The state’s zero tolerance law makes driving under the influence (DUI) a severe traffic violation and a crime in California. The gravity of the situation may overwhelm first-time offenders. You may wonder what comes next and if you can do anything to remedy the situation.
Chudnovsky Law is dedicated to providing legal assistance to those facing DUI charges, including first-time offenders who may not know what their charges entail. Our DUI lawyers possess vast knowledge of this area of law and have successfully advocated for the reduction or elimination of penalties for many in the greater Orange County area. If you have a legal matter to discuss, contact our legal team for more information and a free, confidential consultation.
California’s DUI Laws
In California, the law stipulates that impaired driving includes alcohol and any other drug with the potential to impair one’s driving, including marijuana, illegal drugs, and prescription medications. However, most DUIs tend to involve alcohol.
A DUI charge typically results when a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher. However, drivers under 21 or commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.01 percent or 0.04 percent, respectively, can also face DUI charges. These lower thresholds indicate the law’s serious approach to combating underage drinking and driving and accidents caused by impaired truck drivers.
What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in California?
When police pull you over and charge you with a DUI for the first time in California, they immediately thrust you into a complex legal process.
Here's a general timeline of what you can expect:
- The traffic stop: A police officer may stop your vehicle due to suspicious driving behavior or at a DUI checkpoint. If they suspect you are under the influence, they may conduct field sobriety tests, a Breathalyzer test, or a chemical test. If you fail these tests, or if you refuse to take them, they may arrest and charge you with a DUI.
- Booking and bail: After your arrest, police will take you to the local station for booking, which includes fingerprinting and taking your mugshot. Depending on your circumstances, they may release you on your recognizance, or you may need to post bail.
- DMV hearing and license suspension: Within 10 days of your arrest, you may request a DMV hearing. If you don't, or if you lose at the hearing, the state will suspend your driver’s license 30 days after your arrest. Reach out to a lawyer during this short 10-day window to improve your chances of avoiding license suspension or revocation.
- Arraignment: You will appear in court, typically a few weeks after your arrest. Here, prosecutors will formally charge you, and you'll enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
- Discovery and pretrial motions: If you plead not guilty, your attorney will receive evidence from the prosecutor, review it, and may file motions to suppress any improperly obtained evidence.
- Plea bargaining or trial: Many DUI cases resolve through plea bargaining. However, if you don’t reach a plea bargain, your case will proceed to trial.
- Sentencing: If the court convicts you or you plead guilty, the judge will impose a sentence. For first-time DUI offenders in California, this may include fines, DUI school, probation, and jail time.
Each DUI case is unique, and many factors can influence what this process looks like for your unique circumstances.
When you face a first-time DUI charge in California, consult an experienced DUI defense attorney to fully understand your situation and explore your legal options.
Penalties for First-Time DUI Offenders
You can face severe repercussions for a first-time DUI in California:
- Fines and penalties: You could face fines ranging from $390 to $1,000. However, penalty assessments could increase this to about $3,600.
- License suspension: A first-time DUI conviction in Orange County usually results in a 12-month license suspension. However, you may qualify for a restricted license that allows travel to and from work or a DUI education program.
- DUI school: You may have to attend a DUI education program for three or nine months.
- Probation and jail time: The state may place you on informal probation for three to five years and you can face up to six months in county jail, although jail time is not common for first-time offenders.
- Ignition interlock device (IID): Under the statewide IID pilot program, effective January 1, 2019, first-time offenders whose offenses involved injury to another person may need to install an ignition interlock device to monitor their BAC levels when operating a vehicle.
How Likely Is Jail Time for a First DUI?
First-time DUI offenders in California might worry about the prospect of jail time. While jail time is a possible consequence, it's not guaranteed or typically the norm for first-time offenders. Moreover, by turning to an experienced DUI attorney, you significantly improve your chances of reducing your penalties should the prospect of jail time arise in your case.
The California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) VC stipulates that a first-time DUI is usually a misdemeanor and carries a maximum jail sentence of six months. However, first-time offenders who haven't caused an accident, injury, or death rarely receive this maximum sentence. Most first offenders who plead guilty or are found guilty will face probation instead of jail time.
If the state places you on probation, you must comply with specific conditions, such as attending a DUI school, paying fines, and not committing any further crimes. A failure to comply with these conditions can result in the court imposing the original jail sentence.
However, other factors may influence the likelihood of serving jail time. For instance, if your DUI involves an accident, especially one causing injuries, if you had a minor in the vehicle, or if your BAC test found exceptionally high alcohol levels, the court may impose a jail sentence.
While first-time offenders may avoid jail time, subsequent DUI convictions within a ten-year period will carry mandatory minimum jail sentences and additional penalties.
While you may not see jail time on the horizon after a first-time DUI conviction, consult an experienced DUI attorney if you face charges. Legal representation can significantly reduce your charges or even garner a dismissal.
Consequences for Non-Citizens Facing a First-Time DUI in California
Non-citizens, undocumented immigrants, and Green Card holders face implications that extend beyond the usual legal penalties. The consequences can change their immigration status, interfere with their ability to remain in the country, and complicate eligibility for citizenship.
A DUI conviction, particularly one involving drugs, and multiple convictions could indicate a substance abuse problem that can affect immigration status. Aggravated DUI cases involving injury, death, or child endangerment can initiate deportation proceedings.
A DUI conviction might raise questions about a non-citizen's moral character, a critical requirement for naturalization. Moreover, non-citizens with a DUI conviction might encounter difficulties when trying to re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad.
For those holding professional and student visas, a DUI arrest could trigger a review of their eligibility to maintain their visas, often necessitating a return to their home countries.
Considering these serious consequences, non-citizens facing a first-time DUI charge in California should seek legal counsel with expertise in both DUI and immigration law. A team of experienced criminal immigration lawyers with a history of representing the best interests of those whose cases involve non-citizen status can best handle the complex intersection of these judicial areas.
The Impact on Your Record
A DUI conviction will remain on your driving record for ten years. This can affect your insurance premiums, employment opportunities, and any future DUI penalties.
Orange County is known for its strict enforcement of DUI laws. It has a no tolerance policy for DUI offenses, meaning that the prosecutors often seek the maximum allowable penalties even for first-time offenders.
Moreover, Orange County participates in the statewide DUI Court program, a collaborative court system designed to provide an alternative to traditional sentencing. Instead of jail time, eligible offenders participate in intensive supervision, treatment, and frequent court appearances.
As a state, California has specific DUI laws and penalties; it is one of the few states with a washout or lookback period of ten years. If a person gets another DUI within ten years of a prior offense, it considers the new offense a repeat offense and subjects it to increased penalties, including mandatory jail time and additional fines.
Building a Defense
A DUI charge doesn't equate to a conviction. With a skilled defense attorney, you can challenge the DUI charges brought against you and negotiate a reduction or even dismissal of the charges. Our attorneys use several strategies to achieve this, depending on the circumstances of the case.
A few of these techniques include:
- Questioning the legitimacy of the stop: If the officer had no valid reason to initially stop you, we can try to suppress all subsequent evidence.
- Challenging the accuracy of the sobriety tests: Field sobriety tests and Breathalyzers are prone to errors that we can examine. Additionally, one might fail a test or appear to display symptoms of intoxication when stopped for many reasons aside from alcohol.
The defenses that your attorney may use to challenge your DUI charge will depend on a thorough investigation of your case and the events leading up to your arrest. However, only qualified legal professionals can effectively employ these defenses.
Chudnovsky Law is Your Top DUI Defense
A first-time DUI charge in California can be a daunting experience. However, turning to qualified DUI attorneys during this time can help you navigate the legal process and significantly improve your case's outcome. If you or a loved one face DUI charges, the knowledgeable attorneys at Chudnovsky Law are here to help you. We have a proven track record in successfully defending DUI charges and are committed to providing you with the best legal defense possible.