The New World of California DUI Law

Driving under the influence of alcohol, or "DUI" as it is usually called, is the most commonly committed crime in the United States. Yet it is almost always committed by a noncriminal - that is, by an otherwise respectable citizen who has never been in trouble with the law. Consequently, representation of the DUI defendant often is attempted by attorneys not versed in drunk driving defense. Typically, the defendant's business or family lawyer will undertake to represent him "as a favor". Drunk driving, the lawyer tells himself, is merely a glorified traffic offense. Certainly it is not as serious or complex as a "real" crime, and therefore cannot call for any particular expertise.

As experienced Los Angeles DUI attorneys, San Diego Attorneys and Orange County DUI Attorneys alike will agree, this is invariably a tragic mistake.

Any lawyer representing a client charged with DUI should be aware of certain preliminary facts:

  1. Though the most common of all offenses, DUI is one of the most complex to understand and defend properly.
  2. The stakes in a DUI case are high - higher in the long run than for most other crimes.
  3. A unique system of legal standards and procedures exists in DUI cases, a system geared to facilitate a conviction.


Once the California DUI defense attorney is fully aware of these facts, he can proceed to competently represent his client.

Common though DUI is in our courts, it represents one of the most difficult criminal offenses to understand and to litigate. Consider first the nature of other crimes: If the client is charged with petty theft, for example, the issue is usually simply a question of whether he was really seen taking something; if burglary is the charge, perhaps fingerprints represent the most esoteric area involved (if even that); and, in a rape charge, semen analysis may be the only subject requiring any special expertise. In fact, in the majority of crimes, the trial hinges solely on one issue: Did the eyewitnesses see what they testified they saw? Even in circumstantial evidence cases, rarely is anything more exotic than DNA, handwriting analysis or ballistics evidence involved.

Now, consider only superficially what the primary issues are in a DUI case: What was the blood alcohol level in the defendant an hour or so prior to the analysis of a breath sample or blood sample? To what extent was alcohol chemically affecting the brain tissue of the defendant in such away as to "appreciably" impair his "judgment," his motor reactions, and his coordination?

In other words, the basic issue is to define chemically what was going on in the client's brain and body at the time of arrest. Even brain surgeons do not yet fully understand how the human brain functions. Yet, in an attempt to determine the biochemical conditions within his client's body at a remote moment, the DUI lawyer must be knowledgeable in chemistry, physiology, photochemical and infrared analysis, gas chromatography, etc. And what is meant by "appreciably" impaired? How does one define "judgment"? How is individual tolerance to alcohol measured? What effects do various drugs and medical conditions have on the metabolism of alcohol? Is there any inherent error in breathalyzers? These issues can continue seemingly without end.

Make no mistake: DUI is one of the most complex of all criminal charges, and undertaking to defend a client on such a charge without extensive preparation constitutes nothing short of malpractice.

The second misconception commonly held by both clients and DUI attorneys is that the penalties for drunk driving are only minor. After all, DUI is only a step removed from a traffic citation.