treated as a felony, the penalties would include between two and four years in state prison. Also, you can be ordered to pay fines ranging between one thousand and fifteen (1015) dollars and five thousand (5000) dollars. Your driving license could be suspended for a minimum of one year as well. Finally, the court could demand that you pay restitution fees for the injured individuals.
DUI on Drugs (DUID)
Penal code 23152 (f) considers it an offense to drive when you are influenced by any drug. To be convicted of this crime, the drug you are accused of using should be impairing your driving ability, proving it difficult for you to drive like a sober individual. Such drugs can be illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or over the counter drugs such as the Tylenol.
DUID can be treated as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the crime and your criminal history. As a misdemeanor, DUID penalties include between three (3) and five (5) years’ probation, a fine ranging of one thousand eight hundred (1800) dollars, and suspension of driving license. There is also a likelihood that you will be jailed. A felony DUID under vehicle code 23152 occurs if it is the fourth time you committed the offense, you have at least one prior charge of felony DUI, or the accident resulted in the injury or death of another person.
Consequently, felony DUI charges imply harsh penalties including a fine of one thousand to five thousand (1000-5000) dollars or up to three years in jail. If a third party was injured, the jail term would increase to four years. You may also be subjected to a DUI program, and in some cases, suspension of your driving license.
Penal code 192 (c) describes vehicular manslaughter as the illegal killing of a person(s) while driving. The charge, however, suffices if the incident occurred through the negligent commission of another unlawful act or any crime viewed as a felony. It also applies if you engaged in a lawful act that may in a way, cause death. The prosecution has to consider several facts while pressing the charges of vehicular manslaughter. For instance, you must have been driving a vehicle. While driving, you committed a prohibited act that is viewed as a felony, infraction, or a misdemeanor that in any way, is likely to cause death. It must also be confirmed that the illegal act was committed with negligence or rather gross negligence.
You could also face the charges of vehicular manslaughter if you acted in any reckless way that tends to put in danger the lives of other people. Also, while engaging in the act, you were aware that it would cause some risk to other people. A person or people must also have been killed during the accident.
The penalties for this offense often depend on the facts surrounding the events. As such, It may be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony. Generally, the maximum punishment for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter is one (1) year in a county jail while for a felony, it is a state prison term of six years. If the incident occurred through ordinary negligence, this crime would be a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of one year in jail.
The standard defense for California vehicular manslaughter is arguing that you did not act with either gross negligence or ordinary negligence. You can also argue that though you were negligent, your act did not cause another person’s death. In some cases, you may claim that you were faced with an emergency that forced you to act promptly and in the process, caused the accident.
Driving Without a License
The offense is described in the PEN 12500, which considers it a crime for any person to operate a vehicle without a legit driving license. According to the legal provision, you are only allowed to drive a vehicle of which you own its valid driving license.
It must be established that you have not acquired a valid driving license, or have failed to renew it following suspension or expiry, for you to be liable to the PEN 12500 charge. Sometimes, you may not be allowed by the California law to own a driving license. Therefore, the charge will be leveled on you if you defy this requirement, or still, the license you possess does not qualify you to drive the type of vehicle you are operating. These are instances that are punishable as driving without a license in California.
Violation of VC. 12500 is a wobbler offense, and hence, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or non-criminal infraction. Generally, first time violation of the law is viewed as an infraction while the subsequent violations are seen as misdemeanors. As an infraction, the fines are not more than two hundred and fifty (250) dollars. If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include not more than six (6) years confinement in county jail and a fine of one thousand (1000) dollars. You may also be subjected to non-supervised probation for three years. Your vehicle may also be impounded for a period of not less than 30 thirty days.
One of the legal defenses for driving without a license is arguing that you were not driving. You can also argue that you had a driving license, but unfortunately, it was not in your immediate possession when you were arrested for the offense. In some cases, you can claim that you were a visitor in the state, but you hold another state valid driving license.
Driving On a Suspended License
PEN 14601 considers it a crime to knowingly drive on a license that is revoked or otherwise suspended. Your driving license is often suspended if you are declared as a negligent driver or operator with numerous DMV points. You also lose the license if you are found to be mentally or physically challenged to a tune of not being able to drive as expected. Your driving privileges can also be limited if you have a series of conviction of other driving offenses like DUI.
For you to be convicted of the offense, it must be true that you were driving a motor vehicle. Then while driving, your license was on suspension or was revoked. Moreover, you were aware of the state of your license and yet, you still drove using the license. Typically, the penalties for this offense depending on the underlying reasons for the suspension of your license. It also depends on the number of similar crimes you have committed or criminal history.
Among the common defense for driving on a suspended license include claiming that you were not aware that your license was in suspension or was revoked. You can also argue that it was already confirmed that you first license revocation or suspension was invalid; thus, you still had driving privileges. In some rare cases, you can claim that you had a right to operate on a restricted license which, however, you have to show.
Hit and Run
The laws governing traffic in the state of California under VC 20001 requires that you act in a particular manner whenever you collide or hit a person or property while driving. For instance, you are expected to stop and remain at the scene where the incident took place. You must also identify yourselves with the owners of the damaged property or notify the law enforcers about the crime. Also, you are supposed to portray some consideration on the victim such as offering some medical assistance by calling a rescue or an emergency team such as an ambulance or contacting the police when the incident resulted in the death of an individual. Most often than not, you may fail to comply with the requirement, especially where you view yourself as having been right or otherwise, not the reason for the accident. In such a case, you would still face charges for a hit and run because of the mere reason that you didn’t stop at the scene as required by the law.
VC 20001 treats the offense as a wobbler, and the charges you will face depend on whether the accident involved property or death of individuals. If it included loss of property, you would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by between ninety (90) days and one year in county jail. You are also demanded to pay fines and restitution fee to the alleged victim. Felony charges apply if the collision involved dead of an individual. In this case, you face a minimum prison term of sixteen (16) months.
For a hit and run case, it must be established that, while you were operating a vehicle, it collided on a person or their property. Then, despite your knowledge of the accident, you did not bother to stop, notify the owner or the victim’s relative, or an emergency/ medical team. You did not either leave any note that contained your details; instead, you sped away or continued with your journey.
The penalties for this offense differ depending on whether it was the property that was damaged or an individual. For instance, damage to property will be treated as a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of not more than one thousand (1000) dollars or a county jail sentence of at least six months. If a person was killed or injured, the offense would be treated as a felony, and you are likely to face a sentence of five years in prison.
Evading a Police Officer
Pen code 2800.1 makes it a crime to elude a police or peacekeeping officer while driving. You are charged with this offense even if you only attempted to flee or escape the officer. The law terms the violation as a specific intent crime because you willfully committed the act. However, for the offense to stand, the police must confirm that during the incident, they were in distinctive uniform, in a labeled police vehicle or bicycle. They must also prove that they made attempts to signal you to stop including sirens, verbal communication, or even flashing their lights indicating you to stop. Then despite having received the message, you defied their commands and attempted to flee from the site.
People often commit this offense, for example, if you speed following the notice of flashing lights of police vehicles pursuing you, especially when you are drunk. Additionally, if you are in a situation where you are speeding or meandering past other cars or weaving in and out of lanes but fail to stop when there is an officer is in hot pursuit. Whatever the means, evading law enforcement is a driving crime that is generally considered as a misdemeanor. If convicted, you would face a jail term of not more than one (1) year in county jail.
If while escaping, you drove in a manner that seemed to put danger in the lives of other people or property, you would be charged with a felony in pursuit of VC 2800.2. The penalties will include confinement in the state prison for a period of between two (2) to three (3) years. You can also be demanded to pay fines not exceeding ten thousand (10000) dollars. In some instances, if your evasion of police caused severe injuries or death to a third party, you will be charged with CV 2800.3, which views it as an offense for an individual to evade a law enforcing officer and while doing so, causing injuries or even death to another person.
Section 2600.3 is a wobbler; thus, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If considered a misdemeanor, you are likely to face a county jail sentence of not more than one (1) year. A felony offense involving evading a law enforcing officer results in between three and seven years confinement in state prison, and if the event caused severe injuries or death, you would be sentenced to either four, six, or ten years in state prison.
VC 23221; Drinking Alcohol Inside of a Motor Vehicle
It is an offense for anybody, whether a driver or a passenger, to take any alcohol-containing beverage while inside a vehicle. The common element of the crime includes drinking of alcohol by either a driver or the passenger in a car which is on a highway. The law, however, exempts those individuals drinking in limousines, hired taxis, or passengers in buses.
The word highway not only refers to freeways but also any roads that are maintained by the government for public access through the use of a vehicle. A violation of CV 23221 is considered a mere infraction, and as a result, the offense is punished by fines only, which do not exceed two hundred and fifty (250) dollars. The law, however, is tight for individuals who are below the legal drinking age of 21 in the state as directed under CV 23224. For instance, if you are below this legal age and knowingly drove in a vehicle that contains an alcohol beverage, you will face the charges, whether no one including you nor the passengers was drinking alcohol.
The offense is considered a misdemeanor, whose penalties comprise of not more than six (6) months in county jail. You may also be subjected to fines not exceeding one thousand (1000) dollars. Underage drivers drinking while in a vehicle are likely to face harsh penalties related to DUI, including a suspension of driver’s license for at least one (1) year.
Various defense strategies exist for the offense. For instance, you can argue that you were not driving on a public road. You can also refute the available evidence on the grounds of insufficiency or wrong allegations. In some cases, you can evade penalties by claiming that the vehicle you were driving was for hire and/or you were an employee transporting alcoholic beverage for a business. Another possible defense is to argue that you did not intend to escape or evade the police.