Explained by local DUI Attorney in Los Angeles – Robert M. Helfend

Frequently Asked Questions – DUI

“Robert M. Helfend helped me get through my legal struggles in a very reliable and thorough way when I was wrongfully charged with a DUI. Thanks to him, I have a clean record today because I was properly defended. I highly recommend Robert M, Helfend, criminal defense attorney.”Molly, CA

  1. What is the legal limit in California?

It is illegal and considered a misdemeanor under California DUI laws for anyone over age 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher. It is illegal for anyone younger than 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of .01% or higher.

  1. What is BAC?

BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration. It is the amount of alcohol that has been absorbed into the bloodstream. BAC is measured as a percentage from the weight of ethanol in grams, per 100 milliliters of blood, or 210 liters of breath.

BAC can vary depending on a number of factors:

  1. Gender
  2. Body type
  3. Emotional state
  4. Combination with medications
  5. Weight and metabolism
  6. Strength of drinks
  7. Amount of time since consumption
  1. How can I lower my BAC?

Once the alcohol has been consumed and enters the bloodstream mostly through the small intestine, and then moves to the liver. The liver will begin metabolizing the alcohol. There are many misconceptions involving tips and tricks to lower your BAC so that it is “safe” to drive. These misconceptions include:

  1. Drinking coffee
  2. Eating a meal before drinking
  3. Taking a shower
  4. Drinking water

It is important to remember that the only thing that will lower your BAC is time.

  1. How can I test my BAC?

There are some interesting BAC calculators online that can attempt to calculate your BAC, but they are not accurate. There are even personal breathalyzer models available for purchase which will give you an idea of when it may be safe to drive again.

  1. How many drinks can I have and still be safe to drive?

The safe answer here is that if you plan on drinking at all, find alternate transportation. Typically, the liver can breakdown alcohol at a rate of one drink per hour, although this is not the same for everyone (due to the factors discussed in FAQ #3). One drink is equal to:

  1. 5 ounces of wine
  2. 12 ounces of beer (5%)
  3. 5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
  4. 1 ounce of 100 – proof liquor

Bars and restaurants do not typically serve alcohol in these quantities so it makes it difficult to determine what “one drink” really means. For example, Beer is usually served in a pint glass. A pint glass is 16 ounces, not 12. Beers vary in strength and can range from 3.2% all the way to 20%. Mixed drinks and shots are also likely to have multiple strength and combinations of liquor so it is important to pay attention to the strength and size of any drinks you consume.

Below is a chart that estimates BAC based on number of drinks and body weight. They are different for males and females.

Legal limit in Los Angeles
Legal limit in Los Angeles

DUI Testing Methods

Field Sobriety Tests: Field sobriety tests are a way for law enforcement to check for signs of impairment. There signs of impairment including:



– Relaxed inhibitions

– Impaired judgement

– Slowed reaction time

– Impaired motor coordination

– Impaired or slurred speech

The most common field sobriety tests are walk and turn, nystagmus, finger to nose, one leg stand, and fingers to thumb. These tests have been ruled unreliable time and time again. While these tests have been proven unreliable, they do make the case against you stronger if you take them or make any incriminating statements during the examination by officers. You have the option to decline these field sobriety tests.  

Breathalyzer tests: As the blood moves through the lungs, some of the alcohol moves within the membranes of the lung. The same BAC concentration in the blood can usually be found in the concentration of air. Breathalyzers are not the most accurate way to determine how impaired the driver may be. The reason for this is that breathalyzers can pick up other compounds that can be mistaken for alcohol that would cause impairment. Eating certain foods or smoking have been known to alter breathalyzer tests.

Blood Tests: Blood tests are considered the most reliable way to measure BAC. Blood tests are given to measure the amount of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood. There are many regulations in place such as having the blood drawn in a hospital environment by a trained technician, and making sure the sample is properly stored, among others. If these regulations are not followed, the sample used in evidence can be compromised. Blood samples sometimes fall victim to contamination. A qualified attorney is able to file a motion to get your blood sample retested by an independent laboratory to ensure that the sample is not compromised. One of the disadvantages to a blood test is that the results will take time to come back. You will not know what your BAC level is right away and that can add even more stress to the process.

DUI Penalties California

Getting a DUI in California can harm your reputation, hurt your loved ones, and affect your job. Penalties and fines can drag you down even further. It is important to find an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to help with any charges you may face.

-First offense: A first offense for a DUI could include up to six months’ jail time, four-month license suspension and up to $1000 fines. Additional penalties could include an installation of an ignition interlock (breathalyzer for your vehicle), and an SR-22 insurance filing. You will usually have to complete a drug or alcohol program.

-First time offense enhanced penalties: You could face additional penalties if your BAC was over .15, if you had a child under 14 in the vehicle, were going 20 or more mph over the speed limit, or refused to submit to a blood test.

– More than one offense within 10 years: The state of California considers anyone who has been convicted of more than one DUI in a 10-year period a repeat offender. The courts treat this type of case much more seriously and allow very little leniency. The penalties are the same but are all likely to be extended. In a second or third offense, you are more likely to have longer jail time, fines, license suspension and alcohol classes.

– License suspensions: If you are arrested for DUI, the police officer may immediately confiscate your driver’s license. You will receive a notice which informs you of your right to have a hearing with the DMV if you believe your suspension is incorrect or unjust. Unjust reasons for suspension can include factors such as if the police officer has probable cause to pull you over, or if your BAC was in fact .08 or above. If you choose to have a hearing, you must request do so within 10 days of receiving the notice. The court can still rule a suspension on your driver’s license even if the court does not.

– Implied Consent law: Implied consent states that as part of your privilege to have a license in the state of California, you will be required to submit to chemical tests if you are suspected of drinking and driving. If you refuse a breathalyzer or blood test, you may end up having different drivers license penalties and restrictions. You may also lose your driving privileges for a longer length of time.

Moving on with your life after your DUI

After all the stress of court, and possible criminal charges, a DUI conviction can still affect you down the road in life. There will be community service, drug and alcohol classes, insurance company penalties, interlock devices and roadblocks in your personal life. Every circumstance is different but here are some ideas about what to expect and how to cope after a DUI.

Community Service for a DUI in Los Angeles

Many times, community service is issued to DUI offenders are offered sentencing alternatives which typically include community service. Cal-Trans roadside work is one option for alternative sentencing that may be offered. Community service is usually offered as terms of a probation sentence. Community service hours can range from 24-100 hours for a first time DUI offense, repeat offenders will usually be required to complete more. Community service hours are signed off by a representative and submitted to your probation officer to clear for completion.

If you are assigned community service as part of your sentence, the court will instruct you on the proper office to sign up. You will have to pick from the list of volunteer organizations they provide and sometimes you are not provided an option as to where you can complete the service.

One of the best ways to cope with completing community service is to find something that interests you if you are given a choice. While community service is meant to be a punishment, finding something that interests you can help the time go by faster and help you make the best of the situation. When choosing somewhere to complete your court ordered community service, make sure that they offer a schedule that works for you. Many of the options offered will be during normal business hours, and if you make a commitment you will want to be sure your schedules line up.

Remember that while completing community service, the representative reports back to your probation officer so it is important to represent yourself in a good light.

Drug and Alcohol classes after a DUI

The state of California can add DUI school to your sentence. This is anywhere from 12 hours to 30 months long. For a first offender DUI school is likely to range from 12 hours to 45 hours but can be extended depending on BAC levels. DUI school will be required for any offenders under 21 years of age. These DUI schools can be a combination of education, group session and individual interviews.

To enroll in these programs, the providers must be notified by the court or DMV. There are different levels of programs depending on the circumstances involved with the conviction.

-Wet Reckless Program: The wet reckless program can be issued for reckless driving with any BAC under .08. This education program is 12 hours.

– First time offenders:

  • 3-month DUI program: The three month DUI program is typically issued to first time DUI offenders who had a BAC of less than .20. The three-month program is a 30-hour drug and alcohol therapy and education program.
  • 9 month DUI program: The nine month DUI program is usually issued to first time DUI offenders who had a BAC of .20 or higher. The 9 month DUI program is a 60-hour drug and alcohol therapy and education program.

-Repeat offenders (over a span of 10 years):

  • 18 month DUI Program: The 18- month DUI program includes 12 hours of drug and alcohol education, 52 hours of group therapy, 6 hours of monitoring, individual interviews every two weeks.
  • 30 month DUI Program: Los Angeles county is one of the counties that have this program available for repeat offenders. The 30-month DUI program includes 78 hours of group therapy, 12 hours of drug and alcohol education, regular individual interviews and 120-300 hours of community service.

Insurance Company Penalties

Insurance companies base their premiums around the amount of risk they are insuring. While insurance premiums can make the consumer angry, it is important to remember that insurance companies are a business as well. While it may seem evil of them to raise premiums on their customers, they have to make money to ensure that they can pay for the losses associated with their line of work.

In order to evaluate how they will charge for premiums, insurance companies examine risk factors. Drinking and driving is considered high risk behavior and therefore puts you into a pool with high risk drivers. In some states, insurance companies can cancel your policy due to this risky behavior. California has introduced a law that insurance companies cannot cancel your coverage due to a DUI.

Premium prices can increase up to $10,000 a year in a worst case scenario. The amount of increase will depend on the rest of your driving history such as moving violations and accidents. Usually the first year after the DUI, your premiums will be larger than subsequent years.

SR22 Insurance

SR22 insurance proves to the state that you are financially responsible as a high risk driver. Basically, that means you are filing a special form stating that you will carry insurance while on the road. The state will require that you notify your insurance company that they need to file an SR22 on your behalf. The insurance company calls this form a filing.  Filings are certifications that are on file with the state that designate legal responsibilities. This special SR22 filing added to your insurance is usually a fee of $25.


In July of 2010, the state of California began requiring installation of ignition interlock devices for certain counties including Los Angeles for people convicted of a DUI. For a first time offender, the device may be installed anywhere from 5 months to a year. For repeat offenders, interlock devices can be installed from 1 to 4 years. The ignition interlock device will not allow the driver to start their vehicle if alcohol is measured on their breath. While driving you are also alerted for random breath testing. Interlocks will also cost money for installation and monthly calibration. One of the biggest interlock companies are Smartstart and Guardian. It is the best idea to shop around for prices. You should also make sure that they have operating hours that line up with your schedule. You will have to go in for routine maintenance and calibration at least once per month.  It is a good idea to make sure that they have customer service options available if the device malfunctions. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere because you are afraid of facing penalties due to a device malfunction.

Getting a job with a DUI

One of the most frustrating things about the legal system is how a single conviction can have the power to follow you long after you’ve satisfied the conditions of your sentencing.

For example, getting a job with a DUI conviction on your record should not be more difficult than finding a job under normal circumstances, but unfortunately it is.

To make things a little bit easier, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you get a job even if you have a DUI on your record.

Check your record first

This may not be obvious, but before going on any job interviews, conduct a background check on yourself so you can know exactly what employers will see if/when they do the same.

It’s possible that your DUI may not show up at all because it happened a certain number of years ago, or it could accidentally be listed twice due to an error in the system. If you find any errors, take any steps necessary to have them removed. It may also be worthwhile to see if your state allows you to have your DUI fully expunged from your record.

Type of job

Certain types of jobs are going to be more sensitive about having a DUI than others, and it’s not just driving jobs. Working with children as a teacher or daycare supervisor may be more difficult if you have a DUI. Some companies have policy that prohibits them from hiring anyone with a criminal record because the position requires working with confidential information.

And of course landing a position that requires you to drive a company car will be harder with a DUI on your record. Then there are practical issues that could arise if you have your license revoked and don’t have easy access to transportation to and from your job.

Keep these factors in mind when applying and try to give yourself the greatest odds for long-term success.

Be honest during the interview

If you’ve checked and your DUI is still on your record, don’t try to omit the facts during an interview. Don’t bring it up out of the blue, but don’t lie either. If you followed the advice above and are applying to jobs where a past DUI offense shouldn’t be a big deal, then it is more likely that you will be disqualified for being dishonest about your record.

If it comes up, take the time to explain the circumstances that led to the DUI and also what you learned from the experience. Be sincere and help your interviewer see that you are simply a person who made a mistake.

Get a good recommendation

If at all possible, try to get a strong recommendation from someone you’ve worked with in the past or even some who helped you deal with the DUI like a counselor. Your honesty combined with a credible referral can do a lot to put you ahead of most other candidates for the position.

A DUI doesn’t have to be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight back when facing a drunk driving charge. Work with a lawyer who will protect all of your legal options and constitutional rights.


Getting a DUI can cost you a lot of money. It can possibly put your relationships with friends, coworkers and employers at risk. It is embarrassing and time consuming, but it is a serious offense. The state of California takes DUI penalties seriously. There are a number of defenses that can be used in a DUI case. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side is highly recommended. The courts will often encourage you to hire a DUI attorney in Los Angeles so that you understand all of your rights. Robert M Helfend is a criminal defense attorney and knows how to examine the facts and evidence of the case and comes armed with many lines of defense to fight for your freedom. Contact us now for help with your case.