Driving under the Influence (DUI)

California law maintains a very strict handling of DUI offenders. First time offenders, depending on the jurisdiction, can expect probation, fines, jail, and attendance in an alcohol school program (usually three months minimum).  As of July 2010, all first time offenders in Los Angeles County are now required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle they own or possess, at their own expense, for a minimum of five months.

In addition to the potential criminal consequences, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (D.M.V), in a separate administrative proceeding, will seek to suspend a motorists’ driving privileges for a minimum of 30 days. To prevent this, the arrestee or his/her attorney, must contact the D.M.V within 10 days of the arrest to request a hearing to challenge the suspension process.  It is rarely a good idea to waive ones right to this D.M.V. Administrative Hearing.

For those who have suffered prior DUI convictions, the criminal consequences can potentially become more severe.  Upon a second offense for DUI, the punishment may involve a minimum of 96 hours in county jail, enforcement of a 18-month alcohol school program, and five years of probation.  Upon a third offense, the jail time increases to a minimum of 120 days.  Upon a fourth DUI, the violation will likely be filed as a felony.

The IID will be required to be installed for a longer period of time for those convicted of a second and third offense.   Additionally, the license suspension periods will increase.

“Wet reckless and alternative forms of punishment”

A wet reckless, as it is commonly known, is basically a DUI that is reduced by the prosecutor for a number of reasons. These may include; low alcohol level, first time offender, no prior criminal record, good driving history, no poor driving pattern observed, and field sobriety exercises are done satisfactorily.  The criminal punishment for a wet reckless can be distinguished from a DUI and can involve less probation, no jail, substantially lower fines, and no IID. However, there are no set criteria as to what will cause a prosecutor to reduce a DUI to a wet reckless.  It is a very subjective evaluation and in some California counties, it is never offered.

For those arrested for DUI, and who have suffered prior DUI convictions, a wet reckless will rarely be offered.  Consequently, county jail will be a requirement.  However, for those willing to consider treatment in a licensed residential alcohol program, the time served in such a program may be allowed in lieu of serving time in county jail. This approach can be successful where significant jail time is the legally required punishment, but where the client is desirous of receiving residential treatment, the jail sentence can be completely avoided!  Simply put, there is no limit to what your defense attorney may attempt to negotiate on your behalf.

Aggravating factors in DUI’s

There is no such thing as typical DUI.  Every DUI arrest has unique characteristics and factual elements that can make the charge very defensible or, sometimes, increase the potential punishment.  As mentioned above, there may be many reasons why a prosecutor should consider dismissing a DUI, or even reducing the charge and punishment, but there are also circumstances that may lead the prosecutor to enhance the penalties associated with a DUI.

  • Having a child 14 years or younger in the car at the time 
  • Traveling at an excessive speed 
  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Driving with an excessive blood alcohol level
  • Refusing to take a chemical test (breath or blood)
  • Resisting arrest or interfering with the officers’ investigation
  • DUI related traffic accidents involving injury or death

In many cases, any of the above circumstances can lead to significant increases in county jail, or even state prison.  No matter what, these aggravating factors increase the hurdles that must be overcome with the prosecutor.  Speaking with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, when any of these aggravating factors are present, may assist you avoiding extra punishment.