As you may have already assumed, the Sunshine State is no teetotaler state. However, in 1990, it was the fourth state in the U.S. to enforce a very low 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit.
Today we explore California’s laws on the blood alcohol levels allowed while driving, from the texts of the law itself, to its implications, DUI penalties, and more. Read on to find out how you can stay safe while partying and driving in Callie, as well as what to do, if you’re facing drunk/drugged driving charges.
A chart of the evolution of serious California car accidents, before and after the introduction of the 0.08% and APS (administrative per se) laws. The latter law states administrative suspensions become effective immediately after a driver’s BAC’s has been found to be higher than 0.08%, irrespective of any subsequent DUI charges.
Image source: DMV
The laws on CA blood alcohol levels
There are two basic drunk and drugged driving laws in effect in California. They can be found in sections (a) and (b) of section 23152, in the California Vehicle Code. Word for word, they say the following:
Section 23152 (a) It is a misdemeanor to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Section 23152 (b) It is a misdemeanor to drive with .08% or more of alcohol in your blood.
Here are some relevant details on the BAC limits and DUI laws applicable in California:
- It’s illegal to operate a vehicle in California if:
- Your BAC is 0.08% or higher and you are 21 or older;
- Your BAC is 0.04% or higher and you’re a commercial driver (licensed with a CDL, or commercial driver license);
- Your BAC is 0.01% or higher and you are under 21, or already on DUI probation.
- The California DMV has issued this BAC guide, based on weight and gender:
Bear in mind that the information in the graph above is a guide and not the actual text of the law.
Image source: DMV
It’s also illegal to carry alcohol (as well as drugs) in a moving vehicle in California, irrespective of whether you’re driving on the highway or not. All alcohol bottles should be carried full and sealed, or placed in the trunk. It is specifically illegal to keep opened drinks in the glove compartment.
Save for passengers who don’t drive, but are riding in a motor home, cab, or bus, no one is ever allowed to drink (at all) in a vehicle.
The laws against drivers aged under 21, who carry alcohol in the car are especially strict:
- You are only allowed to carry alcohol in your vehicle in the presence of parents or legal guardians. The bottles have to be full, sealed, and closed.
- Drivers under 21 caught carrying alcohol in their vehicles risk having it impounded for up to 30 days. They also face a fine of up to $1,000, suspended driver’s privileges for 1 year, and/or a delay (of up to 1 year) in getting your first license issued.
Kids under 21 with a BAC of over .1% or charged with a DUI will have to go to DUI school on their first offense. Further offenses can cause the suspension of the driver’s restricted license, as well as more time in DUI school.
Kids, don’t try this at home. Or in your dad’s car.
Image source: Deposit Photos
What to do if found over the BAC limit in California
It’s important to bear in mind that, even if you fail BAC level tests in California, you still have some inalienable procedural and legal rights. Make note of them, since police officers often tend to ’overlook’ them.
- The police needs to have “probable cause” to stop, detain, and even arrest you. The fairness of probable cause relies on whether it holds from a legal point of view.
- You are not mandated by law to submit to field sobriety tests and/or breathalyzer test.
- You need to be able to choose between blood and breath tests for BAC. If you refuse, you need to have ‘implied consent’ explained to you.
- If you are breathalyzed at the police precinct, bear in mind that the breath sample collected by the cops can’t be saved for subsequent expertise. Ask for a blood sample to have analyzed at a later date.
- You need to be read your Miranda rights before being taken in for any kind of questioning.
DUI penalties for going over the BAC legal limit in California
It’s important to note that, for drivers who go over the legal limit, CA charges on both counts (a) and (b) in section 23152.
Indeed, you would be right to remark that the act is one and the same for the two charge. However, California laws allow defendants who are charged for drinking and driving to be convicted for both the two offenses. Yet, since the punishments for the two charges are identical, you can only be punished for either one of the two.
California DUI penalty laws are very complex, since they’re enforced by statute. In other words, the statute imposes a set range of potential sentences. However, there’s a further layer of sentence enhancements contingent on your eventual sentence.
Here are some of the factors that can bring you a longer sentence:
- If you were going 20mph or more over the area speed limit, when you were charged with a DUI.
- If one of your passengers was a child aged 14 and below.
- If you’ve been convicted for a DUI over the past 10 years. This will raise your minimum jail sentence, license suspension period, and required time in DUI school. Two prior convictions will raise the bar even higher, while three ‘priors’ will have felony charges brought against you.
- If your BAC test results came out over .15%
- If you turned down chemical sobriety tests (blood, breath, and other types of tests) when charged with the DUI. This will increase both your sentence to jail, as well as the span of your license suspension.
Of course, the final resolution of your case and the sentence you receive, if found guilty of a DUI in California, will largely depend on the specifics of your case.
As is often the case, DUI sentences in California are also influenced by the reputation of your DUI lawyer. Some defense lawyers are especially adept at configuring strategies which reveal the faults in DUI cases against their clients—and this is the kind of experienced defense you want in your corner.
Finally, bear in mind that specific area courts and prosecutors may enforce different policies, when approaching DUI cases.
Felony DUI laws in California
We’ve covered the topic of felony DUIs in California in greater detail before. Check out that post for more info—and, for the time being, here’s a quick primer on when a DUI can become a felony in the Sunshine State:
- When they are charged with 3 prior DUIs within 10 years of a 4th DUI;
- When they cause a DUI with injury – as per provisions of the California Vehicle Code section 23153. Less serious injuries and firsts offenses can be classed as misdemeanors, but ‘great bodily injury’ is usually cause for a felony conviction;
- When they cause a DUI that results in death – this is a case of ‘vehicular manslaughter’.
Check out the verbatim text of Vehicle Code section 23153 here.