A first-time DUI offense can wreak havoc on your future. The penalties are steep and can change the course of your life. For example, California classifies a first DUI as a misdemeanor with possible probation of three to five years. Fines are also steep and can range from $390 to $1,000, depending on other factors. Offenders must also attend DUI school and face a six-month driver’s license suspension. California takes things a step further by requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device. Depending on where you live, you will also face jail time.
There are two main legal routes to take to avoid a license suspension. The first is to request a DMV hearing, and the second is to prevent a conviction in court. Neither process is simple and requires the assistance of a California DUI defense lawyer. Before pulling your hair out, remember you have the option to hire a California DUI defense lawyer who can work to lower or get rid of charges.
The consequences are steep
The penalties for a first-time DUI are heavy in every state across the nation, but California, in particular, requires:
- DUI school for three to nine months
- Three to five years of probation
- Six months in jail with some exceptions for work release
- Attendance at a victim impact panel
- Penalty assessments
- Six-month driver’s license suspension
- Six-month ignition interlock device on the vehicle
With each of these penalties, there are exceptions and workarounds. There are also typical durations. Suppose a court puts you on probation. In California, it is usually for three years. So while the range is from three to five, most defendants will only serve three. The same goes for DUI school, fines, suspensions, and jail time.
The legal proceedings
There are two legal proceedings that you can undergo after a DUI arrest. The first is criminal court, and the second is a DMV license suspension hearing. A caveat is the DMV hearing does not happen automatically; instead, you must request it. The DMV is in charge of driver’s licenses and works independently of the court.
After a DUI, they can automatically suspend your license unless you request a DMV hearing. You will only have ten days from your arrest to request a hearing before the suspension goes into place.
While the DMV cannot file charges against you, the court can. The California court can also order a driver’s license suspension after a first-time DUI. one shocking revelation many drivers have is that the court can suspend your license even if you win the DMV hearing. Additionally, the court can have the defense pay fines, be put on probation, or seek incarceration. While a DMV hearing is optional, a criminal case is not.
However, the prosecutor will decide if they want to charge the driver or not. It is a toss-up in most cases, and there is no surefire way to know if you will face criminal charges. It is best to prepare for the possibility. When the prosecutor files charges, you will need a California DUI lawyer. You and your attorney must attend all proceedings until there is a final decision. One of the most critical proceedings you will face is an arraignment, where you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
You can often reduce the charges to reckless driving or another lesser charge. The court will not order a license suspension when a prosecutor agrees to lower the charge. You can still face a suspension only if you have an excessive number of points on your driving record.
A first-time offense can also result in probation instead of jail time. Although probation does not free you entirely of jail time, it can heavily reduce the amount of time you spend in jail. You may face no time in prison but a substantial probation sentence.
When the court orders DUI probation in California, there are some mandatory conditions to adhere to, such as:
- The use of an ignition interlock device
- You cannot commit an additional crime
- Defendants cannot drive with any alcohol in their system
- You cannot refuse a DUI chemical test
While there are mandatory conditions, there are also optional ones.
The court can impose the following additional requirements on your probation:
- Attending alcoholics anonymous
- Attending narcotics anonymous
- Victim restitution when there was a car accident
- Participate in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Program
It is vital to follow the terms of your probation. When a defendant violates any of the terms of their probation, they will face revoked probation, and the judge can reinstate their initial sentence. The defendant will serve jail time and no longer be eligible for probation.
Both legal proceedings are critical to your future. Without a valid driver’s license, it will be challenging to make it to work or school and run essential errands. If you are in jail or on probation, there are many restrictions you will have on your life. While a first DUI is a serious offense, it should not hinder you from living your life. There are legal strategies and defenses available. Also, remember that the DMV decision does not affect your criminal case. The two matters are separate, and you must handle them accordingly. You must win both legal proceedings to keep your license and your freedom.
There are different ways you can lose your license in California from a DUI arrest. The officer can confiscate your license and issue a pink temporary license at the scene. The temporary license in California is valid for 30 days while your original license goes to the DMV.
The California DMV will then suspend the license because a DUI violates the terms of having a driver’s license in the state. At this point, you have ten days to request a hearing. Your license will go into a hold period while waiting for the hearing request; if you do not request a DMV hearing, then your license is suspended.
Winning at a DMV hearing is challenging if you do not have a California DUI lawyer on your side.
During the hearing, the DMV will consider the following:
- The chemical test. Did the officer have reasonable cause to administer the test, and was the BAC over the legal limit when the defendant was driving?
- Refusal to complete a chemical test, and whether there was a lawful arrest made, if the officer advised the driver what would happen upon rejection of the test and if there was an explicit refusal by the driver.
These matters are intricate, and you cannot leave your life up to fate. The slightest mistake at the scene can help you keep your license and your way of life. You must wait out the entire suspension if you get a license suspension. Once the time ends, you can file an SR22 form and pay the $125 reinstatement fee. There is the possibility that you will maintain the SR22 for three years after the reinstatement.
How do restricted licenses work
You can apply for a restricted license for non-commercial use with a first-time DUI offense. There are two exceptions, the court disallows your application, and the suspension results from refusing to take a chemical test. You can file for a restricted license or an IID-restricted license. Each of these will have its conditions but will allow you some freedom on the road.
An IID-restricted license gives drivers full access to the road without curfews or other restrictions. However, you will need to install an ignition interlock device onto your primary vehicle. The device works similarly to a Breathalyzer but keeps the car from starting if you do not pass. If you fail the test, the party overseeing the device will receive a notification.
Every time you fail a test, the device reports the failure, and prosecutors can use it against you. The time you will need the IID depends on your conviction. You will use the device for four months if you have a DMV license suspension. If the criminal court suspends your license, you can have an IID for six months. You can also face an extension for any violations.
A restricted license allows a driver to use their regular license after a 30-day suspension. There are, of course, some restrictions, as the name suggests. Most often, drivers request these licenses when DUI charges are pending, they do not want to use an IID, or the DMV has already suspended their license.
The conditions of the restricted license are:
- Drive to DUI treatment programs
- Drive a dependent minor to and from school
- Drive to and from work during work hours
- Drive for medical care for themselves or their family members
You cannot drive anywhere else for any reason under a restricted license. Some requirements for obtaining these licenses include providing proof of enrollment in a DUI treatment program and paying a $125 reissue fee. You must also file an SR22 financial responsibility form with the DMV. Working with your California DUI lawyer to find which license is best for you is crucial.
What are aggravating factors?
While a first-time DUI offense is severe and comes with penalties, those penalties can worsen when an aggravating factor is present.
Aggravating factors are common: while not all states will consider these factors, California does:
- Refusing a chemical test
- BAC of 0.15 percent or more
- Causing an accident
- Being under 21
- Endangering children by having them in the vehicle when they are under 14
- Excessive speeding is over 30 mph of the posted speed limit on a highway. When on a local street, you cannot go over 20 mph over the posted speed limit
The court must prove these elements were present at the time of the DUI arrest and will need to look at prior DUI convictions to determine whether to aggravate your charges.
DUI with injury penalties
When another person suffers an injury during a DUI accident, penalties for a DUI first-time offense can become much steeper. In California, an injury to a third party from a DUI is a wobbler offense. That means the charges can be a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor will determine the charge depending on the circumstances of the accident and the person’s criminal history. Most often, first-time offenses are misdemeanors, but a severe accident or injury can make them a felony DUI.
If the California prosecutor decides to charge the crime as a misdemeanor, the possible outcomes are:
- Jail time ranges from five days to one year
- Summary probation of three to five years
- Restitution to injured parties
- Driver’s license restrictions vary from one to three years
- A three, 18, or 30-month alcohol program
Penalties can range, but you must know the penalties you can face. There are three instances where a DUI with an injury can result in a felony charge. When there is a prior DUI conviction, there is a serious injury or death or multiple prior DUI convictions. A driver with multiple prior convictions is often called wet recklessness.
The penalties for a felony DUI with injury are:
- Imprisonment for sixteen months to ten years
- A strike to their criminal record
- Restitution to parties who suffer an injury
- Alcohol or drug program lasting from 18 to 30 months
- Fines between $1,015 and $5,000
- Additional prison time of six years for survivors depending on the circumstances
Facing a DUI charge is life-changing, and when there is an injury, it can make matters worse. Do not make any statements or act without discussing your circumstances with a California DUI defense lawyer.
How a lawyer can help
Fighting a DUI offense is challenging, but it becomes easier when you have a knowledgeable lawyer on your side. The moment you are home and can contact a DUI defense lawyer in California, you should. Your lawyer must move quickly to gather evidence, conduct legal research, and file motions. Most importantly, your lawyer will negotiate with the court and DMV to get you the best possible outcome for your case.