Drinking alcohol and then operating your car can be a recipe for disaster. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 32 people in the United States succumb daily to alcohol-related car accidents. Consequently, prosecutors and judges aggressively pursue driving under the influence (DUI) criminal charges. Even a first-time conviction carries severe, life-altering penalties, and hiring an experienced Bakersfield criminal defense attorney is essential to increasing your chances of obtaining a favorable case outcome. The Koenig Law Office can collect evidence and thoroughly evaluate your case circumstances to develop the most effective legal defense. Read on to learn about different DUI sentencing, penalties, and consequences.

Serving Time

In California, serving time is mandatory for defendants convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even if it is their first offense and no one was injured. California has two main driving-under-the-influence laws for adult motorists, namely:

  • Vehicle Code section 23152(a) makes it unlawful to operate a car while under the influence, even when the blood alcohol concentration is legal.
  • Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) makes driving unlawful with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08%, regardless of whether you are driving safely and sober.

All drunk driving crimes attract the possibility of incarceration, including both the maximum and minimum sentence based on the case facts. The possible jail time for DUIs includes the following:

  • A first-time DUI crime is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum six-month county jail sentence.
  • Second-time drunk driving is a misdemeanor attracting ninety-six hours to a year in jail.
  • A third-time DUI crime is a misdemeanor carrying one hundred and twenty hours to a year in jail.
  • A 4th DUI crime is a wobbler (which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony). A misdemeanor attracts up to a year in jail, while a felony carries sixteen months, two (2) years, or three (3) years in state prison.
  • DUI causing injury is a wobbler. A misdemeanor attracts five (5) days to a one-year county jail sentence. A felony carries sixteen months to ten years in prison on top of an additional one (1) to six (6) years, depending on the injuries’ severity and the number of alleged victims.
  • Vehicle manslaughter is a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in jail, while a felony is punishable by sixteen (16) months, two (2) years, or four (4) years in California state prison.
  • DUI second-degree murder is a felony. It is punishable by fifteen years to life in state prison.
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony that carries four (4), six (6), or ten (10) years in state prison. If the defendant has a previous drunk driving conviction, they will serve fifteen years to life imprisonment. If there are surviving alleged victims who sustained great bodily injuries, your sentence will be enhanced by a maximum of six consecutive years in state prison.

Alternatives to Incarceration in Drunk Driving Cases

You can qualify to enroll in an intensive alcohol or drug treatment program instead of serving time. Some DUI programs require the following:

  • Living in a sober living center
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Inpatient treatment, or
  • A combination of all these options.

Upon completion of rehabilitation, the judge can reduce your criminal charges to a less severe offense like reckless driving or even dismissal.

Moreover, a defendant can avoid serving time via a work furlough program. The program permits them to do manual labor while residing in a county-based center (halfway house). The defendant can:

  • Wake up in the morning,
  • Travel to work, and
  • In the evening, return to the center to sleep.

Driver’s License Suspension

A driver’s license suspension means that your privileges to operate your car are temporarily withdrawn.

The law allows police officers to immediately seize a driver’s license if they pull a defendant over for drunk driving and the accused meets one of the criteria below:

  • Their BAC is above 0.08%
  • Their blood alcohol content is at least 0.04% while operating a commercial car.
  • The BAC is at least 0.01%, and they are a minor at the time of drunk driving, or
  • They refused to submit to chemical testing following a legal arrest

The arresting police officer will confiscate your license and issue a thirty-day temporary license. They will also advise requesting a hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days following your arrest. Otherwise, you will lose your license.

During the hearing, a DMV officer will listen to your side of the story and consider the proof your criminal defense attorney will present. If you win the hearing, the temporary license will remain effective after your DMV hearing.

Please note that your DMV hearing outcome differs from your criminal proceedings for the driving under the influence charges. Your driving privileges could be withdrawn even if the judge found you not guilty or if you pleaded guilty to a non-alcohol-related crime.

Your suspension length depends on whether you have a previous drunk driving conviction within the last 10 years or you refused to submit to a chemical test. Here are the different durations:

  • With your first-time DUI crime, you will face a four-month administrative driver’s license suspension and a six-month court-imposed suspension if your BAC is above 0.08%
  • Suppose the DMV imposes a second-time license suspension within the look-back period. In that case, you will lose the driving privileges for two years from the court and a twelve-month DMV administrative suspension.
  • A third-time DUI crime carries three years of driver’s license suspension
  • If you were a minor at the time of your DUI arrest, the California DMV would suspend your driver’s license for a year
  • Failing to submit to a chemical test attracts a one-year license suspension
  • Drunk driving that causes injuries to another person can result in a one-year driver’s license suspension.

Obtaining a Restricted License

A restricted license permits you to operate your car to and from work or school. Please note that a defendant does not qualify for a restricted license if:

  • They refused to submit to a chemical test, or
  • They were driving their car with a suspended or revoked driver’s license when the police stopped them for DUI

Additionally, ineligibility can apply in “hard suspension” cases. A judge can impose this in some drunk driving cases involving a second or subsequent DUI within ten years. Hard suspension is when you cannot operate your car at all. However, you can qualify for a restricted license once your hard suspension period elapses.

Restricted licenses are not available for commercial driving privileges.

To obtain your restricted license, you must complete the following steps:

  • Serve at least thirty days of license suspension
  • Enroll in a DUI school
  • Pay a one-hundred-and-twenty-five dollar fee at your local DMV office
  • Purchase an SR-22 Form from a certified insurance provider

An SR-22 indicates proof of financial responsibility that your insurer should file with the DMV. You should carry the auto insurance until the probation period elapses.

Criminal Fines

Imposing fines aims to punish defendants, compensate the state for the crime, and deter future criminal conduct. Sometimes criminal fines function as an alternative to sentencing, like serving time. Nevertheless, it is common for a judge to require the accused to spend time in jail alongside paying fines.

The judge will use the following factors to determine your fine amount:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • Case facts and circumstances
  • Your criminal history

Here are typical DUI fines in California:

  • First-time drunk driving crime — A fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000 (Although total costs, including Ignition Interlock Device costs and DMV fees, can add up to hundreds of dollars)
  • A second DUI offense is punishable by a fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000
  • A third-time DUI also carries a fine between $390 and $1,000.
  • A misdemeanor DUI causing injury is punishable by a fine that is between $390 and $5,000, while a felony attracts a fine that is from $1,015 to $5,000.
  • If you have at least four DUI convictions within the look-back period, you will face a felony. It attracts $390 to $1,000 in fines.

DUI School

DUI school is a counseling and educational program designed to lower the recidivism rate of drunk driving. The objectives of the program include the following:

  • Providing participants a chance to address alcohol and drug abuse issues
  • To reduce the number of repeat DUI crimes by a person who has completed the program

The specific program depends on your DUI criminal charges. Standard DUI school program options include the following:

A 12-Hour DUI School After Wet Reckless Plea Bargain Negotiations

You cannot be charged with wet recklessness. Wet reckless is a reduced crime stemming from plea bargain negotiations. The motorist admits to operating their car recklessly with measurable alcohol content in their system.

If convicted of a first-time wet reckless crime, you should complete a 12-hour DUI school program that entails six two-hour weekly classes.

Underage Drinking DUI School Program

The DUI program is tailored for underage defendants under 21. The judge will order you to complete the 12-hour DUI program if:

  1. You are between eighteen and twenty years, and
  2. This is your first drunk driving conviction.

The program involves six two-hour weekly classes.

Blood Alcohol Concentration Below 0.20 Percent

You should enroll in DUI school for three months if:

  1. Your blood alcohol concentration did not exceed 0.20 percent, and
  2. It is your first wet reckless or DUI conviction within ten years.

If the judge orders you into a DUI school, enrollment, completion, and attendance will be your DUI probation conditions. The program involves thirty hours of instructions.

While programs and classes vary depending on the DUI school provider, you should attend ten to fifteen classes. Typically, it is one weekly meeting for up to four months.

The program entails the following:

  1. An enrollment and intake session
  2. Education sessions that take twelve hours
  3. An eighteen-hour group counseling
  4. Three individual counseling and therapy sessions

A Nine-Month DUI School Program

The court can order you to participate in a nine-month program if:

  1. You are a first-time defendant whose blood alcohol concentration is greater than 0.20%
  2. You refused to submit to chemical testing following a legal DUI arrest
  3. You pleaded guilty to wet reckless and have a previous wet reckless or another DUI conviction on your criminal record within ten years

The DUI school program involves 60 hours of instructions that entail the following:

  1. Six two-hour education classes that involve both film and lecture
  2. 22 two-hour weekly group sessions
  3. Sixteen individual interviews that last fifteen minutes
  4. Attending 36 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings

An 18-Month DUI School Program for Second-time Offenders

A wet reckless or second drunk driving conviction within the lookback period can result in eighteen months or thirty months of DUI school. However, this program is more commonly imposed on second-time DUI defendants.

You can be eligible for the eighteen-month DUI school if you are a third-time or subsequent DUI defendant and have never enrolled in the program.

The program entails the following:

  1. Fifty-two hours of group counseling
  2. Twelve hours of drug or alcohol education
  3. A six-hour community reentry monitoring
  4. Individual interviews that happen bi-weekly during the initial year of your program

Community reentry monitoring is designed to help you return to normalcy. It involves assisting you to move away from the rigorous DUI school requirements and into a self-help program like AA. Your program provider should also assist you with job placement.

DUI School Cost

DUI school costs vary depending on the location and provider. The average price for a first-defendant includes the following:

  • Twelve-hour program — $270
  • Three-month program —$843
  • Nine-month program —$1,851
  • Eighteen-month program — $2,600

What Happens If You Cannot Afford DUI School?

There are fee waivers for individuals who cannot raise the DUI school cost. You can request financial assessments from your service provider. If you are eligible for the waiver, the service provider should not:

  • Refer you to another provider
  • Deny you services based on your financial status
  • Require you to pay a down payment

How to Prove Your Enrollment to the DMV and the Court

During your sentencing, the court will order you to present “proof of enrollment” within twenty-one days. After your enrollment, your provider should send evidence of your enrollment to the DMV and the court on your behalf.

Moreover, the court will order you to complete the program by a specific date. Your service provider will send the DMV and the court your certificate of completion once you complete your program. 

A California Strike

Felony DUI causing injury would be a strike on your criminal record under California's three-strike law if anyone other than you sustained great bodily injury.

If you have one strike on your record and are subsequently charged with another felony, you become a second striker. You will serve twice the maximum sentence for the DUI with injury.

You become a third striker if you have two previous felony convictions and are later charged with a felony. In this case, you will face a sentence of 25 years to life for your current criminal charges.

Vehicle Impoundment

If you are charged with driving under the influence, the arresting police officer can have your car towed to an impound lot.

Impoundment is not compulsory in DUI criminal cases. For instance, if the defendant has a sober passenger, the officer can permit the person to drive the car away. Additionally, the law enforcer can call a relative or friend and ask them to take the motor vehicle away.

While you can ask the law enforcers to use a certain impound lot or towing service, the officer is not obliged to honor the request. For instance, law enforcement officials can choose the towing firm if they believe you are too drunk to communicate.

If a police officer picked the towing firm, you might not know your car’s whereabouts after release. In this case, you should call the police department responsible for your arrest.

To retrieve the car, you should go to the impound lot and present your proof of insurance and a driver’s license to the impound firm. You should also prove that the car belongs to you by submitting the following:

  • The title to your car, or
  • Registration paper.

If the DMV suspended your license, you could still go to the impound lot to retrieve the vehicle. However, you would need to carry a licensed motorist with you so that they could drive the car off the impound lot.

On top of presenting the relevant paperwork, you should pay impound and towing fees before driving off with the vehicle. While the impound fee varies, it is usually about thirty dollars daily.

If you ignore the impounded vehicle for a while, the impound fee can be more than the car’s value. In this case, the impound firm will take a lien on your motor vehicle. The firm can either take it to a scrap yard or sell it.

Please note that the police can search the vehicle after impounding it. During the search, the police create a list of assets in the car. The search aims to:

  • Protect your assets
  • Insure against lost property claims
  • Protect law enforcers from danger

Sentencing Enhancements

Sentencing enhancements are case circumstances and facts that, if present during the DUI arrest, will increase your sentence. The aggravating factors will increase your penalties, regardless of whether you have been convicted of a first, second, or subsequent DUI criminal charge.

Common sentencing enhancements include:

Refusing to Submit to a Chemical Test

According to California's implied law, you are presumed to have consented to chemical testing for BAC or drugs if the police lawfully arrested you for drunk driving.

The enhanced chemical test refusal penalties are:

  • For your first-time DUI crime, an additional and consecutive forty-eight hours in jail, and nine months in DUI school
  • For your second-time DUI crime within the lookback period, an additional and consecutive ninety-five hours in jail
  • For the third drunk driving crime with ten years, an additional and consecutive ten days in jail
  • For your subsequent DUI crime within ten years, an additional eighteen days in county jail

Driving at Excessive Speed

Vehicle Code 23582 defines excess speed as:

  • At least 20 mph over the maximum, prima facie, or posted speed limit on a public street
  • At least 30 mph over the maximum, prima facie, or posted speed limit on a freeway

Posted speed limits are speed limits on signs that line streets and freeways. Prima facie and maximum speed limits apply when no posted speed limit signs exist.

If the prosecutor proves that you drove at excessive speed while drunk, you will serve an additional sixty days in jail. And if the judge granted probation instead of serving time, you should serve sixty days in jail on top of serving time.

If it is your first-time VC 23582 conviction, you must enroll in and complete DUI school.

Please note that the penalties are compulsory and cannot be waived.

DUI with a Minor Passenger

Per VC 23572, a misdemeanor DUI charge carries enhanced penalties if you drove your car with a minor passenger under fourteen. The sentence enhancement applies regardless of the following:

  • Whether you purposed to injure the juvenile
  • Your BAC level
  • Your driving patterns

A VC 23572 violation leads to the following additional jail time:

  • Forty-eight hours in jail for your first-time drunk driving crime
  • Ten days in county jail for a second driving under the influence offense
  • Thirty days following a third-time DUI conviction
  • Ninety days after a fourth-time DUI conviction

Multiple Victims

For felony drunk driving involving death or injury to at least one victim, you will face a one-year sentence enhancement for every victim. Nevertheless, the maximum enhancement is three years.

Underage DUI

Being 21 or younger at the time of your drunk driving crime violates California’s zero-tolerance law. The law makes it illegal for a person under 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.

The crime carries a one-year driver’s license suspension on top of typical DUI consequences and penalties.

Find a Skilled DUI Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Under DUI law, driving a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 percent or greater is illegal. A conviction can result in severe penalties, including serving time, paying fines, and installing an IID, which negatively impact different areas of your life. It is wise to build a strong defense against the charges if charged with DUI. Koenig Law Office, a competent Bakersfield law firm, knows different factors that affect chemical testing results and DUI arrests and can work aggressively to fight for your constitutional rights. Please contact us at 661-793-7222 to schedule your initial, free, and confidential consultation to learn how we can help you.