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What can I expect after being arrested for a DUI in California?

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Christopher J. McCann - Criminal Defense: DUI/DWI - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Christopher J. McCann

Located in Santa Ana, CALaw Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC

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If you are arrested for DUI in California, you can expect to have to defend against both the DMV’s attempt to suspend your driver’s license and against criminal charges brought by prosecutors. The consequences for a conviction on these charges depend on several factors, such as whether you have a prior DUI offense or offenses on your record.

With help from an effective defense attorney, however, it is possible to minimize or even avoid many DUI penalties. Speaking with an attorney as soon as possible after arrest is important so that your attorney can assert your rights.

Release From Jail

Most people are released from jail within a few hours after a DUI arrest. Posting bail is often not required, particularly for a first-time offense with no injuries.

But release from jail shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security. It is critically important to get a skilled DUI defense attorney on your side, to provide guidance in what’s ahead.

Protecting Your Driver’s License

A DUI arrest for alcohol automatically triggers a process within the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that can result in a suspension of your driver’s license. The process is called the Administrative Per Se Hearing.

To get a hearing to challenge the suspension, it is necessary to contact the DMV within 10 days to request one. If you don’t, your license will be suspended 30 days from the date of your arrest.

If you request the hearing in a timely manner, you will be able to drive while awaiting the hearing, based on a stay of the automatic suspension. This could last from several weeks up to a few months.

At the DMV hearing, your chances of winning are extremely low if you proceed on your own. But your attorney can present evidence that the action to suspend is not justified, such as because of an unlawful arrest or that your blood alcohol was below .08% when stopped. If so, the automatic suspension can be set aside.

The suspension period depends on several factors. It can range from four months for a first offense for a noncommercial driver who is 21 or older who took a chemical test all the way up to a lifetime suspension for a commercial driver with a second offense within 10 years of a first.

Getting A Restricted License

Even if your license gets suspended, it is typically possible to get a restricted license after a first offense DUI. This means you could drive legally to and from work and to and from a treatment program.

To be eligible, you must be 21 or older; have agreed to take a chemical test; not have caused injuries; enrolled in a first offender alcohol program (“AB541”); provided the DMV with proof of insurance (“SR22”); and pay reissuance fees to the DMV (typically $125).

Even after a second offense DUI within 10 years of a first, it may be possible to get a restricted license after 90 days, if you also agree to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle and enroll in a multiple offender alcohol program.

Consequences For First-Time DUI

Criminal charges are separate from the DMV process aimed at suspending your driver’s license.

For a first-offense DUI in California, consequences for conviction generally include three years of informal probation, fines of $390 plus “penalty assessments” (totally approximately $2000, and completing a first offender alcohol program that consists of a 30-hour class, at a cost of about $500.

There is no required jail time for a first offense when placed on probation. But it is possible to be sentenced to jail if certain aggravating factors are present, such as the presence of a minor child in the car or going 25 miles an hour or more over the speed limit on a roadway or 30 miles per hour on a freeway.

While negotiable, a first-time DUI sentence may also include required participation in a victim impact panel, community labor or community service work.

Certain counties in California (Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare) require an ignition interlock device to be placed on your car upon a first-time conviction for four months. This can end up costing another $500.

Repeat DUIs Carry More Serious Penalties

For a second offense DUI, the penalties are of course greater.

Jail time is a minimum of 96 hours and in many counties prosecutors try for more. The maximum is one year. 

License suspension is two years. If you refused or failed to complete a chemical test, or you were still on DUI probation at the time of the time of the second offense, the suspension will not be restrictable for the first year.

Making Sense Of Your Specific Situation

Case-specific factors always affect what you can expect after a DUI arrest. If it is a misdemeanor offense, you can have your attorney handle your court appearance so you don’t miss work. If you have a prior offense or there are injuries, the stakes get much higher. No matter what the circumstances, however, you can expect better results with a skilled defense attorney to protect you.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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