DUI Sentencing Alternatives


Community Service

If you cannot get charges against you dismissed, or you face a DUI conviction in court, you will be looking at potential jail time. One alternative to jail time or paying expensive fines to the court is to undertake community service in lieu of jail time or fines. This is a common alternative, especially for first time or misdemeanor offenders. Community service will necessitate that you report to either a probation officer or to another official, to log your hours so you can prove to the court that you are serving out your sentence. For repeat offenders, community service may not be offered in lieu of jail time, instead it will only be offered as a way to reduce fines. On top of this, severe and heavily repeated offenses may see community service in addition to the punishments already provided, which must be completed along with jail time.

Talk to your lawyer about sentencing alternatives. Your attorney may be able to find an alternative to jail time for you, depending on the severity of the offense. Skilled attorneys may even be able to replace jail time and fines with hours of community service to fulfill both obligations. For first time offenders, the community service is more flexible and may not be as steep to prevent jail time. For a second and subsequent DUIs, it can be more than ten days of community service to avoid jail time.

How You Can Serve Your Community

Community service can come in several forms, and the chosen organization must be approved or appointed by the court. Many times, the judge will appoint an organization for you and it will likely be in the realm of aiding victims of drunk driving, an alcohol recovery program, or other community rehabilitation program that is in need of volunteers. The sentencing will fit the crime. While you seldom get the opportunity to choose your volunteer organization, if it does happen, the court will have to approve the organization before you will be permitted to complete hours.


The court may refer you to Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, to complete your service. If this happens, you must bring your recommendation to a Volunteer Center where you can register for service. They will provide you with the necessary paperwork and assignments to begin your service. Performing service for Caltrans is not appropriate for every conviction and the court may recommend you serve elsewhere, but this can be one way to avoid jail time.

If you and your attorney are involved in plea bargaining, or you are facing sentencing, consider community service as an alternative to avoid jail time. For many of those charged with DUI, a period of community service can be a viable alternative to a jail term.

Roadside Cleanup

When convicted of a DUI, during the sentencing hearing, you and your lawyer will want to pursue alternatives to jail time. One of these options that is available is community service. Community service can be done in an organization for victims of drunk driving, or other court appointed organization. This allows the defendant to accept a sentence outside of jail time, and gives them an opportunity to give back to the community that they have wronged. If the judge allows it, community service may be served in the form of roadside cleanup. If this happens, you will be working on California highways to complete your sentence.


The judge will refer you to CalTrans, or the California Department of Transportation, to complete your community service. When you are referred to complete your service with CalTrans you will need to find a local CalTrans volunteer center. At the volunteer center you will be given paperwork and the necessary information for your assignment. CalTrans itself is not responsible for your sign-up, so you must begin the process yourself.

Also, records of your service, which are necessary to show the judge for completion, are kept at the volunteer center where you begin the process. This is where you will want to go when it comes time to turn in your service records. The volunteer center that you start out the process with will be able to advise you on where to go for service. This service is normally done in groups of individuals who have also been assigned community service. Also, you may not be required to transport yourself to the site of the clean-up, and instead may be able to meet at the volunteer center. Again, since the volunteer center will be managing your service, you will have to contact them to understand their exact policy.

If there is ever any instance where jail time is mandatory or the judge assigns jail time as well as service, your roadside cleanups will be done with other incarcerated individuals at scheduled times. After it is done you will be taken back to the detention center where you are being held, and an officer at the center will log your community service hours for you.

Remember, a judge may not automatically give you a sentencing of roadside clean-up if you are sentenced to do community service. The purpose of a sentencing hearing is to determine what punishments fit the crime for which you have been convicted. It is possible the judge may believe it is more fitting for you to participate in the municipality in which the crime took place in, rather than on a roadside somewhere in California. However, if you were convicted of a DUI on one of California’s many highways, the judge may send you to do roadside clean-up. Talk to a DUI lawyer from The Meehan Law Firm in Walnut Creek and 10 other locations about what you are comfortable with prior to the sentencing hearing, to determine what to fight for in front of the judge.

Electronic Monitoring

When convicted on DUI charges, you will have to await a sentencing hearing. DUI convictions can carry penalties such as license suspension, heavy fines, and even jail time. The sentencing hearing is your chance and your attorney’s chance to mitigate sentencing to avoid jail time. California law offers a number of sentencing alternatives to avoid jail time. Some these include community service, roadside cleanup, or a rehabilitation program. Another option available is  an electronic monitoring of the convicted defendant.

Electronic Monitoring: What is it?

Electronic monitoring is the use of electronic tracking devices to follow an individual’s movements.

This is typically seen on television shows as “house arrest,” where a person is shown confined to their own home with some electronic device on their ankle that will send a distress signal should they leave their home. Similarly, the defendant may have a curfew imposed upon them and be remanded to the home during certain hours.

How Will This Affect my DUI Sentencing?

Electronic monitoring for a DUI can come in the form of alcohol monitoring.

A device known as a SCRAM or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor measures blood alcohol content. It is affixed to one’s ankle, just like a movement tracker, but the SCRAM device monitors alcohol consumption. If you consume alcohol the device will notify the court and it will likely be considered a break in whatever deal was made for you. Although this is not a typical recourse for first time offenders.  if the judge believes your case is severe enough, or believes you have an alcohol problem, you may have to wear a SCRAM. Wearing a SCRAM device is not the same as a house arrest and you are free to go to work, school, or other areas, depending on what your sentence permits.

In addition, the DMV may impose the use of an ignition interlock device. This device prevents the car from starting if you have consumed any alcohol. Think of it as a breathalyzer test that you take in order to start your car. You may see this imposed by the judge as well, if the situation warrants.

Finding sentencing alternatives is always better than having to go to jail. You should have an attorney present at your sentencing hearing to eliminate any possible threat of being jailed. A skilled attorney can discuss alternatives and possibilities that do not involve your detention.

Alcohol & Drug Rehab

A common element of DUI sentences imposed by judges across the country is the successful completion of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. This is especially true for those who have been convicted of multiple DUIs within a certain time period (in California, this time period is 10 years). In the state of California, the length of court-ordered treatment program can increase if a person has been charged with multiple drunk driving offenses.

In addition to the completion of a court-ordered treatment program, sometimes individuals who have been charged with driving under the influence will choose to voluntarily enroll in an alcohol and/or drug rehabilitation program. If you have been charged with DUI and believe that you may have issues with substance abuse, voluntary enrollment in a treatment program can help you towards recovery. It is also a way that you and your attorney can demonstrate to the court that you are aware of an issue and are taking steps to proactively address it. Many times, judges look favorably upon voluntary enrollment in a treatment program, because this demonstrates that you grasp the severity and are taking proper steps to remediate the situation.

Of course, if you have been charged with driving under the influence, you should seek out the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney who will be able to advise you on the best steps to take as well as what viable alternatives to jail time may be available to you.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment Rehabilitation Programs in California

There are a great variety of alcohol and drug treatment programs available in the state of California. The services offered and the focus of these groups is so varied that you should be able to easily find a treatment program which will meet your individual needs. Rehabilitation programs offer a range of levels of treatment, but can generally be divided into two categories: inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

If you are participating in an outpatient substance abuse treatment, you will continue to live at home (or in a sober living environment) and travel to and from a treatment center as needed. Such treatment centers can offer a variety of services, including individual and group alcohol and substance abuse counseling. Most offer additional mental health services. The frequency of attendance and length of time you are required to attend outpatient treatment will vary based on the particular program and your individual circumstances.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is a more intensive program.

Patients in inpatient treatment centers are required to be at the center 24 hours a day (although generally as participants progress through treatment, they may be granted the ability to leave for short periods of time). Inpatient treatment generally offers more services compared to outpatient programs, such as detox for those who are coming off alcohol or other substances and may experience serious health complications. In addition to medical services, such programs generally offer individual and group substance abuse counseling in addition to other mental health services. The length of stay in an inpatient treatment program can range from a few weeks to a few months, depending on treatment needs.

Substance Treatment as Part of Your Sentence

If you have been charged with driving under the influence, completion of a substance abuse treatment program could be an important step not only on your personal road to recovery, but also to avoid jail time. It is worth discussing this option with your attorney as you create a strategy for your DUI defense.

Sober Living Environments

A DUI conviction will usually carry certain penalties, such as jail time, license suspension and heavy fines. However, there are a number of potential alternatives to the standard DUI jail sentences. The judge may discuss options such as community service, roadside cleanup, or rehabilitation. One such alternative that follows the rehabilitation route is the option to enter a sober living environment. This is a common sentencing alternative in California, and it may be an option for you in lieu of spending time in jail for your DUI.

Sober Living Environments

So what is a sober living environment? In essence, it is a rehabilitative environment that one enters into in order to eliminate any dependency or addiction to a substance. Usually, there are also services available to individuals who are struggling with addiction. These services can include rehabilitative services, treatment for addiction, and educational programs. As you may have guessed, a requirement for all sober living communities is to refrain from any use of alcohol or other substances. There are a variety of types of sober living environments. Some cater to specific age groups (such as young adult houses), gender groups (there are male and female-only houses), and to the LGBTQ community.

Is a Sober Living Environment Right for Me?

If you are convicted of a DUI, it is not typically a judge’s first decision to send you right to a sober living environment. In fact, for a first time offender, it is more common to see alternatives such as community service or roadside clean up.

However, if you have been convicted of multiple offenses, and you believe you may have a substance abuse problem, the sober living environment presents an opportunity for both rehabilitation and a sentence to be served in an environment other than prison. Your lawyer must be able to argue that you do in fact have a serious alcohol problem that necessitates treatment and rehabilitation, as opposed to a punishment by incarceration. Since this will be discussed at the sentencing hearing, you will be allowed to bring forth evidence that supports the claim that you are in need of rehabilitation.

If you have been convicted of or plead guilty to DUI charges, you should contact your attorney and discuss sentencing alternatives. If you are suffering from alcohol or other substance addiction, seek help right away before it causes harm to you or another individual.

Alcoholic Anonymous

One element of a DUI sentence that you may encounter if convicted in California is the requirement that you attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. This can be part of a probation sentence imposed for a first-time conviction, or as an element of a different penalty imposed at the discretion of a judge. If you have been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced DUI attorney can assist you in exploring sentencing alternatives.

3 Month First Time DUI Program

For first-time offenders in California, there is a special three month program which can be completed in lieu of jail time or a more severe punishment. This program is generally available to offenders whose blood alcohol level (BAC) was between .08 and .19. The purpose of the program is to educate the participants and discourage any future impaired driving. Northern and Southern California have different programmatic requirements, which you can view here. As a portion of this program, all participants must attend a certain amount of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) in California

Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to as “A.A.”) is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as an “international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.”

There are thousands of local A.A. meetings across California. The structure of each varies depending on the type of meeting in question. Some meetings are open to the public, meaning people who are not directly participating in the meetings may attend and observe. Others are “closed” and only allow attendance of direct participants. Depending on the local chapter, there may be a variety of other types of meetings available, such as women or men only, Spanish-speaking, and gay/lesbian.

Meetings usually run the length of an hour and have a variety of formats. Some meetings feature a speaker, who is usually someone who has maintained sobriety for a significant period of time and has agreed to tell their story. Others are dedicated to studying the A.A. textbook and the “steps” (which refer to the curriculum of 12 specific steps to recovery as articulated by the organization).

A.A. Meetings as Part of Your DUI Sentence

If you are required to attend A.A. meetings as part of your sentence from the court, you will need to first locate a meeting. This can do via the A.A. homepage (“A.A. Near You”). After you have found a location and selected a type of meeting which best fits your needs, you can attend the meeting. You will usually need to obtain some form of documentation that can serve as proof of attendance that you can then submit to your probation officer or the appropriate court official.

MADD Victim Impact Program

One of the popular DUI sentencing alternatives judges choose in California is the requirement of attending a Victim Impact Panel. If you have been charged with driving under the influence, you and your attorney may discuss what alternative programs you could complete in order to avoid jail time or other harsh penalties.

MADD Victim Impact Panels in California

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a nonprofit organization formed in 1980 with the mission statement of “To aid the victims of crimes performed by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to aid the families of such victims and to increase public awareness of the problem of drinking and drugged driving.” MADD has regional chapters in states across the country.

MADD creates public awareness campaigns, outreach programs, and other educational endeavors aimed at reducing rates of impaired driving, assisting victims, and preventing underage drinking. One activity that MADD chapters conduct is a Victim Impact Panel. At an Impact Panel, first responders (such as police, fire rescue, or EMTs), victims, loved ones, and/or survivors of impaired driving crashes speak about their experiences. Speakers do not assign blame for crashes; rather they detail how being involved in a crash / getting injured or losing a loved one has affected their lives. These Impact Panels are conducted across the United States and are aimed at those who have been convicted of DUI/DWI. The purpose of these Victim Impact Panels is to illustrate the severe consequences that impaired driving can have.

If you have been charged with driving under the influence in California, one of the potential requirements of your sentencing may be to attend a MADD Victim Impact Panel. This can oftentimes be required for those have received a probation sentence for DUI. Each county in California has different requirements when it comes to attending a Victim Impact Panel. Some require all first-time offenders to attend, while others require attendance on a discretionary basis.

An Impact Panel runs around two-and-a-half hours in length. You will need to pre-register in order to attend. If you are required to attend an Impact Panel as part of a DUI sentence, you will be required to provide official documentation from the court to MADD staff on the day you attend. Additionally, you will be required to pay a fee (usually around $25.00) and bring photo identification. All Impact Panel attendees must arrive sober, or be refused admittance. Upon completion of the Panel, you will be given proof of attendance and payment. It is very important that you retain this proof (in addition to proof of any other court-ordered activity, such as community service) and submit it to the proper personnel (such as a probation officer or clerk of the court) in order to demonstrate that you met the requirements of your sentence.