What Happens When You Get Your First DUI?
Regardless of what state you are in, driving under the influence is illegal. Each state defines DUI differently and the punishment can vary greatly by state and county. Orange County, for example, has harsher DUI penalties than most other counties in California. There are generally two different types of DUIs:
Alcohol - If you drive with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or greater, you can be convicted of a DUI. Even if your blood-alcohol level is below .08% and you drive in an impaired manner, you may be considered to be driving under the influence and can be convicted of a DUI.
Drugs - If an officer believes you are driving in an impaired manner under the influence of illegal or legally-prescribed drugs, you can be charged and convicted of a DUI.
A “wet-reckless” is almost identical to a DUI – it generally affects your insurance rates the same, it counts as a “prior DUI conviction” if you pick up another DUI within the following 10 years – so that new DUI would be considered a second offense even if the prior is a “wet-reckless.” The main difference is many times, the fine will be less.
So, what happens after you are arrested for your first DUI? First, you will be handcuffed, booked (this is when your mugshot is taken and your fingerprints are put on file) and spend time in custody. Your car will be towed or left at the scene. Second, depending on the type of DUI, the officer will give you a temporary 10-day license. After it expires, your driver's license will be suspended for four months. Third, you will be ordered to appear in court for an arraignment several weeks later. This is when the judge will ask you to plead guilty or not guilty.
If you have been arrested for a DUI, your best chance at reducing your license suspension and court-imposed penalties is to hire the best criminal defense attorney within your budget a few days after your release, before your arraignment. As with any criminal case, you will have to decide whether to plead guilty or go to trial. If there is a discrepancy with what the officer did or the lab results, you may be able to defeat the case on a motion. This is where you need a strong, trusting relationship with your attorney.
A typical first offense DUI conviction in Orange County consists of the following:
Your driver’s license is suspended by law-enforcement for four months. Then if you are convicted, for an additional six months.
You will be sentenced to a three-years’ probation. (DUIs, like other eligible criminal offenses, can be expunged after probation ends.)
You will be ordered to attend a state-mandated alcohol program of three, six, or nine months, and one Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) meeting. Some Southern California counties also mandate attendance at a hospital and morgue program. A new penalty in 2019 requires you to possibly install an ignition interlock device in your car.
The required fines and court fees you have to pay typically total around $2000, although sometimes an attorney can have this amount reduced. Interest-free payment plans as low as $50 to $100 per month are usually available.
You will face up to six months custody in county jail.
When considering what to offer to settle your DUI case, the judge and district attorney (DA) will focus mostly on how you were driving, your blood alcohol level and your conduct. They will also take into consideration if you were speeding, weaving, if you simply drove up to a checkpoint and got caught, how you performed on a field sobriety test, your blood alcohol level, and if you consented to a blood or breath test. (Collisions usually result in a more severe penalty.)
Many times, the DA and judge will have different views as to the appropriate sentence, something your attorney should take advantage of in zealously protecting your interests. I’ve had many cases where the DA’s offer was way too harsh, and the judge significantly undercut it, effectively bypassing the DA. Your sentence, including the possibility of jail, trash pick-up, mandatory bracelet-wearing, and the length of your assigned alcohol program, generally depends on these and other factors. Be wary your attorney does not overpromise and is transparent when it comes to the expected consequences and your chances at trial.
If you have blood or breath alcohol level under 0.14%, you normally must attend the three-month state-mandated alcohol program. If you are between 0.15% to just approximately 0.18%, generally the DA wants a six months program. And if you are 0.19% or greater, you most likely will have to attend a nine-month program.
Of course, your DUI will follow you much longer than the time you served. It stays on your driving record for 10 years and even if it is expunged, your next DUI within your 10-year period will be charged as a second-offense DUI, with much more severe consequences.
A DUI constitutes a criminal case, so a conviction will appear on your criminal record and background checks when you apply for employment. It may prevent you from getting the job you want. If you have a professional license, it can also be a problem and you’ll pay higher auto insurance premiums.
Remember in DUI cases, you do not have the right to an attorney before being questioned. Some attorneys advise you not to say a word to police, and not to perform the tests when asked, which may or may not be a good idea. But rest assured, the DA will comment on your refusal to answer questions and perform tests at trial, and they will often argue such conduct is consistent with impaired driving, an argument jurors are often receptive to hearing.
Generally, it is a bad idea to refuse to take a blood or breath test. Doing so is a “refusal,” a separate misdemeanor offense which often results in a harsher sentence. It also creates an automatic one-year CDL suspension.
Here is some advice on what to keep in mind if dealing with your first DUI:
Be Attentive and Cooperative - There is no room for error when your freedom is at stake. From the moment you are stopped, be attentive to every interaction the officer has with you. Even the best-trained officers and analysts can make mistakes, including inaccurately conducting your breathalyzer or blood sample. Various physical indicators are also used to look for alcohol impairment. However, demonstrating any number of these indicators does not mean you are legally impaired. There are often other, legal reasons why a person may fail a field-sobriety test. And generally, the more cooperative you are, the better you will be treated by the judge.
Hire the Right Attorney
Hiring an attorney who understands the science and issues in a DUI, is familiar with the specific charges in your case, knows the tendencies of the judges and prosecutors, and is honest with you can mean the difference between a lighter sentence and a much tougher one.
Ultimately, there may be occasions where it is tempting to drink and drive, but the severity of the law and potential harm that can be caused require you to act responsibly. A DUI conviction can affect your rights, record, and future.
If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI in Orange County, hire a trustworthy and experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your charges. The right attorney will improve your chances of receiving helpful guidance on reducing your DMV imposed license suspension and get the best possible results in court, perhaps an acquittal or dismissal. Feel free to contact my office for help. I am also more than happy to answer your questions by cell at 714-381-1366 or @ firstname.lastname@example.org.