The California legal process for DUI charges is similar regardless of the circumstances, but being involved in an accident can have some effects on the case. A defendant in a drunk driving accident can face serious penalties and may open themselves up to punitive damages paid out to the alleged victim of the accident.
A DUI charge could turn into a murder or vehicular manslaughter charge if the accident was fatal. But our experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyers can help clients avoid the complications of a DUI charge after a car accident. This infographic will help you learn the basics of DUI in California.
The Process Immediately After a DUI Car Accident
As with most car accident cases, the case truly starts with law enforcement arriving on the scene of the accident to document the incident. This can include taking statements from witnesses, assessing the damage to the vehicles, and ensuring that any injured people are properly cared for.
In cases in which the police suspect a driver of driving under the influence, they will cite signs of intoxication in their report and may require the driver to engage in the following tests.
- Field sobriety tests (FSTs): a series of physical and mental tests designed to be difficult for people who are not sober.
- Preliminary alcohol screening test: a breathalyzer test issued at the scene to measure blood alcohol content (BAC).
Under the law enforcement officer’s discretion, they may arrest the driver for DUI following these tests. Next, the officer may bring the driver to a police station or health care center to perform a more in-depth test of the driver’s blood or breath.
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What Happens if I Refuse a Drug Test?
If these tests do not show illegal levels of alcohol in the driver’s system, yet the driver failed the initial tests at the scene of the accident, the officer may ask the driver to give a blood or urine sample to test for drugs. The officer might even find drugs in your possession when searching the car.
Though the driver can refuse to take these tests, it is not optimal. Refusal can lead to the following penalties for first-time DUI arrests:
- License suspension up to one year
- Up to two days in county jail
- Additional six months of required DUI driver’s school
The driver may still be charged with the initial DUI as well. In most situations, the best option is to take the requested tests and work with a skilled DUI defense lawyer in California like the ones we have at the Simmrin Law Group.
Penalties of a DUI Conviction in California
If a DUI trial ends in a conviction, the defendant can face serious consequences even if it is their first such charge. A first-time DUI defendant in California can face:
- Up to six months of jail time
- Up to one year with a driver’s license suspension
- Up to a $2,000 fine
- Mandatory alcohol treatment program attendance
- Possible punitive damages awarded to the alleged victim
These penalties are heightened for drivers who have prior DUI convictions. Since they only increase from this base level, and since this base level is already quite serious, we recommend anyone charged with a DUI after a car accident to contact the knowledgeable DUI defense lawyers at the Simmrin Law Group as soon as possible.
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Possible Punitive Damages in a DUI Case
According to the California Civil Code Section 3294, alleged victims of some crimes may seek exemplary (otherwise known as punitive) damages in their cases. This is besides the usual damages of:
- Economic damages: lost wages, medical bills, property damage, etc.
- Non-economic damages: pain and suffering, loss of consortium with a spouse, loss of enjoyment in life because of injuries, etc.
Punitive or exemplary damages are designed both as a punishment to the defendant and as a deterrent to similar behavior in the future. They can be charged when the alleged crime involves “oppression, fraud, or malice” by the defendant.
California courts have made clear in the past that they consider DUI cases to fall within the gray area of this law, meaning that some DUI cases that involve accidents may have the option of punitive damages.
Many DUI accident cases settle before the trial process concludes, and having a skilled DUI defense lawyer can be the difference between a lower settlement and one that involves significant exemplary damages awarded by a jury.
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Could I Face “Watson Murder” Charges?
In addition to the DUI, there will be other charges because of the accident. These could range from a moving violation all the way to murder. California recognizes a special charge called a Watson murder for previously-convicted DUI drivers who kill other people in another DUI crash.
This is a form of second-degree murder, a heavier charge than the usual vehicular manslaughter charge in a car accident. The state believes that driving drunk again after the penalties of DUI the first time implies malice aforethought.
Also, if the DUI circumstances are reckless enough to prove malice, a prosecutor might go for this charge on a first offense. The Watson rules merely make the evidence for this claim much easier for multiple DUI offenders.
What Evidence Will the Prosecution Use to Prove a Watson Murder?
Besides the prior conviction, there are two other things the prosecution will look for. The first is an extremely high BAC at the time of the crash. Anything beyond 0.15%, or double the legal limit, is a danger point.
The other thing is an extreme case of reckless driving. This could involve starting a high-speed police chase, starting or joining a race or speed contest, or simply driving far beyond the legal speed limit.
Call the Simmrin Law Group Today
If you have been charged with a DUI after a car accident in California, our experienced DUI defense lawyers can help. Contact us today for a FREE initial consultation on your case so that we can begin to discuss appropriate defense strategies.