Driving under the influence is a major problem in the United States – the WHO’s Global Status report on Road Safety for 2015 found that 31% of road accident fatalities in the country are caused due to alcohol impairment.
While you may think this number is high, it falters in front of the staggering amount of arrests related to drunk driving just in the state of California – according to the California DMV’s latest report (which only goes up to 2013), over 160,000 licensed drivers were arrested for drunk driving in 2013 alone.
You would imagine the number has only increased since then.
Statistics aside, people arrested for driving under the influence are generally released the very next day and given a notice with a court date. Prosecutors are required to file charges against the defendant before the court date, but some don’t.
That doesn’t mean the defendant has been let off the hook.
Prosecutors can build a case and charge the defendant with a DUI offense until a certain period of time passes. This time period is known as the “Statute of Limitations.”
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a period of time beyond which a prosecutor cannot charge a defendant with the DUI offense they were arrested for. Conversely, the prosecutor may charge the defendant at any point within the statute of limitations.
This is done to prevent defendants having to defend against charges from several years ago, in which time evidence and witnesses may have deteriorated enough to be a disadvantage for the defendant’s case.
The California legislation has laid out strict guidelines regarding the statute of limitations for all criminal offenses occurring in the state.
The Statute of Limitations for DUI
Most DUI offenses in California are charged as misdemeanors, especially if it’s the defendant’s first, second or third DUI offense. The statute of limitations for a misdemeanor charge is 1 year.
As mentioned before, some prosecutors don’t file charges before the court date mentioned on the defendant’s notice to appear. This may happen because of a variety of reasons – pending blood test results, backlogs at law enforcement agencies etc.
Many drivers get caught up in an unfortunate misconception: they assume they have been let off the hook just because no charges were filed before their court dates. It’s important to know that charges may be filed at any point within the first year since the date of the DUI offense.
Some DUI offenses are charged as felonies, especially when it’s the driver’s 4th DUI in the last 10 years, or if the driver has been charged with “vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” or “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.”
The statute of limitations for a felony DUI charge is 3 years. That means a prosecutor has 3 years to file charges against the defendant.
If charges are filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant can file a demurrer and get the case dismissed.
Have you or has someone you know been arrested for DUI in California? If yes, the best way to proceed would be to consult with or to hire a DUI attorney with years of experience dealing with DUI cases.