A DUI charge generates two different cases – with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the Criminal court. Criminal court cases are usually resolved in one of two different ways – through a plea bargain or with a trial. If a driver pleads guilty to a DUI charge, or is convicted by a jury, the court case moves on to the sentencing phase. In the past, the courts had some say over the ability to obtain a restricted license or to remove a suspension
. However, this is not the case anymore.
California has passed new DUI sentencing laws that affect offenses committed on or after Sept. 20, 2005. The new legislation removed the power of criminal courts to suspend or revoke licenses in drunk driving cases – that power now rests solely with the DMV. The legislation also imposed new rules that regulate the sentencing of those convicted of drinking and driving. This means that asking the judge to reinstate your license or lift the suspension will not be effective. Judges now have no discretion with respect to the licensing aspect of the penalties.
The criminal punishment attached to a Driving Under the Influence conviction varies, depending on the factors of the case. An experienced California criminal defense lawyer can guide a driver through the legal system to ensure that a he or she receives the best defense available and the fairest possible punishment if convicted.
The possible punishments for drinking and driving or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID
) include fines, license suspension or revocation, alcohol education programs, jail time, probation, and conditions of probation including ignition interlock devices and, in some states, special license plates.
Fines imposed for DUI / DWI cases range from $390 to $5,000, but “penalty assessments”
can greatly increase the base fine nearly threefold. The penalty assessment is a state tax written into California law, and is now greatly exceeds the fine. Currently, the penalty assessment is 171 percent, meaning that for a $100 fine, the total payment is $271. Pending legislation may increase the penalty assessment even more.
A driver’s license may be suspended for anywhere from four months for a first offense to three years for a third or fourth offense with a chemical test refusal. License suspensions stemming from a criminal conviction are different from those resulting from an unsuccessful DMV hearing. Only the DMV can actually suspend the license, and is the only agency that can grant a restricted license for travel to work.
The range of punishments for drunk driving depend on whether it was charged as a felony or a misdemeanor; whether the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was greater than .15 percent, and whether he or she has had other DUI convictions during the past 10 years. Each prior drunk driving conviction will have a dramatic impact on the punishment for a later DUI case. Multiple drinking and driving cases in a 10 year period greatly increase the likelihood that the driver will serve time. Jail time may be as little as 48 hours, or as much as one year in county jail.
Both Criminal Courts and the California Department of Motor Vehicles can order DUI drivers to attend alcohol education classes. The standard program for first-time offenders requires attendance at one three-hour session per week for 12 weeks, or approximately 36 hours of coursework. The class will satisfy the requirements of both the court and the DMV. Once enrolled, it may be possible to get a restricted driver’s license to allow for driving to and from the program, depending on the jurisdiction.
Those convicted of a second drunk driving charge within 10 years are typically ordered to attend an 18-week program that begins with mandatory attendance at weekly sessions, gradually changing to every other week. Finally, there is a 30-month program for multiple offenders.
In cases involving multiple convictions, the judge may require the installation of an ignition interlock device as a condition of probation. These devices attached to a vehicle’s ignition system that test for alcohol on a driver’s breath. If there is a measurable amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, the car will not start.
Although some states have enacted legislation requiring the use of special license plates to identify convicted drunk drivers, California does not currently require special plates.
The penalties for drunk driving can be serious, and have a lifelong financial and personal impact. A skilled California attorney who specializes in DUI criminal defense
can evaluate each case and devise a strategy that will result in the best possible outcome for anyone accused of drinking and driving.