So you got pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in California. Probably even spent a night in jail and got handed a notice for your court hearing the next day. You’re panicked, confused, and intimidated by the court system.
If you’ve never been involved with the California legal system, it’s logical to wonder what courts handle DUIs in California? And not only so you can determine their location and plan your hearings commute. You’re probably curious about how “tough” a specific court, its prosecutors, and presiding judges are.
Generally, your DUI case can be heard in a California municipal/city court, superior/trial court, DUI court, or federal court. It all depends on multiple factors, such as who arrested you and the scale of your DUI violations. Consult with an experienced California DUI lawyer promptly to discuss your case and legal options.
When Is a DUI Case Handled in a Municipal Court?
If you are pulled over and arrested within the limits of an incorporated city in California: your DUI case can be handled in the corresponding city court.
For example, if arrested within the city of Los Angeles, your DUI charges may be heard in:
- Hollywood courthouse
- San Pedro Courthouse
- Division 103 14400 Erwin St Mall, Van Nuys Courthouse, California
- Division 60 1945 S Hill Street, Los Angeles, California
- Or Division 140 or Division 141 of the Airport Courthouse on La Cienega, Chatsworth.
Choose a reputable DUI lawyer in LA to help navigate the legal system with relative ease.
City courts have limited jurisdiction. They usually preside over ordinance violations, misdemeanor cases, and traffic offenses. Nonetheless, prosecutors in these courts are aggressive on DUI cases with aggravating circumstances, often seeking jail time.
Aggravating circumstances in California include:
- Measured blood alcohol content level of 0.15 percent and above
- Scenarios involving a minor under 14 years as a passenger
- Refusal to undergo a DUI blood, breath, or urine test
- Reckless driving
- Over speeding by 20+ miles/hour on a surface road or 30+ miles/hour on a freeway
How Are Municipal Courts Different From Higher Courts?
Overall, municipal courts are more flexible and less formal than higher courts. That’s with regards to plea rescheduling and negotiation. Prosecutors in these courts may even accept sentencing that offers alternatives to jail time. (For instance, enrollment in a DUI school or treatment program.)
Plus, city prosecutors tend to speak with arresting officers before dismissing or reducing DUI charges. Thus: if you can retain an experienced California DUI lawyer soonest, and the lawyer manages to form a good rapport with these officers before the court date, it can increase the chances of getting your charges reduced.
Now, if your case starts in a municipal court but is unresolved for whatever reasons, you can request it be transferred to a higher court. Your case can also be transferred to a superior court if your DUI violation is considered a felony.
When Is a DUI Case Handled in California Superior Court?
Your DUI case is likely to be initiated in a California Superior Court if:
- The arrest was by one of the County’s Sheriff’s Office or California Patrol Trooper
- The arrest happened in an unincorporated area
As mentioned, your case can also wind up in a superior court, even if it was initiated in a city court. That’s if:
- Your case is considered a felony
- You’re not satisfied with the outcome
- You evoke your right to a trial presided by a jury of your peers
Transferring a DUI case from a city to a state court hits the ‘restart’ button. In that, you’re re-arraigned on the charges.
Each of California’s 58 counties has a superior court. Applicable trials can be handled in the California Superior Court System encompassing over 450 courthouses. If arrested in LA county, for instance, your case is handled in courthouses such as:
- Newhall Santa Clarita courthouse
- Santa Anita, etc.
Are Superior Courts Stricter Than Municipal Courts?
Trial or superior courts are more formal than city courts. But your DUI lawyer can meet with the county district prosecutors to discuss which hearings are necessary.
City district prosecutors may be more lenient than city attorneys in DUIs involving aggravating circumstances. However, they may be hesitant to dismiss or reduce your charges if your blood alcohol level is 0.08 percent or above.
Like city attorneys, prosecutors in superior courts may accept alternate sentences for DUI offenders without a history of violence, gang activities, or drug sales.
When Is a DUI Case Handled in a California DWI/DUI Court?
Similar to drug courts, California DUI courts are designed to rehabilitate. They provide personalized treatments, collaboration, and supervision to:
- Reduce DUI recidivism
- Foster healthier and safer lives for participants
- Enhance community safety
People in these programs typically follow the requirements of a probation court. That means: going to DUI school, attending AA meetings, paying fines, getting an interlock system installed on their cars, etc. They also return to court regularly until the judge is satisfied that they have reformed.
Cases in DUI courts are managed by professional teams comprising of addiction specialists, mental health providers, and members of the justice and other support systems.
Generally, DUI courts target individuals with a history of substance use and criminal behavior. The person should also be determined to change their behavior. Think of individuals with 2+ DUI convictions within five years or 3+ lifetime DUI convictions.
Potential candidates first undergo a clinical assessment to which they must voluntarily consent. Eligible persons are then referred to the case manager in a DUI court, where they are screened to ensure they meet the program requirements.
The DUI Court program can take 12 to 18 months, depending on how well you complete each phase of the treatment.
Note: participants are required to seek, obtain, and maintain employment. And pay a participation fee, which averages about $1,800.00.
When Is a DUI Case Handled in a Federal District Court?
If charged with a DUI offense on federal property, your case may be handled by a California superior court if there’s an agreement between the two jurisdictions. Otherwise, your charges are considered a misdemeanor and handled in the applicable federal court.
In California, that will be one of the following:
- United States District Court for the Northern District of California
- United States District Court for the Eastern District of California
- United States District Court for the Central District of California
- United States District Court for the Southern District of California
You can also be charged in a federal court but with a state offense. That’s usually under the Assimilative Crimes Act, which permits federal prosecutors to use California state laws to bring DUI offenders to book.
Federal properties encompass federal land, roads, and several buildings, including parking lots and adjacent areas. Examples include:
- National Parks like the Death Valley National Park and Yosemite National Park
- Military Bases like the Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
- National Forests
- Post Offices
- Federal Government Buildings
- National Historic Places
- Federal Courthouses
- Airports, etc.
Most federal DUI offenses are presided over by a federal judge and not a jury of peers. That’s because they are considered a minor crime despite being punishable by probable jail time.
Put Your DUI Charges Behind You
As we summarize what courts handle DUI in California, be advised that your DUI arrest doesn’t have to translate to a DUI conviction.
The arrest may have violated your rights in some way, however subtle. And an experienced DUI lawyer can help identify such violations and leverage them to sway the case in your favor.
In other words, after a DUI arrest in California: you have to fight for your driver’s license, freedom, and future. And retaining a compassionate yet knowledgeable DUI lawyer should be your first step. Fortunately, we can link you with an experienced California DUI lawyer and secure a FREE initial consultation. You only need to call us at (310) 862-0199 or fill out the form to your right.