Many people who are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol for the first time reach out to someone they know who has been through the experience to gain insight on how to respond and what sort of penalty they might expect if convicted. This is natural reaction, but often a misguided one.
Under California law, a DUI is prosecuted as a misdemeanor if it is a first, second or third offense without an injury accident or prior felony DUI within 10 years. It can be prosecuted as a felony if there was an injury accident, it is a fourth offense or there is a felony DUI prior within 10 years. One driver who gets a first conviction for drunk driving may get no jail time while another first conviction may result in jail or public work, there are DUI programs which range from 3 to 9 months. One driver may retain their driving privilege depending on the disposition, while another in a seemingly similar circumstance may have their driver’s license suspended for a period of time. Some drivers may have the DUI reduced to a lesser charge. While they are all first time DUI cases, they may have different outcomes and have differing facts concerning the driving, prior record, field sobriety tests, attitude with the officer, blood alcohol levels and individual background information as well as impact of a conviction. Defendants with prior or active duty military service may also receive special consideration for a diversion program or resolution of their case.
The factors that affect what happens
The point: every DUI arrest has unique circumstances. There were 123,548 DUI arrests in California in 2017 (the most recent statistics available) and each one was different. There are factors that affect how a DUI charge is addressed by prosecutors and judges. These include:
- Driving record – A person with a prior DUI conviction within 10 years – will face greater penalties.
- Blood alcohol content – A person arrested for drunk driving with a BAC of .14 or under will likely be treated more leniently than a person with a BAC of .15 or above.
- An accident is involved – The penalties for a DUI conviction that also involved an accident with no injuries will face greater penalties than a DUI with no accident. A DUI with minor injuries could be charged as a felony and face greater penalties. A driver who is arrested for drunk driving involving an accident in which serious injuries occur will face much greater penalties which could include state prison.
- Minor in the vehicle – California law provides for enhanced penalties for a person who drives drunk with a passenger who is under 14.
- Chemical Test Refusal – can enhance sentencing and result in additional custody and increased driving privilege suspension.
- Excessive Speed – 30 mph over the speed limit on a freeway or 20 mph over on any other street can result in 60 days custody additional to the DUI sentence.
The lawyer you hire makes a difference
The factors above that impact how a DUI is prosecuted are just a start. It is critical to enlist the help of a DUI defense lawyer who has extensive experience with every aspect of DUI defense including possible legal issues, plea bargaining and sentencing mitigation.
There are possible legal issues as to the stop, detention, and testing that may affect the outcome in a DUI case and could result in dismissal, lesser charges or lesser penalties depending on the strength of the issue. An experienced DUI Defense lawyer not only reviews each case for possible legal issues but helps you understand the process, the possible outcomes and personalizes your DUI defense with background information to help get the best resolution possible with lesser charges or penalties.
Your friend can recount his experience after a DUI arrest, but understand that it was his experience. Your DUI arrest needs to be treated as the unique incident and it is different than his. Experienced DUI defense lawyers understand this. No two DUI cases are alike in all respects. The facts concerning the driving, the stop and detention, testing, prior record, impact of conviction, and individual background information vary. Being able to explain to you how the case will proceed in Court, review your case not only for legal issues, but mitigating factors which are helpful in negotiation is extremely important in achieving the best result in your case. Understanding the process, the law, and generally what can happen in your case helps minimize the stress you feel entering the criminal justice system.