How Long After an Accident Can I Be Charged With a DUI?

You’re driving home one night after having a few drinks with your friends in downtown Los Angeles. Before you know it, your car crashes into another. The police show up at the scene and ask some questions. Then, to your surprise, they complete a report and send you on your way.

How long after that accident can you be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI)? Here’s what you need to know.

You’ll Usually Be Arrested for DUI At the Scene of an Accident

First, it’s important to state right off the bat that if the police were going to arrest you for drunk driving, they’d probably do it while you were still at the scene of the accident. It’s very unlikely that they’d allow you to continue driving if they suspected that you were a danger on the road.

It’s even more unlikely that the police would allow you to drive away and let the evidence of your intoxication go with you. The longer the stretch of time between your last sip of alcohol and your arrest, the less evidence of intoxication there will be.

That’s because chemical tests – including breathalyzers and blood tests – can only tell the police how intoxicated you are right now. Those tests can’t tell the police how drunk you were hours or days ago. They might be able to posit a guess, but that guess won’t be very reliable in court.

So, if the police have reasonable suspicion to believe that you got into the accident because you were driving while impaired, they’ll almost always make the arrest right then and there.

There’s a Statute of Limitations for Criminal DUI Charges in California

Let’s say that, for some reason, police officers do not arrest you right away. There is still a chance that you can face criminal DUI charges at some point in the future. But, there’s a limited amount of time in which charges can be filed against you. That’s thanks to something called a statute of limitations.

In California, the statute of limitations for misdemeanor DUI charges is one year. The statute of limitations is expanded to three years for felony DUI charges.

Keep in mind, the statute of limitations refers to the amount of time the state has to formally file criminal charges against you. This doesn’t mean that your case has to be resolved in two or four years. Rather, it just means that the state has to formally accuse you of driving under the influence within this set period of time.

Once the statute of limitations expires, the state will be prohibited from filing charges against you. You will not be vulnerable to any of the criminal penalties that are associated with that particular incident.

What Should I Do If I’m In an Accident After Having a Drink?

It’s against the law to drive if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be drunk or have a BAC over the legal limit to be arrested for DUI. You can face DUI charges if the police suspect that you’re not fit to drive because you’ve consumed drugs and/or alcohol.

So, don’t be surprised if the police are on high alert and actively searching for indications that you’re impaired if you’ve been involved in an accident. To protect yourself, keep these tips in mind:

  • Remain calm and collected
  • Do not accept responsibility, fault, or liability for the accident
  • Answer questions directly; do not expand and provide details
  • Do not provide consent for the officers to search your car or your person
  • Refuse a breathalyzer if you haven’t been arrested
  • Ask if you are free to go, and
  • If you’re not, ask for an attorney and invoke your right to remain silent.

You don’t want to give the state any help in building a DUI case against you. So, try to remain quiet and answer questions directly and politely. Don’t accept fault or apologize. These things can be used against you in civil AND criminal proceedings.

The best thing to do is to contact an attorney who has experience handling DUI cases. Your lawyer will be able to guide you through the criminal proceedings, communicate with the state and interested parties on your behalf, and fight to protect your freedom, should face charges.