A conviction for any DUI charge in California comes with penalties designed to punish individuals caught drinking and driving seriously. You can expect thousands of dollars in fines and fees, a license suspension, and the likelihood of spending time behind bars.
The specific penalties you receive for your DUI conviction will depend heavily on how the case gets handled. Handled correctly, you may be able to avoid a DUI conviction altogether. Even with a conviction, it is still possible to avoid jail for a DUI.
DUIs and the Law
According to Section 23153 of the California vehicle code, anyone driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is committing a crime. Therefore, you can get into serious trouble if a police officer finds that you were driving drunk.
Most states, especially California, have a very low tolerance for people who drink and drive. Therefore, the law isn’t on your side when it comes to these kinds of cases.
Jail Time Can Be Sought for Any DUI Charge
While California has harsher penalties for repeat offenders and those convicted of DUIs with “aggravating circumstances,” even first-time offenders may be sentenced to jail.
With no aggravating circumstances, the range of your possible jail sentence with a “simple” DUI will get determined by your DUI history. You face the following ranges for “simple” DUIs:
- Between two and 180 days in jail for a first DUI conviction
- Between four and 365 days in jail for a second DUI conviction
- Between 120 and 365 days in jail for a third DUI conviction
- Between 180 days and 365 in jail for a fourth DUI conviction.
While you are not guaranteed to spend time behind bars for a DUI charge, it is possible to receive a jail sentence for any DUI charge.
Factors That Can Increase Jail Time
The above ranges are not guaranteed. You can face sentence enhancements that will increase the length of time you spend behind bars. Factors that might increase your jail time include:
- DUI with a minor passenger
- DUI resulting in an injury
- Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15% or higher
- Refusing a chemical test after your arrest
If pursued by the prosecution, these factors can result in substantial increases to the penalties you face. The prosecution may seek to have you sent to state prison rather than a local jail, depending on the circumstances.
Differences Between Prison and Jail
For most misdemeanor DUI charges, time behind bars usually gets served at a local or county jail. These are typically closer to your home, allowing your loved ones more opportunities to visit you. Your local jail will also be less restrictive of you, and fewer serious offenders will surround you.
Prison time is often only for severe DUI cases or for repeat offenders. In this instance, their DUIs cease to be misdemeanors and instead get automatically treated as felonies. However, keep in mind that you don’t have much to be concerned about if this is your first offense.
How Can I Avoid Jail Time for a DUI?
Proving your innocence in a DUI case is harder than it seems. But there are several things you and your lawyer can do to avoid jail time:
- Prove the field sobriety test was incorrectly administered.
- Prove the blood or breath test wasn’t accurate.
- Prove the police officer had no justifiable reason to stop you.
- Show that you were never in actual control of the vehicle you were in.
The law is not on your side, so getting professional legal help can make the difference between facing jail time or not.
Other Ways You Can Avoid Jail for a DUI Charge
Your best bet for avoiding jail time for a DUI is by beating the charges. While the prosecutors in Los Angeles are incredibly focused on securing convictions for DUI offenses, it is possible to beat the charges. If you can beat the charges, you will avoid all of the penalties associated with a DUI conviction, including jail time.
However, even if you cannot beat the DUI charges outright, there are still options available to you to avoid jail. For a first-time DUI offense, you can agree to a 90-day extension to your license suspension instead of a two-day stint in jail. In addition, if you can arrange for an alternative charge, such as a “wet” reckless charge, you may be able to avoid time behind bars.
For some offenses, you may be able to seek alternatives to prison time. While the criminal statutes require mandatory jail time, judges are given the discretion to sentence individuals to alternatives that meet the criteria. For example, you may be able to arrange community service or time at an addiction treatment facility in place of time behind bars.
Alternatives to Jail
If a judge deems that your case doesn’t require jail time, you might get sentenced to other penalties instead such as:
- Mandatory alcohol or drug rehab
- House arrest
- Community service
Even though these alternatives to jail are better, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Whatever alternatives to jail that you have to do, ensure that you abide by all the rules and complete them as instructed. Failure to do so can result in jail time and even harsher penalties.
Other Punishments After a DUI
Jail time isn’t the only thing you need to worry about after a DUI. Once the police arrest you, they will forward all of your information to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to the California DMV DUI guidelines, your license will get suspended for up to four months for the first offense and a year or longer for subsequent offenses.
A DUI Lawyer Can Assist You With Your Legal Affairs
While it is possible to avoid jail when facing a DUI charge, it is not always simple to arrange. Facing down prosecutors or convincing a judge to be lenient can be incredibly difficult. The difficulty in handling a DUI charge is why so many people decide to hire a DUI lawyer.
Get Help from a DUI Lawyer Today
A DUI lawyer can help you build the strongest defense possible for your case. Even before you enter a courtroom, a strong defense can mean the difference between your freedom and time behind bars.
Prosecutors are more likely to offer a plea bargain that does not include jail time if they have reason to believe they will have trouble proving the court case. Your DUI lawyer can be a powerful advocate in negotiating favorable terms to a plea agreement.