Changes to law leads to lack of clarity with California DUIs

On Behalf of Griswold LaSalle Cobb Dowd & Gin LLP

When arrested for driving under the influence in the Central Valley and across California, drivers will be confronted with a litany of potential consequences ranging from a driver’s license suspension to fines and even jail. Knowing how to craft an effective defense is imperative to avoid the worst possible penalties. Still, changes to the law and how cases are assessed can present challenges. This is evident in recent complaints about how diversion programs are stoking confusion and varying outcomes for those charged with DUI. To be fully protected, it is useful to have comprehensive help from the beginning.

New law allows for diversion to resolve a DUI case

In California, a person who is arrested for a first-time misdemeanor DUI can be given diversion. While that could be a positive for them, it is also causing problems as legal professionals and even judges are uncertain how to implement this law. Part of the dispute centers on the law apparently clashing with state vehicle laws that say judges cannot give diversion to a person charged with DUI. A key part of diversion is that eventually the charges will be dismissed. Some people charged with DUI are being given diversion while others are not. Those against the law believe it is giving DUI drivers a free pass to commit the act.

Since cases are being appealed, even lower court judges are not completely sure how to handle these cases. When the law went into effect, it gave Superior Court judges the right to assess the case’s severity and decide if diversion was appropriate. For example, the details of the case such as how fast the driver was going and what his or their alcohol level could be weighed as part of the decision. It also gives judges up to two years to delay the proceeding so a person can go through a program.

Drivers who go to Alcoholics Anonymous and progress sufficiently can have the charges dismissed like it never happened. An appeals court issued a 2-1 vote saying that drivers charged with misdemeanor first-time DUI could take part in a diversion program. This came right after another court said DUI drivers could not take part. Some counties have been more flexible than others in giving DUI drivers diversion.

Understanding diversion can be a key part of a DUI defense

When charged with a first-time DUI, people need to be cognizant of their criminal defense options. Before this law, there were ways to combat a DUI such as calling into question why the officer made the traffic stop, debating if the testing procedures were valid or showing why the driver was not under the influence. Diversion is a new alternative, but it is still being gauged by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Still, if a judge is willing to give a driver diversion in lieu of other penalties, it is one avenue to explore. After a DUI, having guidance with avoiding a worst-case scenario is essential to reaching a positive result.

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