Representing Clients for Santa Ana Aggravated DUI Charges

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a crime in every state in the US, but some DUI charges are more severe than others. Aggravated DUI carries a much heavier penalty than most other DUI charges, and the legal implications of a conviction for aggravated DUI can cause you problems for years. The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann can provide the defense representation you need when you have been arrested for DUI and charged with aggravated DUI.

We understand the high level of legal representation these cases require. Aggravated DUI charges are far more severe than standard DUI charges, even if you have a record of past DUI convictions. The right Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case, potentially helping you minimize your penalties and helping you avoid prison time.

Why Choose the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann?

Hiring a Santa Ana aggravated DUI attorney is a major decision. When you face the severe legal penalties that often follow conviction for this crime, you need the best legal representation available. Attorney Christopher J. McCann has more than 15 years of professional experience as a Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer and has helped many past clients avoid conviction and minimize their penalties in a wide range of criminal cases.

Our team is prepared to provide the full range of our professional resources and experience in your case. We understand that aggravated DUI typically leads to substantial penalties, and Santa Ana prosecutors tend to be quite aggressive in pursuing convictions for these charges. Rest assured that our team will help you understand the charges you face and assist you in exhausting every defense available to you as your case unfolds.

We provide client-focused representation, meaning we never take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to handling any case we accept. You can expect Attorney McCann and his team to thoroughly investigate every aspect of your case, from the conditions of your arrest to the charges you face.

What Is Aggravated DUI?

The standard definition of DUI is operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. This is the legal limit for most drivers over 21, but the legal limit for commercial drivers is .04%. The legal limit for drivers under the age of 21 is zero, meaning any detectable level of alcohol can lead to a DUI charge when a driver is not legally old enough to drink.

Whenever a district attorney or other state attorney prosecutes a DUI case, there are mitigating and aggravating factors that come into play to determine the severity of the defendant’s sentencing. Mitigating factors are details that work in favor of the accused. For example, if the defendant has no prior record of DUI and was arrested at a checkpoint stop when they did not break the law at all, these would be mitigating factors in sentencing. Aggravating factors are details that work against the accused, such as a prior record of DUI conviction, hurting another driver while under the influence, or driving under the influence on a suspended license.

It’s vital to understand what mitigating and aggravating factors are in DUI cases so you can appreciate the difference between a DUI with minimal aggravating factors and an “aggravated DUI,” which typically indicates a DUI that involves multiple or severe aggravating factors. An aggravated DUI is any DUI that involves:

  • Injury or death to another person.
  • Extreme DUI with BAC over .15%, which is double the legal limit for standard DUI.
  • A DUI arrest with a minor in the vehicle. This may lead to additional charges of child endangerment.
  • A fourth conviction, or any DUI conviction following a felony DUI.

Most DUI charges in California are prosecuted as misdemeanors, but aggravated DUI is a felony charge. This means that if you are convicted of aggravated DUI in California, the penalties will be far more severe than they would be for a standard DUI conviction.

DUI Penalties in California

California state law prescribes punishment for DUI based on the severity of the offense and the number of prior convictions on the defendant’s record. A first-time DUI with minimal aggravating factors can still result in significant penalties for the defendant, including fines up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments. The defendant will also face a six-month suspension of their driver’s license in addition to a four-month administrative suspension imposed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These suspensions overlap, so the administrative suspension will usually expire before the suspension imposed by sentencing.

First-time DUI offenders in California can also expect to face three to five years of probation, during which time they must complete 30 hours of DUI classes. In the event the defendant was arrested with a BAC of .20% or higher, they will need to attend a nine-month DUI school and complete at least 60-course hours.

The penalties for subsequent DUI convictions escalate dramatically. For a second offense, fines remain at up to $1,000 plus penalty assessments, but the defendant will face 96 hours to one year in jail depending on the number of aggravating factors in the case. The criminal court will also impose a two-year driver’s license suspension, and the DMV will apply a one-year administrative suspension of the driver’s license. These suspensions also overlap, but a second DUI offense will also require the defendant to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on their vehicle, and they will not be permitted to drive without it.

Second DUI offenses will also incur probation from three to five years, and the defendant will need to complete an 18-month or 30-month DUI course at the judge’s discretion. For a third DUI conviction, fines remain the same, but the defendant will also face 120 days to one year in jail, a three-year criminal license suspension, a one-year DMV administrative suspension, and IID installation for at least two years.

Once an individual has reached their fourth DUI conviction, the criminal process moves from misdemeanor to the felony level. A fourth DUI conviction qualifies as an aggravated DUI and will result in 16 months to four years in state prison and fines up to $1,000. In the event a driver has a felony DUI conviction on their record and is convicted of another DUI of any level, this subsequent offense will be prosecuted at the felony level.

DUI Involving Deaths or Injuries

When a driver injuries someone else due to DUI, the conviction is generally referred to as a “wobbler.” This denotes that the offense may qualify as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors in the case. For example, if your DUI resulted in another driver suffering a bone fracture that will heal within a few months and cause minimal or no lasting damage, the prosecution may pursue a misdemeanor charge. However, if the victim sustained severe injuries or any injuries that cause permanent damage, the defendant could be prosecuted for aggravated DUI and face felony conviction.

If aggravated DUI is charged as a felony, the defendant faces 16 months to four years in state prison and fines between $390 and $5,000. In the event a DUI driver causes the death of another person, the driver faces more serious charges, potentially including:

  • Negligent vehicular manslaughter while under the influence.
  • Gross negligent manslaughter while under the influence.
  • Murder in the second degree. This felony conviction incurs a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

It is vital for any driver convicted of aggravated DUI in California to understand that their criminal penalties are not the least of their concerns. While a judge may order restitution to a victim they have injured as a condition of sentencing, the defendant would also face civil liability for the victim’s damages. While available insurance coverage may offer some relief, it is unlikely for insurance to fully cover the victim’s losses, and the defendant will be liable for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and property damage resulting from their intoxicated driving.

Why Should I Hire a Private Defense Attorney?

Many people make the mistake of believing they should save money on legal fees by choosing a public defender to represent them. The laws of the US allow any individual to secure legal representation free of charge from a public defender, and most public defenders are capable, competent, and dedicated attorneys. However, the majority of public defenders have to manage multiple cases at a time, and their caseloads typically prevent them from devoting much time to each case they’re handling on any given day. This means you cannot expect much individualized legal counsel from a public defender compared to what a private defense firm can offer.

The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann can provide the individualized attention your aggravated DUI case deserves. We understand that these cases involve severe penalties, some of which can impact your life for years to come. You can rely on our team to thoroughly explore every available defense, challenge the prosecution’s evidence at every opportunity, and ultimately guide you toward the most favorable result the law provides.

What to Expect from Your Santa Ana Criminal Defense Lawyer

It is not uncommon for a person to face aggravated DUI charges on shaky evidence. For example, an investigation might reveal that the accused had indeed been drinking but was not impaired when they started driving. A subsequent accident could have been caused by dangerous road conditions, bad weather, or even another driver, but a chemical test presents a major obstacle for the defendant in making their case.

An experienced Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer will work closely with their client to determine their best available defenses. For example, it may be necessary to consult with an accident reconstructionist, a forensic toxicologist, or other expert witnesses to help their client avoid conviction for aggravated DUI.

When you accept the legal services of a Santa Ana aggravated DUI attorney, they should provide you with a clear roadmap of how they expect your case to proceed. The attorney should clearly outline your available defenses, inform you of the experts they intend to bring into your case, and explain how they intend to challenge the prosecution’s evidence.

What Is Plea Bargaining?

In some cases, avoiding conviction is not possible, but a good Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer can still help their client avoid the worst penalties the law prescribes under certain conditions. Plea bargaining is the process of exchanging a guilty plea for a lighter sentence. Prosecutors tend to seek swift results in their cases, and a defendant pleading guilty streamlines the judicial process for everyone involved. Your Santa Ana aggravated DUI attorney will help you determine whether plea bargaining is in your best interests.

It’s important to note that plea bargaining will be much more difficult in a case involving aggravated DUI that caused injury or death. Additionally, it will be difficult to plea bargain if the defendant has committed a felony DUI in the past. However, there is almost always some room for negotiation in these cases. Make sure you understand your options thoroughly before agreeing to any plea bargain.

Possible Defenses in Your Aggravated DUI Case

Forming your defense against an aggravated DUI charge typically revolves around questioning the conditions of your arrest, challenging the validity of the testing used to confirm that you were driving under the influence, or citing due process violations. Your Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer will likely begin your case by carefully reviewing the circumstances of your arrest. The police in California need to establish probable cause to arrest a driver for DUI. Some examples of probable cause that a police officer may use to establish grounds for conducting an arrest include:

  • Observing a driver committing a moving violation, such as speeding, running a stop sign or red light, or reckless driving.
  • Responding to a call concerning a collision.
  • Conducting routine driver checks at a DUI checkpoint.

These are just a few possible scenarios that could lead to a police officer pulling over a driver suspected of DUI. However, the responding officer must determine whether the driver is inebriated before they can arrest them for DUI. If the police officer detects the smell of alcohol in the car, observes open alcohol containers inside the car, or if the driver appears obviously impaired, this can be sufficient for conducting an arrest for DUI.

Some police officers will request a driver submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test. It’s a common misconception that if a driver asks you to take a breathalyzer, you have to take the test by law. However, in California, there is no legal impetus for a driver to submit to a PAS. The implied consent law of California requires a driver to submit to chemical testing for drugs and alcohol after a lawful arrest for DUI. The only drivers who may not refuse a PAS test are drivers under 21 and drivers who are on probation for a previous DUI violation.

The purpose of the PAS test is for the police to establish probable cause, and since there is no legal requirement for a driver to submit to a PAS test, you can and should refuse to take one if you are over the age of 21 and are not on probation for a prior DUI. However, it’s important to remember that the police officer may still establish probable cause without a PAS test, and if you are arrested for DUI, you must submit to chemical testing at the police station. If you refuse this test, you will face an automatic one-year suspension of your driver’s license. Your refusal will likely pose additional legal problems for you as your case unfolds.

Important Things to Remember During a Traffic Stop

If you are pulled over by police for a moving violation or suspected DUI, your actions during the traffic stop can potentially lead to your arrest or work in your favor depending on your behavior. First and foremost, do not be aggressive, rude, or confrontational with the police. Doing so will only encourage them to look for any reason they can find to arrest you.

Be polite but remember your Constitutional right to remain silent. The police are likely hoping that you will say something that will establish probable cause for them, allowing them to arrest you. However, the burden of proof and onus of establishing probable cause rests with the police, not with you. If the police ask you any questions, you have every legal right to respond by saying you wish to exercise your rights and will not answer any questions without an attorney. Some drivers make the mistake of trying to explain themselves in the hope of clarifying the situation only to find that doing so has given the police the grounds they need to conduct an arrest.

When a police officer conducts a traffic stop for suspected DUI, the officer has a responsibility to establish probable cause within the boundaries of the law. Unfortunately, some officers pressure or even threaten stopped drivers to convince them to submit to PAS testing, or they engage in other field sobriety checks to establish probable cause. It’s important for all drivers to remember that many of the field sobriety checks that police officers use can be difficult to pass even while sober. Some of these checks include balancing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe in a straight line, and other tests of balance and coordination.

All drivers should remember that field sobriety tests are entirely optional in California; there is no legal requirement for a driver to submit to any field sobriety tests, and if the officer cannot establish probable cause with other available and readily observable evidence, there are no grounds for an arrest. An affirmative defense in your DUI case could rest on the fact that the arresting officers did not follow California state law and violated your right to due process.

If the police inform you that you are being arrested for DUI, remember to exercise your right to remain silent. The police should read you your Miranda rights as they handcuff you and put you in the squad car before transporting you to their police station for booking. It is vital that you pay close attention to the behavior of the police at this time. If you believe they have violated due process in any way, inform your defense attorney at your first opportunity.

Some DUI cases can be thrown out of court if a judge discovers that the police violated due process during the arrest and booking procedures. Some examples of due process violations that could potentially lead to this result include:

  • Failure to establish probable cause before conducting an arrest.
  • Failure to read a suspect their Miranda rights upon arrest.
  • Mistreatment of the suspect while in police custody.
  • Tampering or planting evidence.
  • Failing to properly administer a chemical test.
  • Attempting to coerce a confession under duress without legal representation present.

If you experience anything like these examples, it is essential that you inform your attorney immediately. A due process violation or any violation of your Constitutional rights could be all that you need to have your case thrown out. However, if you injured or killed someone due to DUI, you should not expect this result. While the criminal case against you may be severely hampered by a due process violation, you will still face civil liability for victims’ damages.

Challenging a Chemical Test Result

Another possible avenue of defense in your aggravated DUI case is to challenge the validity of the chemical test used to establish your BAC. Once arrested for DUI in California, the arrested driver must submit to a breath or blood test to confirm their BAC. If a breath or blood test is unavailable, they must provide a urine sample. The testing procedure may be the definitive factor in the prosecution’s case, and your Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer will look for any and all justification to have the test results thrown out or at least have their validity called into question.

Your attorney may challenge the conditions under which your chemical test was administered, citing possible contamination or improper use of the testing materials to claim that the test is inadmissible or invalid. It is also possible in some cases to challenge the credibility of the testing lab responsible for processing the results of the chemical test. For example, if the testing lab previously had issues with their test analysis equipment or delivered false positives in past cases, these bits of evidence may be enough to leave the lab’s credibility questionable in the eyes of the court.

Potential Alternative Sentencing for Substance Abuse Disorder

In the event an investigation clearly establishes that you were driving while intoxicated and you face aggravated DUI charges, your Santa Ana criminal defense attorney may help you secure lighter sentencing if you can prove that you have a substance abuse disorder that requires treatment and counseling. In California, it’s possible to receive alternative sentencing under certain conditions. This option is typically reserved for drivers who are convicted of aggravated DUI for the first time or have not displayed a pattern of dangerous driving in the past. Additionally, it will be difficult for a convicted driver to qualify for alternative sentencing if they severely injured or killed another person due to aggravated DUI.

One example of how alternative sentencing could potentially work is the judge may recommend the defendant commit to reside in a sober-living environment for a predetermined period of time or complete a substance abuse treatment program. Agreeing to these terms could potentially reduce jail time or even take incarceration off the table for sentencing. If you qualify for any alternative sentencing, heed your defense attorney’s advice carefully concerning whether you should accept this type of sentencing or if another option would suit your best interests more closely.

Find Your Defense Counsel Now

Aggravated DUI cases are some of the most difficult DUI cases to approach as a defendant. If your case involves charges for injuring or killing another person due to driving while intoxicated, you could face severe penalties beyond the standard penalties for DUI as well as civil actions from the victims and/or their families. Ultimately, an aggravated DUI can potentially result in significant financial losses, incarceration, loss of your driving privileges, and other significant restrictions that will affect your life for years to come.

One of the most important things to do after an arrest for DUI is to contact a Santa Ana aggravated DUI attorney at your first opportunity. The sooner you secure legal representation and have an attorney begin working on your case, the better your chances will be of reducing your sentencing and eliminating the worst penalties you face.

If you are ready to secure legal counsel for an aggravated DUI case in Santa Ana, a criminal defense lawyer with a solid record of successful DUI representation is the best asset you can have. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann today to schedule a consultation with a Santa Ana aggravated DUI attorney and learn how our firm can assist in your defense.