Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to represent you in all cases across Vista, CA and North County. Our experienced attorneys specialize in criminal defense and are able to handle all driving crimes charges and any related cases.

When Do Driving Crimes Occur in California?

Instances of driving crimes in California range from breaking simple traffic rules to committing grievous offenses that would cause property damages, injuries, or deaths. All these cases are catered for in the California Vehicle Code sections. The most common driving crimes involve driving without a license, driving on a revoked or suspended license, driving on an expired license, drunk-driving, hit and run, and reckless driving.

Section 12500 of Vehicle Codes provides instances when someone is guilty of driving license crimes:

  • Driving motor vehicles on a highway with no valid driver’s license. A highway, in this case, is any publicly maintained place that is set aside for vehicular travel;

  • Driving on a highway without a valid license or an endorsement for the specific class, that is, motorized bicycles, motor-driven cycles, or motorcycles classes;

  • Driving motor vehicles in off street parking facilities without certification. In this case, off street facilities are public or privately designated parking zones where someone is charged parking fees;

  • Driving a vehicle or vehicles of which the driver has no certification to operate the specific type of vehicle(s). For instance, one should not drive a truck despite having certification to drive a personal car;

  • Finally, driving motorized scooters (on public streets) whose engines don’t comply with the emission requirements by State Air Resources Board.

If someone is moving from another state to California, they have ten days upon establishing their residency to apply for a California driver’s license. Otherwise, they would be contravening California’s driving license regulations. This requirement, however, is not applicable if the person is over 18 years of age and has a valid driver’s license issued in their former state or country.

It is also an offense to drive on a suspended license. This driving offense is legally provided as Vehicle Code 14601, and its punishments depend on the reasons surrounding the suspension. The reasons for suspending a license include a driving under influence conviction, the driver having a physical or mental disability, or having negligent operator status for accumulating many points on your license. The prosecutor must prove two crime elements for a conviction under this statute: the driver had a revoked or suspended license and had knowledge that his/her driving privileges were limited.

Driving under influence is another common instance that a driving crime in California occurs. Section 23152(a) of Vehicle Codes provides that a person is guilty of driving under influence if they operate a vehicle while intoxicated. The intoxicant could be alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. A drug examination specialist would ascertain whether the driver is intoxicated with illegal drugs such as methamphetamine or in some instances, legally recreational drugs like marijuana. On the other hand, DUI field officers would perform breath or sobriety tests (such as subjecting the driver to stand on one leg) to know if the driver is drunk. But the most significant test would be blood test, which gives the alcohol percentage in the driver’s blood. 

CVC 23103 Reckless Driving is another significant driving crime. A person violates this statute when they drive in willful disregard for safety of property or persons. In most cases, the driver will be pulled over for over speeding, unlawful changing of lanes as well as running red lights and instructions to stop. A traffic ticket may be issued depending on the intensity of the crime committed.

When the driver causes an accident but flee the scene, they would be violating hit and run laws as per section 20002. Remember you can be prosecuted with a combination of two or more driving crimes, and the punishment would be relatively stringent compared to a conviction with a single offense.

Prime Determinants for Conviction for the Common Driving Crimes

The Conviction for any driving crime ascertains that the prosecutor satisfied the judge by proving essential crime elements for the particular offense. An integral element across driving crimes is knowledge, that is, the driver had knowledge that they were violating driving regulations. The proof of knowledge depends with the type of offense. Furthermore, there are additional elements for specific crimes as follows.

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle on a highway without the relevant license. Regardless of the kind of vehicle driven, it is an offense to operate a vehicle on a highway without certification. The vehicle could have been a passenger vehicle, bus, or any private as well as public means of transport. While pressing a driving without license charge, the prosecutor must satisfactorily ascertain to the judge that the defendant, indeed, drove on a highway and he/she lacked proper accreditation to drive the specific type of vehicle. The prosecution also has to show that the defendant was not, by any means, excused from the requirement of having a driver’s license.

  2. For driving under the influence of alcohol crime (Vehicle Code Section 23152 (b)), the prosecutor establishes that the defendant was driving a motor vehicle and the blood alcohol level was found to be 0.08 percent or more. It should never be based on assumption or suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The law enforcement officer in charge should have stopped the vehicle, suspected that the driver was intoxicated, then requested the driver to complete several sobriety field tests. A breath test should also have been conducted and showed that indeed the blood alcohol level was at or beyond 0.08.

  3. The prosecution has to prove that the defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway or an off-street parking facility in a way to intentionally disregard the safety of the people or property in question for a valid reckless driving charge. Showing that the defendant was aware of what he or she was doing and the kind of risk that they exposed to the people or property as mentioned is a vital element in this offense.

Are Driving Crimes Misdemeanor or Felony Charges?

Most misdemeanor driving charges consist of first-time offenses, reckless driving, or simple offenses which essentially mean that there was no aggravating factor. When convicted of a misdemeanor charge, the accused faces jail sentencing, fines, or both fines and imprisonment. Fines would also apply to a person that is guilty of a felony driving charge. However, these fines will be severe compared to an instance of misdemeanor conviction, and the accused could as well face imprisonment in the state prison. In wobbler cases such as drunk-driving, the presence of an aggravating factor is a critical element that graduates a driving offense from a simple or misdemeanor offense to a felony offense.

Aggravating factors in drunk-driving include presence of a minor(s) in the vehicle, excessive speeding, refusing to take a blood or breath test, causing serious injuries or deaths, driver’s criminal record, and fleeing the accident scene. Thus, it is intuitive that being convicted for a felony driving crime would depend on not only the criminal history but also the number of accompanying violations.

A Noteworthy point, a wobbler driving crime doesn’t necessarily mean that the crime will be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In cases such as driving without license, wobbler means the driver can face either misdemeanor charges or non-criminal infraction. The first offense of driving without license will be charged as an infraction, and subsequent similar offenses as (mostly) misdemeanors.

What Are the Penalties for Common Driving Crimes?

Depending on whether the crime is committed for the first time, the judge can incriminate the defendant with misdemeanor penalties, felony penalties, or infraction.

When charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty for violating CVC 12500 is six months in jail, a court fine not exceeding $1000, or both. As an infraction, the court fine will not be more than $250.

If incriminated of a DUI offense, the defendant will be sentenced to jail, alcohol programming sessions, community service, fines as well as restitution in the event of an accident. If the defendant surpassed the .15 alcohol percentage mark, the penalties may be severer with state imprisonment. Notwithstanding this conviction, the court will issue a suspension on the driver’s license for those with 0.08% BAC or above. For first offenders, the suspension will stand for up to four months and longer for those with previous DUI related offenses.

Even when it sounds minor, reckless driving attracts massive penalties under California Vehicle Code 23103. It is treated as a misdemeanor that carries a county jail term of five to ninety days, a court fine not less than $145 and not exceeding $1000, or both the fine and jail term. Whenever there is death resulting from the reckless driving, the penalties can increase to the extent of having your automobile insurance canceled or the premium payments increased. The defendant has to compensate for the losses incurred.

Hit and run driving crimes are common incidents that could be charged alongside other driving offenses. Some drivers would flee the accident scene caused after reckless driving or drunk-driving, thereby liable to double charges. Needless to say, penalties increase with the number of offenses committed. For accidents involving injuries, a misdemeanor hit and run convict will serve up to a year in county jail and/or fined not more than $10000 and not less than $1000. When the accident results to extensive injuries or death, a felony convict will serve from 2 to 4 years in the state prison. The ruling could also demand that they serve the sentence as well as pay a fine of not less than $1000 and not exceeding $10000.

There are violations points that one is awarded when they commit both minor and major violations. Under California Vehicle Code 12810.5, you could be termed as a negligent operator if the points get to a certain level. A point will be awarded when you are speeding, operating unsafe vehicle, failing to signal when turning, or changing driving lanes, or failing to give way to pedestrians. Two points will be given when you are driving on a revoked or suspended license, committing a hit and run crime as well as driving under the influence. When the points accumulate to four within a year, driving privileges can be limited. When driving license is suspended because of these multiple points, the driver is termed a negligent operator.

Related Offenses to Driving Crimes

There two common crimes related to driving crimes: lewd conduct in public and disturbing the peace of others.

Lewd conduct in public caused by intoxication, as per Penal Code 647 (f), dictate that causing havoc in public such as aggressively picking fights and passing out is a criminal offense. Even when it is legal for those who are over the age of 21 to drink, there are situations that excessive alcohol consumption will cause havoc. Excessive drinking can as well impair judgement, and the person would be tempted to drive and unfortunately get arrested for a drunk-driving crime.

A person disturbing the peace of the other residents will be convicted under California Penal Code Section 415 PC. Disturbing peace occurs under three instances:

  • Using offensive words in public;
  • Playing loud music to intentionally disturb another person or people;
  • Unlawfully fighting in public or challenging another person to fight in public.

Note that disturbing peace of others integrate with driving crimes when the driver plays loud and disturbing music in their vehicles, uses offensive words (especially when they are question by the police), or causes public fights (for example, after causing an accident). The punishment for disturbing others’ peace is serving a maximum of ninety days in county jail, up to 400 dollars in fines, or both the jail term and fines.

Defense Strategies for Driving Crimes

Defense attorneys use various defense strategies for a particular crime. But the common approach is usually to counteract the prosecutor’s proofs and instill doubt to the judge that the charge is not a driving crime. Ultimately, defending the charges would involve proving that the elements of crimes were not proved to satisfaction.

One strategy that cuts across all crimes is that the defendant was not driving at the time of arrest. It is only logical that a person violates driving crimes if they were actually driving. A common implication of this claim is that the accused was mistakenly identified or falsely accused. With this defense, and if the judge is satisfied, the defendant would not have a valid driving offense to answer.

The most significant strategy used in crimes involving driving licenses is to show that the defendant was exempt from having the license. For instance, the law does not require that a resident of another state, country, or territory to possess California’s driving license. Also, the attorney can prove that the defendant had a valid license but they didn't have possess it at the time of inquiry. Although the latter argument would raise questions as to why the defendant did not produce a license before the arrest, it would still give advantage to the defendant – for instance, the defendant can argue that the police used force, fear, or used an unlawful approach to ask for the document.

If charged with a DUI crime or any related crime, several approaches can be used by the defense lawyer. A possible claim would be that the defendant was not intoxicated. Accompanying this claim would be an argument that the field tests performed (such as sobriety tests) are not accurate way of testing if someone is drunk. For instance, signs that Dui field officers watch out to proclaim that someone is drunk are mere impressions rather than accurate results of intoxication – signs like eye redness, for example, could indicate a person has eye allergies rather than being intoxicated.

Breaking traffic rules and reckless driving are crimes whose defense significantly rely on the circumstances surrounding the offense. It might be prohibited to drive with a speed exceeding 25 mph in school compounds, but what if the driver was driving with over the set limit on the basis that there was no possible risk (kids were off session)? It should also be clear that an emergency situation (such as being followed by a suspected robber) can cause fatigue to the driver leading to reckless driving, over speeding, or breaking any driving rule. Thus, proving that the driver unwillingly violated a driving regulation, and that the circumstances made it reasonably impossible to not violate the regulation, are the perfect defense strategies for any driving crime.

Find a Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Most drivers assume that driving crimes are simple offenses. Remember these crimes carry hefty fines and, in most cases, limitation of your driving privileges. But you can also fall prey of wrongful accusations or undeserved charges. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm invites you to call us today at 760-691-1551 to help defend your case. We serve Vista, CA and all of North County.