Jail time is perhaps the most frightening of all of California’s DUI penalties. Under current law, you face the possibility of jail time for any DUI conviction, whether it’s your first or your fourth. And some DUI sentences include time in state prison. You need to know exactly how much jail time you face, and how to keep it to a minimum—or avoid it.
Jail Time in a Los Angeles DUI
The basic jail sentence attached to your DUI depends on whether you have any prior DUI convictions. For these purposes, a “prior” is any DUI conviction within the last 10 years, as well as any related charge like wet reckless.
Here are the basic jail sentences for each DUI charge:
- First DUI
Minimum 2 days jail time, maximum 6 months. If you receive the minimum you may be allowed to avoid jail if you accept an extra 90 days of restricted driving.
- Second DUI
Minimum 10 days jail time, maximum 1 year. If you receive the minimum you may be allowed to serve it in multiple sessions instead of all at once. You can potentially shorten it to just 4 days if you agree to serve two 48-straight-hour sessions.
- Third DUI
Minimum 120 days jail time (4 months), maximum 1 year.
- Fourth DUI
Minimum 180 days jail time (6 months), maximum 1 year or 16 months in state prison.
- Felony DUI
DUI can be tried as a felony if you killed or severely injured someone, or if you have numerous repeat offenses. Felony DUI carries 1 to 5 years in state prison.
These are just the basic penalties. There are many circumstances where a DUI can carry a longer sentence. These are known as sentence enhancements.
DUI Sentence Enhancements in California
A sentence enhancement occurs when “aggravating circumstances” surround your DUI. The enhancement carries additional penalties on top of the usual DUI penalties. The most common sentence enhancements in California are:
- Your blood alcohol level was very high, measured at 0.15% or greater
- You refused to take a blood, breath or urine test
- You caused an accident or injured someone
If you face a potential sentence enhancement, a DUI defense attorney may be able to help get your charge reduced to a regular DUI or even something less serious.
Jail vs. Prison in a DUI Case
Many people use the words jail and prison to mean the same thing, but they aren’t. Jail means your local jail facility, often run by the County Sheriff or your local police department. Prison is a state-run penitentiary like you see in prison movies. Jail time is often considered less severe than prison time, for several reasons:
- Jails house less violent offenders and are considered safer
- In jail, you are closer to your family and your community
- The conditions in a jail may be less harsh than those in a prison
Almost all DUI sentences are served in jail, not prison, but there are exceptions. Prison time is usually only used in DUI cases if you killed or seriously injured someone. It may also be used if you have a long history of repeat offenses.
Who Decides How Much Jail Time You Get?
All of the DUI sentences above have a minimum and a maximum. Sometimes the difference between them is huge. For example, serving 2 days in jail is unpleasant but might not even interrupt your work schedule. Serving 6 months can cost you your job.
How much jail time you get is completely up to the judge. The prosecutor can push for a tough sentence, but only the judge makes the final decision. A lenient judge can even offer you an alternative to jail time such as alcohol treatment or community service.
Some of the factors judges consider include:
- Whether you seem apologetic
- If you have a criminal history
- Whether they believe you have learned your lesson
The judge may consider many other factors, however. There’s an old saying in the legal profession that, “Justice is what the judge ate for breakfast.” It means that judges are unpredictable and sometimes we can’t guess the reasons behind their decision.
How to Avoid Jail Time
Because the outcome of a trial is unpredictable, a good DUI lawyer will work to resolve your case without a trial. This can be done one of two ways:
- By negotiating a lesser charge. An experienced DUI lawyer will gather evidence to weaken the prosecution’s case, and then demand that the prosecutor reduce or drop the charges. Prosecutors don’t want to face a losing legal battle, so this often works. They may be willing to drop a sentence enhancement, so you face substantially less jail time. Or they might reduce the charge from DUI to reckless driving, a much less serious offense. In some cases they will simply drop the charges altogether and you are free to go.
- A plea bargain. If the prosecutor won’t reduce the charges, they may agree to a plea bargain. This is where you agree to plead guilty, and they agree to a specific lenient sentence. For example, you could get a guarantee of the minimum 2 days’ jail time, or community service instead of jail. This is a lot better than going to court and risking 6 months behind bars.
Your DUI lawyer wants to get you the best possible outcome. No lawyer can promise to win your case, but DUI attorneys are experienced in keeping jail time to a minimum or helping you avoid it altogether. They are your best bet when facing a DUI charge.
You can speak to a top Los Angeles DUI lawyer for free. We will match you to a lawyer with the experience you need, and you get a free consultation. Your consultation is your chance to get a professional opinion on your case.
Don’t risk a long jail sentence or even prison time. Get the help you need. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your FREE consultation today.