Subscribe to LexTalk to stay on top of today’s legal issue and trends.
Catapult Your Career |
Industry Insights & Trends |
Product Training & Tips
In many cases, a DUI offense will involve a traffic collision that results in property damage. Sometimes the property damage involved is minor and in other cases it may be extremely extensive. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges tend to treat DUI offenders who cause property damage more harshly than those who are simply pulled over by police while driving under the influence.
While most DUI arrests begin after an officer stops a driver for committing a traffic violation, a DUI involving property damage will start once a driver collides with property belonging to another person. This may be another person’s vehicle, a street sign or even someone’s home. Usually, there will be a call placed to 911 by the victim or concerned witnesses and the police will be called to respond to the scene of the accident. The investigation may begin as a regular accident investigation, however the investigating officer may come to suspect that a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When this occurs, the driver will be questioned about his or her drinking, will be asked to complete a series of field sobriety tests and may be asked to provide a breath sample on a Preliminary Alcohol Sensor (“PAS”) device. The driver may ultimately be arrested for DUI and taken back to the police station or hospital for additional chemical testing pursuant to the law.
When the driver goes to court, the judge may impose additional penalties as a result of the traffic collision and subsequent property damage. This can include jail time, community service and/or labor, a longer drug and alcohol education class or programming such as the Hospital and Morgue (“HAM”) program or the MADD Victim Impact Panel.
Whenever there is property damage, the judge will require that the defendant pay restitution to the victim for any losses incurred. Usually, the judge will set a restitution hearing where the defendant can challenge the restitution amount that is requested. A defendant would be required to pay for damages, but if he or she is insured the insurance provider will usually pay for these costs. In addition, cities can also be awarded restitution from the defendant for emergency service expenditures, including reimbursement for the cost of the police who responded and ultimately arrested the defendant.
It is important to remember that while property damage itself will not trigger any mandatory penalties or sentencing provisions, this is not the case if a person is injured as a result of a DUI collision. When someone is injured, the defendant can be charged with DUI causing injury in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23153. DUI causing injury is a “wobbler” offense that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If charged as a felony, the defendant can be sentenced to prison if convicted. A misdemeanor conviction often includes substantial jail sentences. Any defendant convicted of DUI causing injury would also lose his or her driving privileges for an entire year and would not be eligible for a restricted license.