California DUI laws are fairly comprehensive. They account for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and cover a range of circumstances where a person may be in control of a vehicle while under the influence. Being in control of a vehicle doesn't necessarily mean you were driving it. If you have been arrested on suspicion of a DUI, but were not actually caught in the act of driving, you may feel as if your rights have been violated. However, due to the comprehensiveness of California's DUI laws, you can still be convicted of a DUI. Under California Vehicle Code § 23152(a), it is illegal for anyone to drive a vehicle while under the influence. Keep in mind, an officer arriving on scene may not have personally witnessed you driving while under the influence. However, if they have probable cause, they can make a lawful arrest. A police officer can make an arrest if he or she has reason to believe you were or had just been driving. They may come to this conclusion if you were simply in the driver's seat, even if the car was not driving. Under California's DUI laws, "driving a vehicle" is not well defined. If you were in the driver's seat of your car and the car was running and in drive, you could be convicted a DUI. Even if your car was not running, the officer may be able to lawfully arrest you if they had reason to believe you had just been driving under the influence. In order to do this they must have evidence that your car had been running. For a seasoned police officer, finding this evidence may not be too hard to do. A police officer may take note that your tires were warm or that your engine was still cooling down. As long as they had reason to believe you had committed the act of driving while under the influence, they can arrest you on suspicion of a DUI.
Even if you are arrested in this scenario, you may still have a strong defense in court. To convict you of a DUI, the prosecution must prove you were driving a vehicle and had a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of .08% or more at the time you were driving. The arresting officer will have to have provided the necessary evidence to demonstrate these two elements in order for you to be convicted. In absence of such evidence, the prosecution cannot convict you. If you are facing DUI charges but you were not driving at the time of your arrest, you should speak with an experienced California DUI defense attorney immediately. Your case could go either way and you may be able to have the charges dropped if there is not sufficient evidence to convict you, or if your attorney can successfully challenge the evidence the prosecution does have. A skilled attorney will be able to assess your case and advise you on the weaknesses in the prosecution's argument and how you can take advantage of those weaknesses. For example, if the police report does not note your car was running, or note any evidence it had been running, it may be difficult, if not impossible, for the prosecution to convict you. However, if the keys were in the ignition or there was evidence you had just parked, such as a time-stamped parking validation or a hot exhaust pipe, you may be convicted of a DUI based on just that circumstantial evidence. Knowing what evidence is being held against you and how strong an argument that evidence makes will help you approach your defense. Keep in mind, even if you were not found while driving the car, if you had an open container of alcohol with you or were in any way being disruptive, you could face other criminal charges, such as having an open container in your car or being intoxicated in public. It is always a good idea to leave your car at home if you plan on drinking or have a sober, designated driver with you in your car. Never get caught with an open container of alcohol in your car and if you have to have closed containers of alcohol, make sure they are out of sight. Because California police officers can arrest you if they so much as suspect you had been driving and driving, it is always best to play it safe.
Are your or a loved one facing DUI charges in Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area? Visalia area DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens can best advise you on how to proceed with your case with a strong defense. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and has a thorough understanding of DUI law. Attorney Martens can assess your case and advise you on whether you can be charged with a DUI. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss strategic options for your fighting your charges.