Probation is part of every DUI sentence, but it’s not always easy to understand. “Probation” literally means proving because it’s a chance to prove yourself to the law. It’s a period of time where you are under special scrutiny, to make sure you won’t drink and drive again.
Although less serious than jail time, DUI probation is still not easy. There are numerous rules you have to follow and actions you have to take to complete your probation. There are two types of DUI probation you should know about: the general probation that comes with every DUI charge, and “alternative sentencing” that may be used instead of jail time.
General Probation for DUI
DUI probation in California lasts anywhere from three to five years. This is considered “summary probation” which means it is not supervised. There is no probation officer you have to meet with, and no one will stop by your house or workplace to check on you. But during the entire probation period, you have a special legal status that affects what you are and are not allowed to do.
The terms of DUI probation include:
- You agree not to commit any crime during your probation. If you do, the consequences will be worse than if someone not on probation committed it. (Speeding or parking tickets do not violate probation unless they are tied to a larger crime. Driving without a license, or without car insurance, does violate your probation.)
- You agree to submit to a chemical test (blood, breath or urine test) if you are arrested on suspicion of a new DUI charge.
- You agree not to drive with any alcohol in your system.
This last one is very important. Normally, a person can drive in California with alcohol in their system as long as it’s less than .08% blood alcohol concentration. Many adults can drink one or even two drinks and still potentially be under that limit. This limit no longer applies to you. If you are pulled over with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system, it’s a probation violation.
In practice, “measurable” means anything over .04%. Most adults will be over the limit after a single beer.
California’s Alternative Sentencing Probation
Sometimes the court will hand down another form of probation known as “alternative sentencing.” This basically means you were supposed to go to jail, but the judge will let you prove you don’t deserve it. If you fail to carry out the alternative sentence, you go to jail.
California judges typically offer one of five types of alternative sentences:
- Community service.
- Roadside work for Caltrans, the California transportation agency.
- Taking alcohol education classes or treatment programs.
- Paying compensation to the people you injured with your DUI, or whose property you damaged.
- House arrest or electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring uses an ankle bracelet that can check your blood alcohol level. This is equivalent to being ordered not to drink at all, and is usually used only for repeat offenders and those with an alcohol addiction.
Your probation sentence may not be limited to just one of these. For example, you may be ordered to take alcohol classes and also perform community service. Additionally, the judge has the power to order other types of alternative sentences not listed here. These are just the most common.
If you are given a form of alternative sentencing, you will need to complete both it and the normal “general” probation period.
What Happens If You Violate Your DUI Probation?
The most common way that people violate their DUI probation is by driving illegally. This can mean driving without a license, driving on a suspended license, not carrying the right insurance, or driving somewhere that’s not allowed by your restricted driving privileges. The penalties are severe. Do not take any chances with driving while on probation.
Other ways to violate probation include:
- Failing to complete DUI school, or not giving the court proof that you competed it.
- Failing to install an ignition interlock device if it was ordered, or tampering with it.
- Failing to complete your alternative sentencing.
- Getting another DUI during probation.
- Refusing a blood, breath or urine test.
- Driving with more than the .04% “measurable level” of alcohol in your system.
- Not paying your fines.
Any probation violation carries a price. If you fail to live up to the requirements, the judge may issue a warrant to have you arrested. You will then have to serve the jail time for your DUI charge. Or, the judge may give you just 48 hours in jail and let you keep your probation status.
On the other hand, if you violate probation by committing a crime—including driving without a license, or refusing a blood or breath test—you will face the penalties for that crime, plus the probation violation penalties.
Making the Most of Probation
In some DUI cases, probation can be a good thing. It may help you avoid jail time and reduce your sentence. But it’s hard to argue for community service instead of jail if you don’t have an attorney.
The best thing you can do at any stage of a DUI case is to have an experienced DUI lawyer at your side. We can match you with a top Los Angeles DUI lawyer who will give you a 100% free case consultation. Don’t wait until it’s too late—fill out the form to the right and get your FREE consultation today.