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Can You Get a DUI if You’re in an Accident That Isn’t Your Fault?

By San Diego Attorney on November 25, 2022

Suppose you meet some friends for dinner at a restaurant and have a few drinks with your meal. Then, as you are driving home (extra cautiously), someone runs a red light and T-bones your vehicle. When the police arrived to investigate the crash, can you get a DUI?

The short answer is yes. If you were over the legal limit, you could be charged with driving under the influence, even if the other driver caused the accident.

What Charges Could You Face if You Were at Fault for an Accident?

If you were driving under the influence and caused a crash, the charges could be more serious than a simple DUI.

  • DUI causing injury: If someone else was hurt in the accident, you could be charged with DUI causing injury if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .08% or higher and you violated a traffic law or acted with negligence that caused the wreck. This offense is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, at the discretion of the prosecution. Penalties may include up to three years of jail time, a fine of up to $5,000, five years of DUI probation, and driver’s license suspension for one year. If someone suffered serious bodily injury in the accident, jail time could be increased.
  • Vehicular manslaughter: Penalties are more severe if you were driving under the influence and caused an accident in which someone was killed. Vehicular manslaughter is defined as driving a vehicle in an unlawful manner with gross negligence and thereby causing the death of another individual. If convicted of this crime, you could be facing up to six years in state prison, depending on any prior offenses and the degree of negligence involved.

What Are the Charges if You Were Not at Fault for the Crash?

A person driving under the influence is not automatically at fault for an accident. However, if you were over the legal limit when another driver hit you, even if you broke no traffic laws and did nothing to cause the crash, the investigating officer could still charge you with DUI. Possible penalties for first offense DUI in California include:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Fines and fees of up to $3,600
  • Three to five years DUI probation
  • Driver’s license suspension for four months or longer
  • Possible ignition interlock device requirement

Are You Liable for Damages Resulting from the Accident?

California is an at fault state. The driver who caused the accident is liable for damages, even if the other driver had been drinking. Fault can be shared under our state’s comparative negligence law. A percentage of fault can be assigned to each driver involved in a collision. Even if the other driver clearly caused the crash, the other side may claim that alcohol consumption slowed your reaction time and affected your ability to avoid the accident. To defend against such a claim, you must prove that you did not commit an illegal act or neglect a lawful duty, and that the other driver was responsible for the crash.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

If you are facing DUI charges, your best chance of obtaining the most favorable outcome is to have a San Diego criminal defense attorney in your corner. In addition to criminal and civil penalties, a DUI on your record can significantly impact your life.

At jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have extensive experience successfully representing clients in DUI matters. Attorney James N. Dicks is a certified Criminal Law Specialist, a former LAPD narcotics investigator, and a drug recognition expert. Call us today at (760) 630-2000 for skilled DUI defense.

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