DUI laws make it illegal to drive while you’re impaired by alcohol (or drugs). But it is possible to consume alcohol and not be impaired at all. In cases like this, proving a DUI is difficult, and prosecutors may not be able to convict you. This is when they may offer to reduce the charge to something far less serious, like drinking in a vehicle. This is known as a plea bargain.
If this is a possibility in your DUI case, it’s a much better option than going to jail for DUI.
What counts as “drinking in a vehicle”?
Consuming alcohol in a vehicle is an infraction under California Vehicle Code 23221. This law makes it illegal for both drivers and passengers to have any open alcoholic beverage while in a vehicle. It does not matter whether they are drunk or not.
This law applies differently to different kinds of vehicles:
- Any self-propelled vehicle counts, not just cars and trucks. Drinking while on a golf cart, jet ski, boat, dirt bike, etc. are all technically a violation of this law.
- Passengers in certain types of vehicles are exempt. For example, taxis, limousines and “party buses” both have a license to hire out for passengers regardless of whether they are drinking. Only the driver is forbidden from drinking in the vehicle in these kinds of situations.
However, when drinking in a vehicle is used as a DUI plea deal, the prosecutor may offer it regardless of the definitions above. It’s not the most common plea deal—wet reckless is probably the most likely offer in many DUI cases. Drinking in public is mainly used if there is no clear evidence that you were actually impaired by the alcohol you consumed, or if it’s unclear that you were driving.
If a drinking in a vehicle plea is offered, it’s far better than both DUI and wet reckless.
Why is drinking in a vehicle better than DUI?
DUI is among the most serious misdemeanor crimes you can face. In a DUI:
- You will always have your drivers license suspended
- You face jail time
- Fines and fees can add up to thousands of dollars
- You must serve 3-5 years of probation and attend lengthy, court-ordered traffic classes
- A DUI means you require special car insurance and will pay dramatically higher rates
- You have a criminal offense on your record
Drinking in a vehicle carries none of these penalties. It isn’t even technically a criminal charge—it’s a moving violation like speeding. You will not lose your driver’s license and you will never go to jail, period.
Just as important, drinking in a vehicle does not count as a DUI for the purposes of future offenses. That means that if you are ever arrested again for suspicion of DUI, it will count as your first offense. This is valuable because California requires much more serious consequences for repeat DUI offenders.
What are the penalties for drinking in a vehicle in Los Angeles?
The penalties for drinking in a vehicle are:
- A fine of up to $250
That’s it. Bargaining a DUI down to drinking in a vehicle, although uncommon, is one of the best possible wins for a DUI case.
Can I bargain my case down to drinking in a vehicle?
It depends on the specifics of your case. Your lawyer can help you determine how strong the evidence against you is and what kind of plea bargain makes the most sense in your situation. As a general rule, drinking in a vehicle could work in certain types of cases:
- There is no evidence that you were impaired. Most DUI suspects are asked to take a breath test or blood test. If the results are at least .08% BAC (blood alcohol concentration), then you would automatically be viewed as guilty of DUI under California law. However, if the results are lower, or if no test was performed, then it’s much harder to convicted you. Prosecutors have to prove that the alcohol you consumed actually affected you ability to drive. If this describes your case, drinking in a vehicle may be an option.
- The evidence that you were impaired is weak. Sometimes the test does show a BAC over .08% alcohol, but this evidence can be disputed. This can include arguments like mouth alcohol or not having the test performed according to procedures. If one of these factors applies in your case, and the test result was close to .08%, your lawyer may be able to push for drinking in a vehicle.
- There are grounds to believe you weren’t driving. The “no driving” defense can be extremely effective in some DUI cases, especially if you were arrested long after you were out of the vehicle. In these cases, drinking in public may be a viable option because it applies to passengers whereas DUI only applies to the driver.
How do I get a “drinking in a vehicle” plea deal?
The most important step is to have an experienced DUI defense lawyer representing you. Prosecutors do not have an incentive to offer any kind of plea deal unless they believe that the DUI charge itself won’t stick. If you have no lawyer, they know that you will have difficulty filing motions to suppress evidence, requesting technical evidence against you, and otherwise fighting your case. They will usually offer you little or nothing.
A DUI lawyer changes that. Your lawyer will:
- Launch their own investigation into the evidence against you,
- Identify irregularities and weaknesses in the evidence,
- Request to throw out evidence that isn’t reliable, and
- Push the prosecutor hard to offer you a better deal
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.