Man Claims He Was Only Drinking “At Stop Signs” While Driving

On June 27, 2018, Vero Beach police received a call from a McDonald’s drive-thru customer who complained that a driver behind her was repeatedly bumping her car. At the scene, police found 69 year-old Earle Stevens behind the wheel with an open bottle of alcohol in a paper bag on the passenger seat. He was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence. During the arrest, Stevens had an interesting yet ineffective defense; he claimed that he was taking swigs of bourbon only when he stopped at traffic lights and stop signs — so he wasn’t technically drinking and driving.

At Indian River County Jail, Stevens’ blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.153 and 0.147. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving is 0.08. Although the incident took place in Florida, the 0.08 percent BAC limit is the standard measurement used across the United States, and thus would apply in California.

Under California Penal Code 23152(a) and (b), a DUI is defined and charged as two separate misdemeanors. Section (a) states that itis unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle, while section (b) adds that it is unlawful for a person who has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more to drive a vehicle. Typically, offenders enter an agreement where the prosecutor allows them to plead to only one of the counts. The second count is usually dismissed at sentencing.

If this case took place in California, Stevens would suffer either misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on four factors:

  • The facts of his specific case
  • Whether he is facing his first or subsequent DUI conviction
  • Whether he is being charged with a felony or a misdemeanor DUI
  • His criminal history

Most first, second, and third DUI cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors. The consequences typically increase, and can be charged as a felony DUI  on the fourth or subsequent conviction within 10 years, or causing an injury.

The penalties may include the following:

Misdemeanor Penalties

  • Up to 1 year in a county jail
  • Payment of a minimum fine of $390 + Penalty Assessments
  • Informal DUI probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Completion of a 3 to 30 month DUI school
  • Suspension of driver’s license for 6 months to 3 years
  • Insurance policy ramifications
  • In certain counties of California: Installation of an ignition interlock device

Felony Penalties

  • Up to 3 years in a state prison
  • Formal probation
  • Revocation of driver’s license for 4 years
  • Registration by the DMV as a habitual traffic offender

Possible Increased Penalties

Some factors exist which may aggravate the punishment to that higher than a felony. These factors include:

  • Causing an accident
  • Having a child in the car during the incident
  • A blood-alcohol level of 0.15% or higher

Reacting to a DUI Conviction

  • Stevens’ attorney may negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea bargain, which allows Stevens to plead guilty and receive a reduced charge.
  • Additionally, there are ways to fighta DUI conviction. This is founded on several bases including whether or not:
    • Stevens’ blood-alcohol level was below 0.08% at the time of driving
    • The DUI breath testing instrument or machine wasn’t properly maintained or calibrated
    • The breath sample provided was possibly tainted
    • Stevens attended a California DUI DMV hearing within 10 days of arrest
  • If Stevens were to be sentenced to probation and successfully completed it, he could try to get his conviction “expunged“, which would eliminate some factors of the DUI conviction but not others. Accomplishment of this requires that he and his defense attorney petition the court.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI, contact us 24 hours a day at (310) 448-1529 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Our office is conveniently located in the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, within minutes of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and steps away from the Expo/Bundy Station. We have flexible hours and weekend appointments, and we will visit you in jail to discuss your case.




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