Article written based on California Law
Every year approximately 250,000 people in California get arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The arrest is usually terrifying, bewildering, humiliating and obnoxious. But it is just the beginning of a dizzying series of procedures which will unfold over the next two to six months, carrying with it an astounding number of consequences and penalties. The consequences of the arrest begin almost immediately. At the time of the arrest, the police officer will take your driver’s license and give you a suspension notice and a temporary license.
Their form will tell you that in thirty days your license becomes suspended for four months. The most important information, however, is either not on the form or is virtually incomprehensible: you have ten days from the date of the arrest to request a hearing at the DMV. If you do so, you protect your rights. If you do not request a hearing within the ten days, you give up substantial rights. If you request a hearing and they can’t give you a hearing within the next thirty days (and they can’t), they are required to stay (postpone) the suspension of your license. It does not start thirty days after the arrest, and you can continue to drive with a valid license until the DMV has a hearing and renders a decision.
This may sound like postponing the inevitable, but it is not. Many people who have hearings win those hearings and do not have a license suspension at all. More importantly, by requesting the hearing and obtaining a stay, you control the timing of the consequences from the DMV and from the court, and it works in your favor. Remember, these laws were not written with your interests in mind. You and your lawyer are the only ones with your interests in mind. If you have the DMV hearing and win, there is no suspension from the DMV. If you have the hearing and lose, then your license will be suspended sometime thereafter for four months. You are not allowed to drive at all for four months. If however, you are convicted of a DUI and ordered into an alcohol program (see below), then it is possible to convert the four month suspension to a one month suspension followed by a five month license restriction, allowing you to drive to and from work, during the course of your employment, and to and from the alcohol school. The timing of all of this is critical, and a lawyer experienced in handling DUI matters can arrange for the best possible timing. The prosecution of the criminal case usually begins approximately thirty days from the date of the arrest.
There are three major aspects in every DUI case: the officer’s observations of your driving (or whatever called his attention to you), the officer’s observation of you after the detention, which includes the field sobriety testing procedures, and the result of your blood or breath test. Although there are so many DUIs handled in each court every day that, to the prosecutor, they tend to become routine, every case should be determined by its own unique set of facts and circumstances. The consequences that result from the prosecution can vary tremendously, depending upon the facts of the case and the skills of your lawyer. Because there are so many DUIs, standardized treatment by the courts has developed. For the garden-variety DUI, the law requires four minimum, mandatory consequences:
1. Three years of informal or summary probation. This is the easy kind of probation, without a probation officer to report to. You are on probation to the court, and it is a promise not to get arrested again for three years.
2. A fine of approximately $1,250.00, and you will have plenty of time to pay it.
3. A level one drinking-driver program. You must attend ten weekly sessions of approximately three hours each.
4. A ninety day license restriction, allowing you to drive to and from work, during the course of your employment, and to and from the alcohol program mentioned above.
The timing of this restriction from the court and the suspension/restriction from the DMV is critical, and failure to time them properly can result in more suspension/restriction than is necessary. The consequences discussed in the paragraph above are what I refer to as the garden-variety, standard minimum first-time consequences. There are four situations that can increase those penalties:
1. An accident;
2. A blood alcohol concentration of .20% or greater;
3. A refusal to take a blood or breath test; and
4. A prior DUI or alcohol-related reckless driving conviction.
If any of these four circumstances exist, the penalties for the standard minimum first offense go up, and can include jail time, community service, additional fines, or a host of other undesirable consequences. It all sounds pretty dismal. There are always going to be some consequences, even if you’re not guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. But the consequences can vary from minor to severe. A criminal lawyer with experience handling DUI matters can make a major difference in the outcome of most cases.