While DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or an intoxicating drug) is well known to be a serious and severely punished violation of California state law, few have even heard of "CUI."
CUI (cycling under the influence) is also a crime in California, and anyone arrested on this charge soon realizes how serious police are about enforcing it. It's true that drunk biking is not as strictly punished as drunk or drugged driving, since the dangers posed to others are not as great. Yet, a conviction can still have serious impacts on your life is well worth fighting.
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we understand the details of California's drunk biking statute, and we have a long track record of winning these types of cases in L.A. Area courts. Contact us anytime by calling 424-281-3020, and we will be happy to give you a free consultation and give immediate attention to your case.
How Is Cycling Under the Influence Defined in California?
Under California Vehicle Code Section 21200.5, it is illegal to ride on a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating drug.
Since a bicycle is not considered a "vehicle" in the sense intended in California's DUI laws, a separate law was passed (in 1985) to address the problem of drunk biking. With hundreds of cyclist fatalities and severe personal injuries occurring every year, many of them having consumed alcoholic beverages, California and other states acted to specifically outlaw riding a bike while intoxicated.
Thus, you cannot be prosecuted for drunk biking under the ordinary DUI laws, and the .08 rule does not apply.
Possible Penalties for Drunk Biking
CUI (cycling under the influence) is a misdemeanor offense in California, punishable by a fine of up to $250. No jail time applies, but a conviction does create a criminal record since the offense is a misdemeanor and not a mere infraction.
But for those convicted of CUI while under the legal drinking age of 21 (and being more than 13 years old), a 12-month driver's license suspension can apply. If you are in this category but do not yet have your license, the penalty is to have the issuance of your license delayed for 12 months.
What Must the Prosecutor Prove?
To gain a conviction on the charge of drunk biking (cycling under the influence), the prosecution must prove beyond all doubt the following elements of the crime:
- The defendant was riding on a bicycle at a particular time and place.
- The defendant rode said bicycle on a "public highway."
- The defendant had consumed alcohol and/or drugs before riding the bike and was still under their influence.
To go into more detail, "riding a bike" only applies to fully mechanical bicycles that move only by "pedal power." If the bike was motorized (a moped), it would count under the DUI law instead of the CUI law. If the defendant rode a motorized scooter, then it would be handled under yet another statute (VC 21221.5).
"Public highway" here includes all manner of public roads, not just major arteries. And riding a bike on the sidewalk while drunk is treated the same way as well. But if you rode only on a private driveway or even a private road, the drunk biking statute would not apply.
Note that there is no specific BAC limit with drunk biking comparable to the .08 rule for motor vehicles, but nonetheless, a biker testing at .08 or higher would almost certainly be considered drunk. Also note that you can ask the arresting officer to test your BAC to help demonstrate you were not under the influence, and if you so request, the officer is legally obligated to oblige you with a breath, blood, or urine sample test.
Possible Defense Strategies
If you have been arrested on suspicion of and then formally charged with cycling under the influence (VC 21200.5), you need not assume that your case is somehow hopeless. At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have used many defenses against this charge with great success.
Some of our most commonly utilized defense strategies include:
- Poor Biking Does Not Equal Drunk Biking.
The prosecution in drunk biking cases will typically rely quite heavily on your observed "cycling pattern" in trying to make the drunk biking charge stick.
He/she will say that you rode in an erratic manner, wobbled back and forth, wove in and out of vehicle traffic or around pedestrians, and perhaps, fell off your bicycle repeatedly.
But a good lawyer knows that none of this kind of evidence proves anything. There could be many other reasons why a person would ride a bicycle poorly.
You might weave through traffic because you are in a hurry to get to work, move erratically because you are dodging obstacles in your way or reducing the difficulty of climbing a steep hill by using sideways movements. And a cyclist could fall off his/her bike due to inexperience or due to a bump, crack, or blown tire.
Finally, the officer must have observed your biking for a good deal of time for his/her observations to carry any weight at all, and a good CUI lawyer will ask how long you were, in fact, observed.
- Alleged "Symptoms" of Intoxication Have an Innocent Explanation
A second big piece of the prosecution's case is often the arresting officer's (or others') observation of your "personal appearance" at the time of the arrest.
The arresting officer will likely testify against you in court and say that your eyes were red and/or watery, that your speech was slurred, your face flushed, your breath bore the clear smell of alcohol, and you were unable to walk with a "steady gait."
But there are other possible explanations for any and all of these alleged symptoms. It could have been exhaustion, nervousness, a medical condition, the weather, or a host of other factors that made you appear as you did. And if you drank only a little alcohol (not nearly enough to intoxicate you), the smell of alcohol would be on your breath. Plus, mouth wash and certain cough medicines could also put it there.
The point is that these signs that the prosecution uses do not create a certainty that you were drunk, legally speaking, and there are ways to challenge the use of them by the prosecution.
- FSTs Are Not a Reliable Guide
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we often use this defense against DUI charges, but it also applies in CUI cases as well. Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) offer far less than absolute proof that an individual was under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
In some cases, an FST may not have been properly administered by police; but even when they are, there are many reasons other than intoxication why a person might perform poorly on them.
And the prosecution will want to ignore the FST elements that you did well on and not mention them in court. We won't let them get away with that. We will show the court that there were specific reasons why you performed as you did on certain parts of the FSTs and that you actually passed other parts of them.
- Failure to Observe 15 Minutes Before the Breathalyzer Test
In the case of drunk biking arrests (unlike DUI arrests), the officer will probably not ask you to take a breath test. Instead, you will have to request one of him. In fact, it is your right to request one and the officer's duty to comply with that request.
But before a BAC breath test can validly be administered, the officer must first observe you for 15 full consecutive minutes. This is to make sure you did not eat/drink anything, throw up, burp, or smoke tobacco just before the breathalyzer test. Any of these actions can cause the BAC reading to misleadingly high because they can cause alcohol in your gut to enter your mouth.
Additionally, the arresting officer may have failed to observe you closely enough, if he did so at all, being distracted by paperwork or by getting the breathalyzer calibrated and ready for use.
- Failure to Adhere to Title 17 During the Blood Test
You also have the right to request a blood test to establish your true BAC when arrested on the charge of drunk biking. The officer, again, will have to comply or let you go. But if he conducts a blood test, very strict rules, outlined in Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations, will apply.
For example, the following regulations must be fully complied with:
- Only an authorized person who has been trained to use the specific devices employed can take the blood sample.
- The are from which blood will be drawn must first be sterilized, but not with an alcohol-containing cleanser (for obvious reasons).
- An anti-coagulant/preservative (which is not past its expiration date) must be mixed in with the blood sample.
- The sample must be stored in a way that prevents contamination; and a record of maintenance/storage must be kept.
- An additional blood sample must be taken so that the defendant's lawyer can have an independent re-test done later if desired.
If Title 17 rules were not followed, the BAC result can show as higher than it actually is; and if the test result was being used as evidence against you, that evidence can likely be declared inadmissible in court.
- Your Rights Were Violated
There are a number of different ways that arresting officer sometimes violate the rights of drunk biking suspects.
First, there may have been a lack of probable cause for stopping you to begin with. Second, there may not have been probable cause to make the arrest. Third, the officer may have interrogated you for the purpose of incriminating you before informing you you were under arrest. Fourth, the officer may have failed to read you your Miranda Rights.
It is also possible that evidence was fabricated or planted or that an officer did not write an accurate police report or did not testify honestly in court.
If your rights were violated, we can invoke California Penal Code Section 1538.5 in your behalf to ask the judge for a special "suppression hearing" to attempt to disallow evidence wrongfully collected (which normally means the case will be dismissed for lack of enough evidence).
Other Related Charges
Besides the main cycling under the influence (CUI, VC 21200.5) charge brought against you, you may find yourself also accused of violating traffic regulations, not riding close enough to the right-hand side of the highway, riding your bike at night without a light and reflectors, otherwise not properly equipping your bicycle, or using a blue light (which is reserved only for police usage).
The above would most likely be mere infractions, but there are more serious "extra" charges often charged with drunk biking as well.
One of these is PC 647f, which covers the crime being "drunk in public" in such a manner as to endanger yourself and others or block/interfere with the right of way of drivers, pedestrians, and other bikers.
A second serious charge often accompanying that of cycling under the influence is VC 20002, California's hit and run law. If you strike another person or another person's property (even on a bike), you have a duty to help injured parties and to identify yourself to the owner of any property you damaged.
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we know how to counter these "peripheral" charges along with the main charge.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have the legal expertise and the grit and determination to challenge your drunk biking charge and win you the best possible outcome to your case.
We have won many dismissals, acquittals, and charge/sentence reductions for our clients charged with cycling under the influence, and we can do the same for you.
To learn more or to avail yourself of a free legal consultation contact us anytime 24/7/365 at 424-281-3020.