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Criminal Court Punishment

criminal courtA DUI charge generates two different cases – with the DMV and the court. Criminal court cases are resolved in two different ways – through a plea bargain or with a trial. If a driver pleads guilty to a DUI charge, or is convicted by a jury, the court case moves on to the sentencing phase.

The punishment attached to a DUI  conviction varies, depending on the factors of the case. An experienced California drunk driving criminal defense lawyer can guide a driver through the legal system to ensure that a he or she receives the best defense available and the fairest possible punishment if convicted.

Note: California has passed new DUI sentencing laws that affect offenses committed on or after Sept. 20, 2005. The new legislation removed the power of criminal courts to suspend or revoke licenses in drunk driving cases – that power now rests solely with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The legislation also imposed new rules that regulate the sentencing of those convicted of drinking and driving.

The possible punishments for drinking and driving or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) include fines, license suspension or revocation, alcohol education programs, jail time, probation, and conditions of probation including ignition interlock devices and, in some states, special license plates.

Drunk driving punishments depend on whether it was charged as a felony or a misdemeanor; whether the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was greater than .15 percent, and whether he or she has had other DUI convictions during the past 10 years.

Prior drunk driving convictions can have a dramatic impact on the punishment for a later DUI case. Multiple drinking and driving cases in a 10 year period greatly increase the likelihood that the driver will serve time. Jail time may be as little as 48 hours, or as much as one year in county jail.

Fines imposed for DUI  cases range from $390 to $5,000, but “penalty assessments” can greatly increase the base fine nearly threefold. The penalty assessment is a state tax written into California law, and is now greatly exceeds the fine. Currently, the penalty assessment is 171 percent, meaning that for a $100 fine, the total payment is $271. Pending legislation may increase the penalty assessment even more.

A driver’s license may be suspended for anywhere from four months for a first offense to three years for a third or fourth offense with a chemical test refusal. License suspensions stemming from a criminal conviction are different from those resulting from an unsuccessful DMV hearing. Only the DMV can actually suspend the license, and is the only agency that can grant a restricted license for travel to work.

Both courts and the DMV can order DUI drivers to attend alcohol education classes. The standard program for first-time offenders requires attendance at one three-hour session per week for 12 weeks, or approximately 36 hours of coursework. It may be possible to get a restricted driver’s license to allow for driving to and from the program.

Those convicted of a second drunk driving charge within 10 years are typically ordered to attend an 18-week program that begins with mandatory attendance at weekly sessions, gradually changing to every other week. Finally, there is a 30-month program for multiple offenders.

As a condition of probation, the judge may require the installation of an ignition interlock device. These devices are sophisticated systems attached to a vehicle’s ignition system that test for alcohol on a driver’s breath. If there is a measurable amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, the car will not start.

Although some states have enacted legislation requiring the use of special license plates to identify convicted drunk drivers, California does not currently require special plates.

The penalties for drunk driving can be serious, and have a lifelong financial and personal impact. A skilled California attorney who specializes in DUI criminal defense can evaluate each case and devise a strategy that will result in the best possible outcome for anyone accused of drinking and driving.


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