Driving under the influence is no laughing matter; the authorities take it seriously. Even first-time DUI offenders face hefty fines, court-ordered penalties, and strict probation terms and may even end up behind bars. But things become more serious when it comes to a fourth DUI conviction. You could be looking at the harshest fines, penalties, probation terms, and an extended stay behind bars. If you or someone you know is facing a 4th offense DUI charge, consult with a skilled DUI defense lawyer.
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we provide top-notch criminal defense services for 4th-offense DUI cases. Do not risk your reputation by attempting to represent yourself in court. Fighting these charges without legal expertise is incredibly challenging, and you could compromise your rights during the trial. Let us handle your defense and protect your rights every step of the way.
The Events After a 4th DUI Arrest
You could face severe penalties if you face a 4th DUI charge in California. A fourth DUI is considered a "priorable offense," meaning that penalties increase with each successive conviction within ten years. As a result, you could be looking at more significant fines, longer jail or prison sentences, and a prolonged driver's license revocation.
The penalties for committing a 4th DUI depend on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, you may face a jail sentence between 180 days and one year. Fines could be between $390 and $1,000, and you would have to attend DUI School for 30 months. If the judge posts you on probation, you could be looking at three to five years.
A felony fourth DUI could result in a state prison sentence ranging from 16 months to three years. Furthermore, your driver's license will be revoked for four years, and you will be labeled a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) for three years.
To avoid the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspending your driver's license, you must win the DMV and criminal court hearings. Also, the law could require you to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) before you can drive.
How The Prosecutor Secures A Fourth DUI Conviction
When the prosecution seeks to prove your fourth DUI charge, they must present compelling evidence to establish your guilt. The evidence typically includes demonstrating that you operated a vehicle while impaired or that your blood alcohol level was 0.08% or above.
The prosecution may rely on various forms of evidence, such as field sobriety test results, chemical test results (breathalyzer or blood test), and testimonies from law enforcement officers and witnesses. Additionally, the prosecution will examine your criminal and DMV records to establish that you have had three convictions for DUI within the past ten years.
Sentence Enhancements For a 4th DUI Conviction
Penalty enhancements are imposed when certain aggravating factors are present in a DUI case. The penalties may be enhanced if the following circumstances are involved:
- During a DUI stop, you refuse to take a chemical test (breath, blood, or urine). You may face an additional 18 days in jail, adding to the standard penalties.
- Driving at a speed of 30 mph above the limit on a highway or 20 mph above the limit on any other roadway. This can result in an additional 60-day jail sentence.
- Having a minor under 14 years old in the vehicle while driving under the influence. This could lead to an additional 6- to 90-day jail or prison sentence. You may also face child endangerment charges under California PC 273a. This is a separate offense carrying a possible prison sentence of up to six years.
- If your DUI results in causing an injury to another person, you could face charges for DUI causing an injury under California VC 23153. The minimum penalty is a two-year prison sentence. If a physical injury occurs, the sentence can range from 3 to 6 years, with an additional year added per injured individual up to 3 years. You may also be fined up to $5,000.
- If your DUI results in the death of another person, you may be charged with DUI manslaughter under California PC 191.5. The jail sentence could be between 16 months and four years. In the case of gross vehicular manslaughter under California PC 192(c), you could serve time in prison for up to six years, along with a fine of up to $10,000.
- If you have a DUI record and were given a Watson advisement that driving under the influence could result in murder charges if someone is killed and you subsequently cause a fatality while driving under the influence, you can be charged with second-degree murder or Watson murder under Penal Code 187. The punishment for Watson murder is a 15-year or life imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $15,000.
What Happens If You Have Five DUIs in California?
A fifth DUI within ten years attracts harsher consequences than a fourth one. Repeated DUI offenses demonstrate a pattern of dangerous behavior and disregard for the law. The penalties for a fifth DUI conviction can include the following:
- A prison sentence ranging from two to three years or more.
- Fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 or more.
- Mandatory alcohol addiction treatment or attending DUI education programs
- Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status
- higher insurance premiums
The Number of DUIs You Could Have In California
California has no specific limit to the number of DUI offenses a person can accumulate. However, the more DUI convictions you have on your record, the harsher the penalties for each subsequent offense.
DUI offenses are considered "priorable offenses" in California, meaning that the penalties for a conviction increase with each successive offense within ten years. This is commonly referred to as the "lookback period."
Past DUIs That Count as Priors
Certain types of past DUI convictions count as priors, which can lead to increased penalties for subsequent DUI offenses within a ten-year lookback period. These are:
- Driving under the influence, California VC 23152a.
- Driving with an excessive BAC, California VC 23152b.
- DUI with injury, California VC 23153, as a misdemeanor.
- Wet reckless driving, California VC 23103.5.
- Out-of-state convictions that, if committed in California, would violate one of the abovementioned laws.
- Previously expunged convictions for any of the above offenses.
The ten-year lookback period means the prosecution can use any prior DUI convictions within the past ten years to enhance the penalties for a current DUI offense. The more prior DUIs you have within this timeframe, the harsher the penalties become for subsequent DUI convictions.
Contesting a 4th DUI Charge
While facing a fourth DUI charge is daunting, there are potential defense strategies that you can employ to challenge the case. They include:
The Law Enforcement Officers Lacked Reasonable Suspicion To Conduct The Traffic Stop
In the United States, law enforcement officers must have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard requiring officers to possess specific and articulable facts that suggest criminal activity is occurring. If you could demonstrate that the law enforcement officers lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop leading to the DUI arrest, it may provide grounds to challenge the entire case.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, and a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion may be deemed unlawful. To challenge the validity of the traffic stop, your defense attorney may thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the stop, including:
- If there were any erratic driving, swerving, or other observable signs of impairment, that would justify the stop.
- If you committed any traffic violations, such as running a red light or speeding, that would provide reasonable suspicion for the stop.
- If the stop was based on an anonymous tip, was there sufficient corroboration of the information provided to establish reasonable suspicion.
- If the stop was based on racial profiling or discriminatory factors rather than objective evidence of wrongdoing.
- If the stop was merely a pretext to investigate the driver for reasons unrelated to any observed traffic violation.
If the defense can successfully argue that the traffic stop lacked reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained during the stop, including field sobriety and BAC tests, may be suppressed. This means that such evidence cannot be used against the defendant in court, significantly weakening the prosecution's case and potentially leading to a dismissal or reduction of the DUI charges.
The Police Officers Had Insufficient Probable Cause To Execute A Dui Arrest
Probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and requires law enforcement to possess enough evidence to reasonably believe that a crime has been committed. In the context of a DUI arrest, probable cause means the officers must have enough specific facts and observations to lead them to believe that the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
You could challenge the allegations by assessing the circumstances, including:
- If the officers make detailed observations of the driver's behavior, appearance, or performance on field sobriety tests that suggest impairment.
- If the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) were conducted properly and per established protocols. If you know any factors that could have affected the accuracy of the test results, you could use them as a defense.
- If there were any issues with the administration or calibration of the breathalyzer or blood test, that could cast doubt on the accuracy of the BAC results.
- If there were any other plausible explanations for the driver's behavior or appearance, such as fatigue, illness, or medication use, that could account for the perceived impairment.
- If the officers have preconceived notions or biases that might have influenced their judgment during the arrest.
If you could prove that the police officers lacked sufficient probable cause to believe that you were driving under the influence, the validity of the DUI arrest may be questioned. In such cases, your attorney could argue that the arrest was unlawful, and any evidence obtained afterward, such as BAC test results, may be deemed inadmissible in court.
The Police Gave Incorrect Instructions For The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
SFSTs are a series of three tests—the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the Walk-and-Turn test, and the One-Leg Stand test—that law enforcement commonly uses to assess a driver's level of impairment.
These tests are not infallible, and several factors can lead to incorrect test results. Police officers must undergo specific training to correctly administer SFSTs. If the officers were not properly trained or did not follow the standardized procedures, it could compromise the accuracy of the tests.
The location where the tests are conducted can impact the results. Uneven surfaces, poor lighting, or distractions could affect your performance, leading to false indications of impairment. Also, you may feel nervous or anxious during the traffic stop, leading to performance issues during the tests that may be misconstrued as signs of intoxication. Certain medical conditions or physical impairments can affect a driver's ability to perform the tests correctly, even if sober.
The officers' subjective interpretations of the test results can vary and may not always be accurate. You can challenge these with the help of a DUI defense attorney. Your lawyer could request documentation of the officers' training records and thoroughly cross-examine them during the trial to identify any inconsistencies or errors in their administration of the tests.
You could also seek expert witnesses who can testify about the limitations and unreliability of SFSTs under certain conditions.
The Breathalyzer Was Broken
The breathalyzer is a device commonly used by law enforcement to estimate a person's BAC based on a breath sample. However, like any technology, breathalyzers can experience malfunctions or errors, such as wear and tear, electronic defects, or software errors, leading to inaccurate BAC readings.
Several factors can contribute to a breathalyzer being broken or providing faulty results. Breathalyzers require regular calibration to ensure accurate readings. The results may be compromised if the device is incorrectly calibrated.
External factors such as radio frequency interference or certain environmental substances can interfere with the breathalyzer's operation and lead to inaccurate readings. Also, Improper use or mishandling of the breathalyzer by the law enforcement officer conducting the test can affect the results.
Your defense lawyer could challenge the reliability of a broken breathalyzer by investigating the maintenance records of the device to determine whether it was appropriately calibrated and functioning correctly at the time of the test. If you prove that the breathalyzer was broken or produced unreliable results, the court may exclude the results from the evidence, significantly weakening the prosecution's case.
You Were Suffering From A Diabetic Coma Or Another Episode That Mimicked Intoxication
In an unfortunate event, a driver facing a 4th DUI charge may have been experiencing a diabetic coma or another medical episode that mimicked signs of intoxication. Diabetes is a medical condition that affects how the body regulates glucose levels. When blood sugar levels become imbalanced, it can lead to symptoms resembling alcohol intoxication.
During a diabetic episode, a person may exhibit symptoms such as slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, unsteady movements, and even a sweet or fruity-smelling breath—which can be mistaken for signs of impairment by law enforcement officers.
To use a diabetic episode as a defense in a fourth DUI case, the defendant's legal team will need to gather relevant medical records and expert testimony to demonstrate the following:
- You had a diagnosed medical condition, such as diabetes, that could lead to a diabetic episode with symptoms similar to intoxication.
- The diabetic episode occurred around the time of the traffic stop or DUI arrest, indicating that your behavior and physical manifestations were due to a medical issue, not alcohol or drug impairment.
- Expert medical witnesses can explain the similarities between the symptoms of a diabetic episode and those of intoxication, establishing that the officer's observations may have been misinterpreted.
- If there is no other evidence of intoxication, such as failed field sobriety tests or high BAC readings, it further supports the claim that the defendant's behavior resulted from a medical condition rather than alcohol or drug use.
You want to work with medical professionals to establish your medical condition and how it could have led to the observed behaviors during the traffic stop. If you prove that your actions were not due to impairment but a medical emergency, it may be possible to challenge the DUI charges and seek a favorable outcome in court.
You Had A Bridge Or Other Dental Work That Allowed Alcohol To Pool, Resulting In A Falsely High Breath Test Result
Dental bridges or other dental devices impact the accuracy of breath test results. Breathalyzers that estimate blood alcohol content (BAC) rely on capturing a deep-lung breath sample. However, certain dental work may create pockets or areas in the mouth where alcohol can become trapped, leading to falsely high BAC readings.
Similarly, when you consume alcohol, traces of it can remain in the mouth, especially in spaces around dental work. These trapped alcohol residues can mix with the sample provided for testing, causing the breathalyzer to register a higher BAC level than the individual's true blood alcohol concentration.
Your dental work could be a defense if you have evidence, such as dental records or a statement from the dentist, to substantiate the claim that the dental work could impact breath test results. You must demonstrate that the dental work was present during the breath test and could have affected the results.
Expert testimony from dentists or forensic experts can explain how specific dental work might trap alcohol and contribute to inaccurate breathalyzer readings. Also, if there are other factors indicating the defendant's sobriety, such as passing field sobriety tests or displaying no signs of impairment, it strengthens the argument that the breath test results were flawed.
You Suffer From GERD, Or Acid Reflux, Which Can Result In A Falsely High Breath Test Result
GERD is a medical condition where stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, potentially carrying alcohol vapors from the stomach into the mouth. When a breathalyzer test is conducted during an episode of GERD or acid reflux, the alcohol vapors in the mouth can contaminate the breath sample and result in an artificially elevated blood alcohol content (BAC) reading. To support your defense strategy, you must have a documented GERD or acid reflux history, typically supported by medical records and expert testimony from healthcare professionals.
Your High Chemical Test Result Was Due To Rising Blood Alcohol
Rising blood alcohol refers to the phenomenon where an individual's BAC continues to increase even after they have stopped consuming alcohol. This occurs because alcohol takes time to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and there can be a delay between the last drink and when the BAC peaks.
When relying on rising blood alcohol as a defense in a fourth DUI case, the defendant's legal team will focus on aspects such as establishing a clear timeline of your alcohol consumption, showing that you consumed alcohol shortly before or during the time of driving. However, the BAC was still rising when the chemical test was administered.
The Blood Test Samples Had Been Contaminated
Blood tests are often considered more accurate than breathalyzer tests in determining a person's blood alcohol content (BAC). However, collecting, handling, and analyzing blood samples is not immune to errors or contamination.
The Lab Technicians Who Calibrated The Breathalyzer Allowed Their Certification To Lapse
If you suspect that the blood samples could be contaminated, your lawyer could scrutinize the chain of custody of the blood samples to determine if there were any lapses in handling or labeling the samples. Any break in the chain of custody can raise doubts about the integrity of the samples.
Your defense may question the laboratory's testing procedures, storage conditions, and equipment calibration to determine if any factors could have led to sample contamination. You could also investigate whether external substances, such as alcohol-based swabs or antiseptics, could have contaminated the blood samples, leading to inaccurate BAC readings.
If you discover improper preservation and storage of blood samples, you could use the contaminated blood test samples as a defense in your case. The court could drop or lower your charges.
Expunging Your DUI Record
Expungement is a legal process that allows certain eligible individuals to clear their criminal record, including DUI convictions, in the eyes of the law. In California, the possibility of expunging a fourth DUI conviction depends on several factors, including the specific circumstances of the case and the individual's criminal history.
You are eligible for expungement if you have completed probation and are not currently facing any new criminal charges. However, if the 4th DUI resulted in a state prison sentence, expungement may not be available. While expungement may not be available for felony DUIs resulting in state prison sentences, individuals may explore other avenues for relief, such as obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation or seeking a Governor's Pardon.
When pursuing an expungement, you must file a petition with the court in the county where the DUI conviction occurred. A skilled criminal defense attorney can assist in preparing and filing the expungement petition.
Find a Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me
Dealing with a 4th DUI charge is no joke. The consequences can be life-altering; therefore, you should team up with a dedicated legal crew to safeguard your rights and liberty. Look no further than the Pasadena Criminal Attorney. With our expertise, we will work hard to secure a favorable outcome for you. Contact us at 626-689-2277 and let us set up a meeting.