After an arrest for suspicion of drunk driving, the driver is often released after arraignment or given a future court date. However, a lot of things changed over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many suspects were cited, booked, and released without the prosecutor bringing formal charges. For these individuals, they may be waiting in limbo, trying to find out what to do next.
The prosecutor has a limited amount of time to file formal criminal charges against a suspect. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” If the statute of limitations passes before the prosecutor files charges, then the court may lose jurisdiction over the case. If you contact the court, this may alert them that they need to track down the case and file charges. If you are not sure if charges were filed, contact an East Bay DUI defense attorney for help.
Statute of Limitations After a Drunk Driving Arrest
In California, the statute of limitations for most misdemeanor offenses is one year. This means that the prosecutor has one year from the date of the offense or discovery of the offense to file criminal charges. There are some exceptions, but the statute of limitations for most drunk driving cases expires after one year from the date of the arrest. If you were arrested for a DUI more than one year ago, and the prosecutor has not filed charges, you may be in the clear.
Longer Statute of Limitations for Felony DUI
There is a one-year time limit for most misdemeanor DUIs but felony DUIs have a longer statute of limitations. Most first-time DUIs are misdemeanors. However, bodily injury DUI, fatal DUI accidents, and 4 or more DUIs can be charged as felonies. Most felony DUIs have a statute of limitations of 3 years. More serious felonies (including gross vehicular manslaughter) with possible imprisonment of 8 or more years in prison has a statute of limitations of up to 6 years.
Why Were No DUI Charges Filed?
If you were never charged with a DUI after a drunk driving arrest, there may be several reasons why the charges were never filed. The court may not have filed charges because the courts were overwhelmed and they prioritized more serious offenses. The prosecutor may have looked at the police report and identified problems with the way the police officer conducted the traffic stop or investigation, meaning they may not have a strong case.
Common problems with evidence against an impaired driver include defective chemical test results that are contaminated or inaccurate. The police may have also failed to conduct a field sobriety test or gathered evidence in violation of the defendant's rights. It is even possible the court somehow lost track of your case and never got around to filing charges.
However, just because you never got a court date in the mail does not mean that you weren't charged. You could have been given a court date that got sent to an old address or had your mail stolen. This is why it is important to talk to a DUI defense lawyer if you have questions about pending criminal charges. If you have a bench warrant for failure to appear in court, showing up to the courthouse to find out about your case could mean you are placed under arrest and have to stay in custody.
Finding Out About a Missed Court Date
Skipping your court hearing is not a way to avoid prosecution. Failing to appear in court could result in the judge issuing a failure to appear (FIA), which can result in a bench warrant. If you are stopped for a traffic violation and the police find you have a warrant, you may be arrested and detained until your arraignment. If you missed your court date, contact your DUI defense lawyer about the next steps to take to avoid a criminal conviction.
Can I Lose My License If I Was Never Charged With a Crime?
Yes, you can lose your driver's license after a DUI arrest even if the prosecutor never charges you with a crime. After a DUI arrest, there are 2 separate procedures, including the criminal case and the administrative suspension. The administrative per se license suspension (APS) is handled by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
The administrative response to a drunk driving arrest is triggered just by the arrest, not by the conviction. A driver has only 10 days after an impaired driving arrest to challenge the automatic suspension. If you do not act within 10 days, your temporary license will be suspended after 30 days from the date of your arrest. You may then have to go through the process of getting your license reinstated, even if you were never charged with a crime.
Fortunately, your DUI defense attorney can make the formal request for the DMV APS hearing, and appear at the hearing on your behalf. In most cases, you don't even need to show up to the hearing and your attorney can challenge the suspension to allow you to keep your license. However, there is only a short period of time after an arrest to get a hearing, so call your East Bay DUI defense lawyer right away.
DUI Defense Strategies for East Bay Drivers
If there are no charges filed against you after a drunk driving arrest, do not wait for a year to find out if you are cleared of charges. You should contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you keep your license and avoid a license suspension. Your attorney can also investigate your case to identify the best defense strategies available. When the prosecutor does issue charges, your attorney will be ready to counter the prosecution's case to get the charges reduced, dismissed, or fight for your rights in court.
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of DUI defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing individuals in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, police officers, and the prosecutors involved.