Out-of-State DUI/DWI as a California Resident? Laws and Next Steps

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A California resident who has been charged with a driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense in another state should hire a criminal defense attorney licensed in the state where they were charged. The California resident should then talk with their attorney for legal help about the penalties they could face, since different states have different consequences for out-of-state drivers with DUI charges. They should also ask how the arrest or conviction could affect their criminal record, California driver’s license, driving record and auto insurance. The California resident should ask how to get their vehicle released from an impound lot and transport it back to California.

Penalties for Out-of-State DUIs

The penalties for an out-of-state DUI depend on the laws of the state in which the DUI or DWI was committed. As an example, according to Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 484C-,NRS%20484C.,physical%20control%20of%20a%20vehicle.), the penalties for a first DUI in Nevada include between two days to six months of jail time; a fine of between $400 and $1,000; completion of DUI school; attendance at a Victim Impact Panel; and a 185-day driver’s license suspension. Typically, California residents who have committed DUIs or have a DUI conviction in another state can fulfill most or all of their sentences for the out-of-state DUI while residing in California, including serving unsupervised probation, having a DMV hearing and attending DUI school.

No DUI Transfer to California

A DUI defense attorney cannot ask that an out-of-state DUI be transferred to a California court. This is because the defendant committed the drunk driving in the other state. In many cases, the defendant’s attorney in the other state can represent their client without the client needing to be present.

There are exceptions to this rule if the DUI involves aggravating factors such as a hit-and-run accident or injury to a victim, which are considered criminal charges. A defendant who chooses to represent themselves must be present for all court appearances in the other state.

Out-of-State DUIs Count as Prior DUIs

California courts and the California Department of Motor Vehicles are very likely to count a conviction for an out-of-state DUI as a prior DUI. The criteria for determining whether the conviction will count as a prior DUI in California is a determination of whether the offense would have been considered a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152. This statute provides that it is unlawful for a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater to drive a vehicle.

It is unlawful for an individual to drive with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above in the three states that neighbor California: Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. In addition, all states in the U.S. have adopted the 0.08 percent BAC standard. This is because in 2001, Congress passed the 2001 Appropriations Act that requires states to adopt a 0.08 percent BAC standard or lose federal highway construction funds.

Consult an Attorney About Prior DUIs

An individual who has a prior out-of-state DUI that dates back to the year before that state adopted the 0.08 percent BAC standard should consult a DUI attorney. They should determine what effect the prior DUI may have on their current DUI case. According to California Vehicle Code Section 23540, it is highly unlikely that such an offense will have an impact on the individual’s current case since a prior DUI before 2001 occurred over 10 years ago.

Still, even offenses that are over 20 years old can influence a prosecutor’s plea offer or a judge’s sentence. This is especially true if the prior DUI involved death, serious injury or extensive property damage.

When Out-of-State DUIs Don't Count

The criteria that determine whether an out-of-state DUI is equal to a California DUI are factors in the "equivalency test." There are instances in which an out-of-state DUI will not count as a prior DUI under California law..

This situation is discussed in the 2012 California case, People v. George Wesley Self. In this case, the Arizona law under which the driver was convicted did not provide a BAC level, but stated that it was unlawful for the person to drive or to be in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence if the person was at all impaired. Since there was no mention of a 0.08 percent BAC, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District of California found there was no evidence to indicate that the Arizona crime was equivalent to a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152.

The Driver’s License Compact

The Driver’s License Compact (DLC) is an agreement between states to exchange information regarding license suspensions and traffic violations of nonresidents, according to the National Center for Interstate Compacts. The DLC is the reason a California resident who is convicted of a DUI in another state will see information about their offense transferred to their home state. The law that states California is a party to the DLC is contained in Vehicle Code Sections 15020 to 15028. Over 40 states are parties to the DLC.

When California courts and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) receive information about a California resident’s out-of-state DUI, California treats the offense as if the DUI was committed in California. This does not mean a California resident who committed a DUI in Arizona will be convicted of a DUI in California. Rather, the California resident will be convicted of the DUI in Arizona, and the California courts and the California DMV will view the Arizona conviction as a prior DUI.

For example, if the California resident commits a first DUI offense in Arizona this year and a second DUI in California seven years later, a California prosecutor will charge the resident with a second DUI. If convicted, the California resident will face penalties for a second DUI.

What Happens to a Driver’s License?

A California resident arrested for a DUI in another state will immediately see the arresting officer send a report to the California DMV. The California resident will then have their driving privileges suspended in the state where they were arrested, as well as in California. The California resident may want to appeal the driver’s license suspension with the California DMV.

A DUI attorney will usually be able to help with this matter. If an individual loses the hearing or fails to request a hearing, the driver’s license suspension becomes final.

Getting a DUI in California

A resident of another state who is arrested for a DUI in California should consult a California-licensed DUI attorney. The penalties for a California DUI vary depending on the number of priorable offenses that the defendant has committed.

For a first California DUI charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant can expect a penalty of between 48 hours and six months in jail; a fine between $390 and $1,000, plus penalty assessments; a driver’s license suspension of six months; a possible requirement to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on the vehicle for six months; and completion of a three-, six- or nine-month DUI school.