Providing Felony DUI Defense Counsel to Westminster, CA Clients
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is illegal in every state. In California, the penalties for DUI can be quite severe depending on the nature of the offense. California enforces many criminal statutes that effectively classify a criminal action as “wobblers,” meaning they can “wobble” between misdemeanor and felony levels depending on the details of the case. When it comes to felony DUI, the defendant faces some of the harshest penalties available for a motor vehicle infraction.
If you or a loved one are charged with felony DUI, it is easy to feel frustrated, uncertain, and confused about your legal options. As a result, it is imperative to understand the value of reliable legal counsel in this situation. The right Westminster felony DUI attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case, potentially helping you avoid the most severe penalties under California law.
At the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC, we understand what could be at stake for you and your family in the face of a felony DUI charge. We have years of experience providing robust criminal defense representation to clients in Westminster, CA and surrounding areas. We can put this experience to work for you in your felony DUI case.
How Is DUI Determined?
The California criminal justice system uses the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) measurement system to determine whether a driver is guilty of DUI. The legal BAC limit is .08% for most drivers. However, a driver under the age of 21 may not operate a vehicle with any detectable BAC because it is illegal for people under 21 to consume alcohol in California. Even a .001% BAC reading could mean an arrest for DUI if the driver is under the age of 21.
The penalties for DUI in California fluctuate based on many factors, including whether the driver has a record of previous DUIs, the nature of the events leading to their arrest, and whether they caused an accident because of DUI. In California, the police may conduct a mandatory DUI chemical screening after a lawful arrest for DUI. However, contrary to popular belief, there is no implied consent law for preliminary alcohol screenings, typically administered using breathalyzer equipment during traffic stops for suspected DUI. The only exceptions to this are drivers under the age of 21 and drivers currently on probation for a prior DUI conviction; neither may refuse a preliminary alcohol screening.
Is it Worth Getting a Lawyer for a DUI?
Every American citizen has two crucial rights when arrested: the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney. The right to remain silent can effectively prevent a suspect from incriminating themselves, and the right to an attorney ensures the suspect has full access to their Constitutional rights as an American citizen. While some people may think that hiring an attorney for DUI is unnecessary and that they can simply secure legal counsel from a public defender free of charge, it is vital to consider this decision carefully.
Public defenders are capable and dedicated attorneys, but they cannot provide much to their clients in the way of individualized attention. Most public defenders handle many cases at a time and may only be able to work on your case for an extremely brief time each day. You will pay a bit more for private criminal defense representation, but the quality of the legal counsel you receive and the increased chance of avoiding conviction will make it well worth your investment.
Should You Get a Lawyer for a First DUI?
Even if you have never been charged with DUI before, hiring legal counsel is essential if you want to be sure you avoid the worst possible penalties for conviction. Depending on how the prosecution chooses to handle your case, your first DUI offense in Westminster, CA could be prosecuted at the felony level. This demands the attention of an experienced Westminster felony DUI attorney. Experiencing the criminal justice system as a defendant for the first time will be a much more bearable experience when you have an experienced and reliable criminal defense attorney advocating on your behalf.
It is important to remember that California assigns penalties for DUI conviction on a scale based on the defendant’s record and the severity of the current offense. Your first DUI could lay the groundwork for more serious penalties in the future should you repeat your mistake. Hiring the right attorney not only reduces the chance of facing the worst possible penalties for conviction but can also help you put the situation into the proper perspective. Your attorney may help you avoid repeating your behavior in the future and incurring even worse penalties for conviction.
What Questions Should I Ask a DUI Lawyer?
Before committing to any lawyer’s services, you must ensure they are the right fit for your case. Take advantage of consultation offers from reputable defense attorneys in your area, and ask each a few important questions so you can better determine whether they are right for you:
- “How long have you practiced criminal defense?” Experience is a critical consideration when choosing an attorney. While many newly certified attorneys are talented and capable of delivering results to their first clients, it is best to choose an attorney with a solid professional record in criminal defense.
- “How much experience do you have with felony DUI cases?” When you need a lawyer, it is important to choose one who has experience handling cases like yours. Before hiring a defense attorney, make sure they not only have experience with DUI cases, but DUI cases prosecuted at the felony level.
- “How long do you expect my case to take?” A good attorney should be able to quickly determine how long your case will require before reaching a conclusion. Their estimate of your case’s timeframe should help you gauge how much their services will cost.
- “How do you bill your time?” Most defense attorneys bill their client by the hour. Before agreeing to a lawyer’s representation, be sure that you are clear regarding their billing practices.
- “Do you notice anything unusual or special about my case?” Every felony DUI case is different, and an experienced defense attorney should be able to quickly identify any unique opportunities or challenges you are likely to face as your case unfolds.
- “What do you think will happen with my case?” There is no harm in asking a potential lawyer for their honest professional opinion of your situation. A good attorney will be candid and clear in their interpretation of your legal options.
Take time to create a few more questions that are more specific to your situation. While you should not rush your decision regarding which lawyer to hire to represent you, it is important not to take too long, either. After your arrest and booking, you can expect a preliminary arraignment soon after, and you should have legal counsel on your side as soon as possible after arrest.
What Do DUI Lawyers Look for in Defending Their Clients?
An experienced Westminster felony DUI attorney will evaluate many distinct factors when it comes to determining the best method of defending their client. First, it is typically best for the defense attorney to carefully review the conditions of their client’s arrest and booking. The attorney should determine whether the arresting officers properly established probable cause and upheld due process laws in handling the arrest. If the police were negligent in these obligations in any way, an attorney may have the case dismissed on procedural grounds.
The defense attorney should also evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case. Are they basing their felony charge purely on the suspect’s chemical test, or did the suspect cause an accident resulting in injury or death to someone else? In California, DUI offenses are only prosecuted at the felony level if the suspect hurt or killed someone due to driving while intoxicated, or if they were previously convicted of three or more prior DUI offenses within ten years. A suspect will also face felony DUI charges if they were previously convicted of a felony DUI. It is possible that your defense attorney may cite inconsistencies that would allow your charges to be reduced to misdemeanor level.
Your Westminster felony DUI attorney must assess many different variables to dismantle the prosecution’s case:
- Your attorney must determine whether the police officer who arrested you established probable cause, conducted a lawful arrest, and upheld due process.
- Your attorney must evaluate whether the police handled booking appropriately and properly informed you of your Miranda rights during arrest.
- If the prosecution cites a chemical test, your attorney should review the lab report for the test. They must determine if the police administered the test correctly and if the lab that processed your sample did so following proper procedures and regulations.
- If the prosecution’s chosen testing lab has a record of false positives or mishandling of DUI chemical test samples, your attorney should highlight these issues.
- Your attorney must determine whether any exculpatory evidence exists to support your defense, and they should also search for any resources they can use to bolster your character before the court.
Every DUI case is unique and will proceed differently depending on the specifics of the case. Your Westminster felony DUI attorney should be able to provide you with a general breakdown of the challenges and opportunities you face as well as an honest assessment of your potential results.
Mitigating and Aggravating Factors in Felony DUI Cases
As your attorney reviews the details of your case, they may discover mitigating factors that could lead to your charges being reduced to misdemeanor level or even dropped entirely. Some of the most cited mitigating factors in a felony DUI case include:
- The police’s failure to establish probable cause for conducting your arrest.
- The police’s failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were operating a vehicle when they arrested you.
- Failure of the police to correctly administer a DUI chemical test.
- Failure of the police to read your Miranda rights during your arrest.
- Mishandling of your DUI chemical test sample, either by the police or by the lab charged with testing the sample.
It is equally important for your attorney to identify any aggravating factors in your case that are likely to work against you. While mitigating factors potentially reduce the severity of your charges, aggravating factors increase the potential penalties you face. For example, if you are charged with felony DUI simply because you have a prior conviction of felony DUI, you are much more likely to find mitigating factors to have your DUI charge reduced than you would be if you were charged with felony DUI after killing another motorist.
What Is Plea Bargaining?
In any criminal case, it benefits both prosecution and defense to seek a speedy resolution to the case. After felony DUI charges, the prosecution may be willing to reduce your charges to the misdemeanor level in exchange for a guilty plea. This will usually result in swifter court proceedings and a lighter sentence. However, if you are convinced of your innocence or believe the police engaged in any type of misconduct in handling your case, it may suit your interests to pursue a trial instead. Doing so will be result in more extensive legal fees, but if you have confidence in your Westminster felony DUI attorney and believe the police and/or the prosecution have mishandled your case, choosing a trial may be the wisest decision you make.
When it comes to plea bargaining, you should expect your Westminster felony DUI attorney to explain how this process unfolds and what you can expect from the prosecution. Your options for plea bargaining may be limited depending on the unique circumstances that exist within your case.
Possible Penalties for Felony DUI in Westminster, CA
If you are uncertain whether official misconduct could result in reduced charges, it is vital that you take plea bargaining very seriously as your felony DUI case proceeds. California upholds strict penalties for felony convictions. If convicted of felony DUI, you are likely to face a wide range of penalties including:
- Financial penalties. Criminal conviction will almost always incur some type of fine. Additionally, the court will add penalty assessments to your sentence based on the unique variables that affect your case.
- Driver’s license suspension. Both the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Westminster criminal court will issue suspensions on your driver’s license after a DUI. These suspensions will overlap and run concurrently. The length of your driver’s license suspension typically hinges on whether you have prior DUI convictions on your record, as well as the severity of your offense.
- Incarceration. The standard incarceration term for felony DUI in California is 16 months to three years, depending on the severity of the offense. However, it is vital that you consider California’s Three Strikes law if you have prior felony convictions. After three felonies, you will be sent to state prison for 25 years to life.
- Probation. The court will add a probation period of three to five years to your sentence, based on the severity of your offense and your record of prior DUI offenses. You must be very cognizant of your actions during probation, as any criminal offenses will lead to imprisonment.
- Ignition interlock device (IID) installation. The judge sentencing you may add an IID requirement to your sentence. An IID attaches to your vehicle and prevents it from starting until you provide a breath sample. If the IID detects alcohol on your breath, it will log the event in a small computer and prevent the vehicle from starting for several hours. The length of time you will require an IID depends on the judge’s discretion, and you will be required to pay for the device and installation.
- Mandatory drug and alcohol treatment. If the court determines that your DUI offense was a result of a substance abuse disorder, the judge may order you to complete a rehabilitation program.
- Mandatory driver safety programs. The judge will likely require you to complete a certain number of course hours in a state-funded driver safety program that highlights the dangers of DUI.
- Mandatory attendance at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Panel. When you attend this program, you will be confronted by DUI accident survivors and surviving loved ones of those killed in DUI accidents. This panel encourages you to acknowledge the impact that DUI can have on the lives of others.
- Community service. Many judges will sentence felony DUI offenders to a certain number of community service hours alongside their other penalties. Your community service requirement could entail picking up litter, cleaning graffiti, or performing other maintenance tasks for your community.
These penalties can be quite severe, and they may escalate based on the seriousness of a DUI offense. For example, if you were arrested at a DUI checkpoint, the penalties are likely to be less severe than had you been arrested after causing a serious accident. Penalties also escalate when a defendant has a record of prior DUI convictions. If you want to avoid the worst of these penalties and increase your chances of either minimizing your sentence or avoiding conviction altogether, it is vital to hire an experienced and reliable Westminster felony DUI attorney as soon as possible after your arrest.
It is important to remember that if you are charged with felony DUI because you caused an accident, you will likely face a civil action from the other driver. If you killed someone because of DUI, their surviving loved ones could file a wrongful death claim against you. In general, if your DUI involved any type of harm to another person, you will have a challenging time getting your charges reduced. In addition, the judge may add restitution to the victim to your penalties, and you could also face civil litigation from the victim or the victim’s family.
What to Expect From Your Westminster Felony DUI Attorney
If you or a loved one are arrested for felony DUI in the Westminster, CA area, it is vital to secure legal counsel as soon as possible to determine your best available defenses. An experienced Westminster felony DUI attorney should be swift in reviewing all the evidence available to determine if there are potential grounds to have your case dismissed, such as due process violations from the police or procedural missteps from the prosecution. If your attorney discovers any such factors, they should seek to have your charges dismissed as quickly as possible so you can put the situation behind you and get on with your life.
However, if you know you made a mistake and the prosecution has a solid case against you, do not despair. When you work with an experienced legal team like the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC, you have a much better chance of avoiding conviction or, at the very least, minimizing your penalty with skilled counsel on your side.
Secure an Experienced Westminster, CA DUI Attorney
When you choose the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC to pursue your case, you can rest assured we will access the full range of our resources and experience as we help you navigate the legal proceedings ahead. We understand how daunting it can be to face any type of felony charge, especially one like felony DUI that has the potential to interfere with your life for months or even years to come. Thus, we strive for case dismissal whenever possible and move to have our client’s charges and potential penalties reduced as extensively as California law allows.
We understand that if you have been arrested and now face felony DUI charges, it can feel like the criminal justice system is working against you or that you are alone in your fight. Remember, you have the right to secure legal counsel. If you find yourself in this situation, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC and schedule a consultation with an experienced, compassionate Westminster, CA felony DUI attorney who can guide you to the best possible result for your case.