DUI First Offense in California

How scary is the thought of a DUI? A DUI charge is not a minor offense. A DUI conviction could affect your insurance rates, work status, and future. But what may need to be clarified is what constitutes the first offense. 

If you have been charged with a DUI first offense in California, it would be helpful to know some of the possible consequences that could lie ahead and how to handle them. Read on to find out how to fight back smartly.

Understanding a First Misdemeanor DUI in California

A first-time DUI in California can result in criminal penalties. The Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) also has the authority to suspend your license. Your license can be suspended automatically by the DMV. After your arrest, this suspension will start 30 days later.

You should note that if you request a DMV hearing within ten days of your arrest, you can make efforts to avoid an automatic license suspension. During this hearing, your criminal defense attorney may argue against suspending your driving privileges.

Choosing to ignore your DMV hearing could result in a 6-month license suspension. Thus, it would be best if you got legal assistance.

Scheduling a DMV Hearing

The driver has limited time to schedule an administrative hearing before the DMV receives the notice of suspension. The driver must complete it within ten days following the suspect's arrest.

The authorities will immediately suspend the driver's driving privileges unless he requests this hearing within that time.

The motorist must know his rights as soon as possible because many drivers need to pay attention to this information and miss this brief deadline. Since this hearing is not a recurring occurrence, the driver must ensure to arrange it.

The notice given by the arresting officer will contain the details required to set up the hearing. There are instructions for where to submit a hearing request on this notification.

The motorist may eventually be able to recover his driving privileges by performing the following if he fails to request a hearing within the 10-day window:

  • Enrolling in a DUI course in California;
  • Paying the $125 reinstatement fee;
  • Providing documentation of SR-22 insurance; and,
  • In some situations, an ignition interlock device (IID) is placed in the car.

Court-imposed License Suspension

The DMV hearing is separate from the criminal trial. The judge in a criminal trial may also suspend a license.

Therefore, a person accused of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol must:

  • Request an administrative hearing and win the hearing at the DMV, and
  • Not be found guilty in a criminal trial (or enter a plea of guilty or no contest to DUI).

A DUI Court Case vs. The DMV License Suspension Hearing

The DMV hearings are focused on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, whereas court hearings will determine if you are guilty or innocent. For this reason, the DMV hearing is not mandatory, although a court hearing is.

Court hearings and DMV hearings are separate proceedings. In some instances, the DMV may suspend your license even if you are not guilty in court.

If you deny the breath test or other tests, this may occur. You may not be found guilty of driving under the influence in court, but a separate suspension will come from your refusal to submit to a breath test when requested.

The DMV initiates its inquiry into your case. Although a not-guilty decision in court can benefit you in a DMV hearing, it does not guarantee that the DMV will let you keep your license.

Potential DUI Penalties of a First Offense DUI in California

Penalties for a first-time misdemeanor DUI under California law may include some or all of the following:

  • 3-5 years of informal probation;
  • Between 0 and 6 months in county jail;
  • A $390 minimum fine and a $1,000 maximum;
  • Participation in a 3- or 9-month DUI education programand
  • A 6-10-month suspension or restricted suspension of your driver's license.

The judge may, at his discretion, impose additional sanctions.

You must retain legal counsel within ten days after your arrest, regardless of the potential punishment you get.

You may contact the DMV during this period to request a hearing. Once you've asked for a hearing, the suspension of your license will be suspended while the hearing is ongoing.

If you decide against hiring a lawyer, you must still ask for a hearing to avoid having your license suspended.

First Misdemeanor DUI With Injuries

According to California Vehicle Code 23153, DUI with injury is punishable as a misdemeanor by:

  • Summary probation for 3-5 years;
  • Ranging from five days to a year in county jail;
  • A fine of $390 to $5,000;
  • 3, 18, or 30 months alcohol program;
  • A restriction on a driver's license for 1-3 years; and
  • Compensation to all parties harmed.

Aggravating Factors That Could Increase Your First Offense DUI Penalties

DUI charges almost always involve some other type of risky behavior. Some DUI aggravating factors, however, focus on situations that make drunk driving significantly more dangerous. Here are a few examples of cases that fit this description:

  • There are children in the car: If a driver has young passengers in the vehicle at the time of the incident, the offender may be subject to further fines of up to $1,000 and jail time.
  • High blood alcohol level: Drivers with BACs significantly higher than the legal limit frequently face harsher penalties than those with lower BACs.
  • Escaping a police officer: DUI offenders who flee from or fail to pull over for police immediately may be subject to harsher punishments (higher fines and additional jail time). Additionally, fleeing may result in a separate misdemeanor or felony.
  • Injuries: Injuries to others can significantly raise DUI penalties and possibly escalate the conviction from a misdemeanor to a felony. More precisely, the severity of the injuries can influence the sentence.
  • Deaths: DUIs that result in a fatality results in felony charges and harsh consequences. In some cases, the convicted driver could have a life sentence in jail.
  • Prior DUI convictions: State DUI punishments are generally based on the motorist's instances of prior DUI crimes within the past ten years.
  • Refusals of tests: During a DUI arrest, the arresting officer usually requests the driver to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. Refusing a chemical test usually results in an additional year or two of license suspension or restrictions.
  • Driving while suspended: An intoxicated motorist with a suspended or revoked driver's license will face severe license consequences, especially if the suspension was the result of a past DUI.

Alternative Sentencing in a First DUI Offense

If someone gets convicted of their first DUI offense in California, they may be eligible for "alternative" sentence choices. These penalties are substitutes for a sentence to a county or California state prison.

These alternative sentences for sentencing include:

  • Cal-Trans street work;
  • Community service;
  • A home arrest or electronic monitoring;
  • Live in a sober-living facility; or
  • Imprisonment in a public or private prison, such as the Hawthorne Jail.

The DUI Probation for a First DUI Offense

When a DUI offender faces charges in court, the first thing on his mind is whether or not he will go to jail. However, as described above, other sentencing choices are available, namely probation - a method to complete your DUI sentence without going to jail.

However, many individuals need to realize that probation is a severe sentence that might be difficult to complete.

Some individuals fail to fulfill the terms of their agreement by violating their probation, resulting in harsher penalties. In this situation, a DUI offender has breached their probation.

Standard Terms and Conditions of Probation

No matter where you get convicted of a DUI conviction, your probation will contain universal factors. These consist of the following:

  • Enrolling in a drug or alcohol counseling course: You will likely be required to register for a 3-month counseling program.
  • Suspended driving license: When your probationary period begins, your driving license may be suspended for a few months.
  • Restricted license: Alternatively, your attorney can negotiate for a restricted license that allows you to drive to work, school, or treatment.
  • Freedom and conduct restrictions: Your probation may contain movement and conduct restrictions.

Violating a DUI Probation

Usually, failing to perform any court-ordered activity will violate the conditions of your California DUI probation.

If you break the rules, the court may issue a bench warrant for your arrest, and chances are good that they will. After being detained, you must appear before the judge who issued the warrant to receive punishment.

Most frequently, a DUI probation violation occurs when someone gets caught driving while their license is suspended due to a drunk driving conviction. If you are operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol in any way, you risk violating your probation.

When you get accused of breaking the terms of your DUI probation, you should immediately speak with an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

What To Expect During the DMV Hearing

An agency officer will consider whether to suspend the defendant's driver's license after hearing testimony in the DMV hearing on an alleged DUI case. The hearing is unrelated to the criminal prosecution. At the hearing, drivers have a right to representation, but only at their own expense.

An authorized DMV personnel will conduct your hearing. During the hearing, the arresting officer will provide testimony about what transpired at the hearing, and they will submit the police report as proof. Typically, this testimony will disclose details regarding:

  • The initial reason they made asked you to stop;
  • How the driver appeared or interacted with the police officer;
  • The results of the driver's field sobriety tests (FSTs); and
  • Whether the motorist objected to a chemical breath test or breathalyzer, and if so, whether the driver consented to a blood or urine test or took a breathalyzer, and the outcome's blood alcohol content (BAC) measurement.

The defendant can question the arresting officer in cross-examination, typically through a criminal defense lawyer.

The driver can then give their side of the story once law enforcement has presented its case. Drivers have the following options in addition to having the police officer cross-examined:

  • Contest more evidence, such as the police report; and
  • Can call other witnesses, present them, and provide their testimony.

The driver may have a good defense, depending on the details of the case. Among the most typical are:

  • The defendant did not operate the car;
  • The traffic stop was not initiated by the police because there was insufficient justification;
  • The policeman failed to carry out the necessary 15-minute observation time, and
  • The officer did not inform the driver of the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer.

After hearing the evidence, the DMV hearing officer will determine whether most evidence shows that the driver was under the influence. This burden of evidence is critical and differs from that in a criminal DUI case.

Factors Affecting the DMV's Decision

The license suspension hearing will only take the following elements:

  1. If the motorist passed the chemical test:
  • Did the officer have a good reason to suspect that the motorist was intoxicated?
  • When driving, did the motorist have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than the permitted level?
  1. If the driver refused or didn't finish a chemical test:
  • Did the officer have a good reason to suspect that the motorist was intoxicated?
  • Was the driver formally taken into custody?
  • Did the officer inform the driver that their driving license would be suspended if they were rejected or failed a DUI test?
  • Did the motorist afterward object to or refuse to submit to a blood, breath, or (if appropriate) urine test?

How To Win a DMV Hearing

To evaluate which defenses would be most successful in rebutting your administrative suspension, your experienced DUI defense lawyer could carefully analyze the police record and all available evidence. In a DMV hearing, the following defense claims are among the strongest:

  • You were not driving: The hearing officer should lift the suspension in your case if you weren't operating the vehicle. This can be an effective defense if someone else is driving your car or you were not in the driver's seat at the time of the arrest.
  • There was no valid reason for the traffic stop: The police must have a valid reason to make a traffic stop, such as swerving of the car, dangerous lane changes, speeding, or other breaches. Without these reasons, the court may agree to drop your case.
  • No notification of a refusal: The police officer must inform you of the penalties if you refuse to take a chemical BAC test (which includes a one-year license suspension). If this is not observed, it may be a valid ground to dismiss your case.
  • Your BAC was valid: Driving while intoxicated with a lawful BAC of less than 0.08% can frequently be used as a defense to get the license suspension lifted.

Your Driver's License in a First Offense DUI

Many individuals are unaware that being arrested for driving while intoxicated may suspend your license automatically unless you take prompt legal action to challenge it.

License Suspension After the DUI Arrest

The officer will take the person under arrest's license after a DUI arrest. After that, the police will give a pink, 30-day temporary license. The California DMV will receive the original license after it has been returned.

Then, the DMV will suspend the license due to an "administrative per se" violation. It is another way of saying that a DUI breaches the terms of one's driver's license.

After that, the motorist has ten days to request a hearing to contest the suspension. If this request is submitted promptly, the DMV will temporarily delay or stay the license suspension.

The DMV will automatically suspend the driver's license if there is no hearing request.

One should note that defendants might qualify for an IID-restricted license, which would allow them to drive anywhere, or a limited license that would enable them to go to and from work.

Obtaining a Restricted License After a First Offense DUI

After their regular license suspension for 30 days, drivers can apply for restricted licenses.

With a restricted license, the motorist can:

  • Drive to and from a DUI treatment program;
  • Drive to and from work or during work;
  • Driving oneself or other family members to the hospital for any significant medical issue; and
  • If there is no available public or school bus service, drive a dependent minor to and from school.

If the DMV has suspended a driver's license, they are now facing DUI charges, and they do not want to utilize an IID, they will often apply for a restricted license.

Opting for an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Restricted License

A defendant with an IID limited license can operate a vehicle as long as an IID is kept. IID also prevents the car from starting if it detects alcohol, similar to a breathalyzer.

The defendant has the right to apply for an IID limited license immediately. The defendant must utilize the IID for four months if the DMV suspends his license following an arrest. The defendant must use the IID for six months if found guilty of DUI in a criminal court. Note that the length of the IID-restricted license is increased from 6-10 months if the driver's blood alcohol level is 0.2 or above.

Your Criminal Record After a First DUI Arrest

Unless they obtain an expungement of a DUI conviction in California, those found guilty of the offense have a permanent criminal record. Anyone who received DUI convictions and completed probation is eligible for expungement.

The Expungement Process for a First DUI Offense

An individual must present a petition to the court to get an expungement, and the petition will undergo a review by a court to determine eligibility.

The offenders may change their plea from guilty to no contest if the judge allows the DUI expungement. The case will then be dismissed once the defendant enters a new plea of "not guilty."

Advantages of Getting Your First Offense DUI Expunged

Employment purposes are the main advantage of expunging a DUI conviction.

The "ban the box" law in California already forbids employers from requesting information regarding previous records during the interview process.

However, after making a conditional job offer, the employer is authorized to inquire about any convictions lawfully. Typically, a disclosure of a DUI conviction follows. But it's okay to mention a sentence that has been deleted.

Why Should You Hire a DUI Defense Lawyer?

When you're facing a felony DUI charge, the stakes are high. A conviction could mean a massive sum of money in fines and court fees, the suspension of your license, and a lasting criminal record. The best way to protect your freedom is to have an experienced DUI defense attorney by your side who knows how to get charges reduced or dropped.

A DUI lawyer can do the following:

Case Investigation and Evidence Recovery

The most important thing to remember about hiring a DUI defense lawyer is to contact one ASAP. The evidence collected in arresting you is crucial, and it must be appropriately managed by an experienced team who knows how to do this right. They can gather evidence as soon as it's safe and before your court date.

Hurwitz Law Group is dedicated to finding evidence for your defense and building an effective strategy for your case. We'll work hard to help you avoid the harsh penalties associated with impaired driving, including license suspension and jail time.

File Legal Motions and Identify Your Options

Traffic stops and DUI investigations are subject to numerous laws. A lawyer will understand the investigation areas and the proof required to support motions. A "Move to Suppress Evidence" under California Penal Code 1538.5. a is a frequent motion.

For instance, the police need "reasonable suspicion" to stop a car. The traffic stop may have been illegal if the officer's suspicions were not reasonable (for example, that the headlamp wasn't damaged).

Before any trial, motions are presented and heard. As a result, the case will frequently be dismissed following a successful motion to dismiss.

DUI Outcome Negotiations

The Majority of DUI cases do not go to trial. Instead, they result from negotiation between the prosecution and the defense attorney. Frequently, these negotiations lead to:

  • The case is ultimately dismissed, or
  • A plea bargain for a lower offense, like:
  • A so-called "wet" reckless,
  • A so-called "dry" reckless, or
  • An exhibition of speed (sometimes called a "speed ex." or "speed contest")

A skilled California DUI defense attorney will be aware of the evidence, most likely to persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges or reduce the offense.

Court Representation

If you've been arrested or charged with driving under the influence (DUI), it might be tempting to try to defend yourself, but we strongly advise against it.

DUI cases are complex and require a lawyer's knowledge of California DUI laws and trial skills to achieve a positive outcome.

Schedule Your Consultation Today

Don't take the risk—contact a DUI defense attorney. Our team at Hurwitz Law Group has worked on countless DUI cases, and we have the knowledge, expertise, and resources to win your case. We will help you understand your options and protect your rights through every step of the process. Fill out our online contact form, or call (323) 287-9849 and get your free consultation today.

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