While most people understand the severity of driving under the influence laws, many still don’t know about biking under the influence. This is because biking under the influence (CUI) is not charged under the DUI laws but Vehicle Code 21200.5 since a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. However, a conviction could still lead to court fines and other fees. If you are facing CUI charges in San Fernando and the entire Los Angeles area, get in touch with our lawyers at The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel for help.
Understanding Biking Under the Influence
California VC 21200.5 forbids individuals from riding a bike a bicycle when impaired by drugs or alcohol. The offense is also known as Cycling Under the Influence (CUI). Many people don’t know If CUI is illegal in California. They only know of DUI being unlawful. Because of this, many people end up facing charges of VC 21200.5 violation without knowing. The statute has been in existence since 1985. However, because a bicycle is not a motor vehicle, California VC, VC 21200.5 violation is not prosecuted under the DUI laws.
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Facts the Prosecution Must Prove to Convict you for VC 21200.5 Violation
The prosecution should prove specific elements or facts to convict you of this offense. These are:
You were Riding a Bicycle
A bicycle is defined as any object with one or more wheels that human beings propel through gears, a belt, or a chain.
So, whatever that is motorized doesn’t fall under the category of bicycles, not even a motorized bicycle. Note that if you drive a scooter without a combustion engine while under the influence, you will not be charged as per the DUI law, instead you will be subject to VC 21221.5
You were Biking on a Highway
The prosecution must prove that you were riding a bicycle in a publicly maintained area that is used by vehicles for traveling. Note that if you ride on a sidewalk of a highway or a roadway while under the influence, you will be convicted of a violation of VC 21200.5. If you were accused of cycling upon a freeway while drunk, the prosecution will not sentence you because cycling is not allowed in these roads, and they don’t fall under the category of highways.
You Were Under the Influence at the Time of Riding
CUIs are different from DUIs in that cycling doesn’t have a BAC level that decides if you are under the influence or not. For DUI cases, the legal limit for blood alcohol level is .08%. The prosecution, therefore, doesn’t rely on chemical tests to prove you were biking under the influence. Instead, they must demonstrate to the court that during the arrest, your mental or physical abilities were so impaired to the extent that you couldn’t drive with caution that an average person would exercise.
Punishment for Violation of VC 21200.5
The offense is a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, you are subject to as much as two hundred and fifty dollars in court fines without any jail incarceration. Apart from this, the offense is a criminal conviction, which means it will go in your criminal record. When landlords or employers conduct background checks on you, they will come across your criminal history, thus preventing them from wanting to associate with you.
Note that a conviction for CUI involving a person above the age of 13 but below 21 years will incur a driver’s license suspension for up to 364 days. If you haven’t attained a driver’s license and you are convicted of the crime, your eligibility for driver’s license application will be late for twelve months.
Expunging a Riding Under the Influence Conviction
Having a criminal record, as mentioned earlier, can have negative consequences on your life. Because of that, it is critical that after a conviction for this offense, you apply for expungement. The judge will allow expungement if you have paid the fine. After an expungement, anybody who runs a background check on your criminal history will not find a CUI conviction because it will be erased from the record.
Legal Defenses for Biking Under the Influence
Instead of having to wait for a conviction so that you can pay the court fines and afterward have the conviction expunged, you should hire a reasonable DUI defense attorney. If proper defense theories are used to fight these charges, you will avoid paying hefty fines. Some of the common defense you can use are:
1. You were not Under the Influence
You are only guilty of a violation of VC 21200.5 if you were under the influence at the time of riding. It means that you can use the facts of the case to prove that you were not drunk, mainly because no blood alcohol level presumes you were under the influence under this statute.
And because the law requires a cyclist to ride close to the edge of a highway and observe all the traffic rules, the moment an officer spots you falling off the bike or weaving between lanes, he or she might conclude you are under the influence. You can use this to assert that the police made an observation of you falling off the bike and decided you were CUI instead of following you and observing you for a long time before conducting a stop or arrest.
Also, at times a person can exhibit signs of intoxication such as:
- Flushed face
- Slurred speech
- Alcohol odor in your breath
If an officer observes these symptoms on you, he or she might conclude you are under the influence. The signs could be due to fatigue from cycling. Allergy symptoms experienced due to exposure to the wind during cycling can lead an officer to believe you are drunk or on drugs.
2. The Police had No Probable Cause
If the law enforcer who made the stop or arrest had no credible cause to stop you, it means that the stop was illegal. All the proof collected from the illegal stop will be thrown out of the case, leaving the prosecution with little or no evidence. A charge like that will be reduced or removed.
3. Inaccurate FSTs
If you have been stopped by an officer while cycling on suspicion of being under the influence, you might agree to the tests to show the officer you are sober. But if you later realize the officer will be testifying against you for failing the field sobriety tests, you can challenge the accuracy of the tests. Your attorney should revisit the scene where the field sobriety tests were done to try and convince the court that the criteria were subjective. He or she can claim that the ground where the tests happened was uneven; hence you could not keep balance. Asserting that you failed the tests because of the fatigue from cycling for a long distance can get the court to show the test results are inaccurate hence unreliable.
4. The Officer Didn’t Observe you for 15 Minutes
After a traffic stop, an officer is required by the law to observe you for fifteen minutes to make sure you don’t do anything that might result in inaccurate results. In California, bicyclists stopped for biking under the influence have the right to ask for blood or breath test to prove to the officer that he or she is not intoxicated. If the test results indicate that you are drunk, you can challenge the results arguing that the Officer didn’t wait for 15 minutes to conduct the tests; hence you might have vomited or done something that led to the rise of your blood alcohol level.
Further, an experienced attorney will prove that the Officer failed to observe specific rules when administering the tests, thus putting doubts in the minds of the judge or jury about the validity of the test results.
VC 21200.5 and Additional Charges
On top of your biking under the influence charge, the prosecution can suggest additional charges. These are:
Not Properly Equipping your Bicycle
California statutes require bicycles to be equipped with handlebars, working lights, and brakes. If an officer spots you with a bike that lacks any of these requirements, he or she will conclude your riding is unsafe, which attracts infraction charges. If you are convicted for an infraction, the punishment is court fines of hundreds of dollars.
You will be charged with violation of PC 647 (f) if you are found under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both to the extent you are a risk to your safety and that of other people who want to move freely. Preventing people from freely using sidewalks or public ways while intoxicated can also attract PC 647 (f) charges. A misdemeanor conviction for this charge will see you spend no more than 180 days in jail or court fines, not beyond $1000.
Find an Attorney Near Me
In case you find yourself facing biking under the influence charge, we invite you to reach out to The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel at 818-582-2350. Our attorneys in San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles will provide the legal guidance you need.