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New DUI Prosecutorial Approaches and Prescription Medication Charges


Actually, a lot of counties all over California have been changing their approach to dealing with DUI cases and that stems mainly from budget cuts. What is happening is a lot of counties are getting grants for special prosecutors or DUI cases, and they seem to be starting to work together with other counties and coming up with new ideas on how to prosecute DUIs.

So, that is creating some change. Another topic creating some changes is proposed laws that are coming up in the legislature. One of which, which is very scary and we can talk more about this later, is they want to change the law on prescription drugs for DUI cases and make prescription drugs a per se violation. If you do not have a prescription for a drug or, specifically, what they are going after here are medical marijuana users. If you have any prescription drug or non-prescription drug in your system and it’s not a legal drug then it’s trouble.

New Prosecutors In the San Francisco Bay Area

Specifically what’s going on, and I’m going to talk about the Bay area counties because I have practiced almost exclusively in the nine San Francisco Bay area counties, in DUI defense, in court and at DMV. Every county seems like they’re coming up with changes.

Specifically, let’s talk about Sonoma County. Let’s start a little farther north in the Bay area. What they have done in one county that has a grant is added two special DUI prosecutors. These prosecutors now handle multiple offenses or more difficult cases including cases that may deviate from the usual standard.

They handle a lot of the standard, first-DUI arrests as well, but the types of cases that they will take on are ones that have accidents and allegations of extremely high blood-alcohol levels, prior offenses and factors of that nature.

In Northern California, Cases Involving Aggravating Circumstances Were Previously Handled Through Sonoma County Prosecutors

What would happen before is it would just go to any courtroom prosecutor who served in one of four courtrooms in Sonoma County. Sonoma County DUIs are handled in the Santa Rosa Courthouse on Administrative Drive and there are two different prosecuting offices.

One is the district attorney’s office and the second is the city of Sonoma, which also retains a special prosecutor. So, the cases would go to one of four courtrooms and the DA, the prosecutors or the city attorneys who would be in those courtrooms would handle that case.

Through Grant Funding, Sonoma County Has Added Two Special Prosecutors For DUI Offenses

Now you’ve got a couple special prosecutors who have this grant money, and they are handling a lot of the DUI cases now. What has happened with that is the plea bargains have gotten stricter, and the court has actually instituted other changes. Instead of the case starting in one of four misdemeanor courtrooms and going all the way through there, they’re funneling all the cases into department number two, where your DUI arraignment will start.

Sonoma County Has Also Changed The Procedures For Arraignments And Pre-Trial Conferences

Now the cases are all heard in the afternoon. They used to be in the morning, but the arraignments are in the afternoon and your DUI pre-trial conference or settlement conference will also be in the afternoon at 1:30. If the case is not resolved in that courtroom and needs to go out for a suppression motion trial, anything like that, then it would get sent out to Departments 6, 7, or 8 where the case would continue there.

So, that’s a big change. It seems like they’re not running the DUI multiple-offender court that they had before. The county ran out of their grant money for that court. So I’m not hearing much about that anymore.

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Aaron Bortel

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