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DUI vs. DWI in California (2023): What’s the Difference?

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The legal system can often seem confusing, especially regarding criminal charges. One area of particular confusion is distinguishing between DUI (driving under the influence) and a DWI (driving while intoxicated) in California. Understanding these terms and their legal implications can help you navigate the legal system more effectively and protect your rights.

DUI vs. DWI: Understanding the Terminology

The first thing to note is that California law does not actually use the term “DWI.” Instead, the state refers to both alcohol- and drug-related driving offenses as “DUI” (driving under the influence). Therefore, in California, there is no legal distinction between DUI and DWI. Both refer to the same offense — driving under above the legal limit of influence with alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. However, other states may still use “DWI” and differentiate between the two offenses.

DUI in California: The Basics

In California, you can be charged with a DUI if you are tested and found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher if you are 21 years or older. For drivers under 21, the legal limit is 0.01%, and for commercial drivers, it is 0.04%. Additionally, you can be charged with a DUI if your ability to drive is impaired due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, even if your BAC is below the legal limit. It is essential to note that both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a DUI charge, including prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs if they impair your driving abilities.

Defending Yourself Against a DUI Charge

If charged with a DUI in California, seeking legal representation from an experienced DUI attorney is crucial. A knowledgeable attorney can assess your case, identify potential defenses, and help you navigate the complex legal system. Some possible defenses against a DUI charge– include:

  • Challenging the validity of the traffic stop. An attorney may argue that the officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle. If the court agrees, any evidence obtained during the stop, including breathalyzer or field sobriety test results, may be deemed inadmissible, potentially leading to a dismissal of your case.
  • Contesting the accuracy of the chemical test results. If your attorney can demonstrate that the breathalyzer or other chemical testing equipment used in your case was not properly calibrated or maintained, the test results may be deemed unreliable. This could weaken the prosecution’s case against you and lead to reduced charges or a dismissal.
  • Demonstrating that your driving was not impaired. Your attorney may present evidence, such as witness testimony or video footage, that shows you were not driving erratically or displaying other signs of impairment. This could counter the prosecution’s claim that you were under the influence, possibly leading to reduced charges or a dismissal.
  • Showing that a medical condition or other factors led to a false-positive test result. Certain medical conditions, medications, or even dietary factors can cause a false-positive result on a breathalyzer or other chemical tests. If your attorney can prove that such a factor affected your test results, the court may dismiss or reduce the charges against you.
  • Challenging the administration of field sobriety tests. If the arresting officer did not properly administer the field sobriety tests or did not have adequate training in conducting the tests, your attorney may argue that the results of the tests should be thrown out. This could weaken the prosecution’s case against you, potentially leading to a dismissal or reduced charges.


Q: How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in California?

A: In California, a DUI conviction remains on your criminal record indefinitely. However, the impact on your driving record and the consequences for future DUI convictions will generally last for 10 years. Any subsequent DUI convictions within 10 years of the initial offense will be treated as repeat offenses, resulting in more severe penalties. It is worth noting that the 10-year period begins from the date of the initial arrest, not the date of the conviction.

Q: Can You Still Drive If You get a DUI in California?

A: After a DUI arrest, your driving privileges may be temporarily suspended, depending on the circumstances of your case. If you are convicted, your license will likely be suspended for a specific period, ranging from six months for a first offense to several years for repeat offenses. However, you may be eligible for a restricted driver’s license, which allows you to drive to and from work, school, and DUI education programs. To obtain a restricted license, you may be required to complete a DUI education program and install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle.

Q: Can a DUI Conviction in California Be Expunged From Your Record?

A: Yes, under certain conditions, a DUI conviction in California can be expunged from your criminal record. To be eligible, you must have completed probation, paid all fines and fees, and not currently face any new criminal charges. The expungement process typically involves filing a petition with the court, and it may require the assistance of an attorney. While an expungement can provide some relief by removing the conviction from your record, it does not erase the DUI from your driving record or eliminate the consequences of subsequent DUI convictions within the 10-year window.

Q: How Much Does a DUI Cost in California?

A: The cost of a DUI in California can be substantial, with expenses that go beyond fines and court fees. The total cost of a DUI can include attorney fees, increased insurance premiums, the expense of DUI education programs, and the installation and maintenance of an ignition interlock device (IID). Additional costs may be incurred if you lose your job or face other financial consequences due to the DUI conviction. Overall, the total cost of a DUI in California can range from $10,000 to $15,000 or more, depending on the severity of the offense and the specific circumstances of your case.

Contact Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP Today

If you are charged with a DUI in California, contact a seasoned criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, we are dedicated to providing our clients with quality legal representation. We will fight aggressively to protect your rights and obtain the most beneficial outcome in your case. Contact us today to schedule an official consultation and learn more about how we can help.

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