A “sentence enhancement” is an extra penalty for a crime, that’s added on top of the usual penalty under certain circumstances. You will know if you are facing the possibility of a sentence enhancement because it must be in the original “complaint” (court papers) filed by the prosecution. It cannot be added on later during sentencing.
In California, sentence enhancements for DUI are popular because they’re perceived as making the roads safer. They’re also politically popular, and easy to get passed into law.
The most important DUI sentence enhancement relates to prior convictions. California’s entire DUI penalty system relies on the idea that repeat DUI offenders should get harsher penalties than first time offenders. Additionally, there is a laundry list of other circumstances that cause sentence enhancement. We’ll look at both kinds.
Prior DUI Conviction Enhancements
If you have a past DUI conviction (or related conviction) within the last 10 years, you’ll receive a sentence enhancement. Related convictions include things like underage DUI and wet reckless. The 10 year period counts back from the date of your arrest, not the current date. Even an expunged conviction will count as a prior for purposes of sentence enhancement.
This kind of sentence enhancement has wide ranging effects:
- Longer jail time, and potentially time in state prison (if the sentence is more than a year)
- A longer license suspension period, potentially lasting years
- Substantially higher fines and court fees
- A much longer mandatory DUI school, potentially 30 months, which also costs more
- Possible impoundment of your vehicle
- Longer probation period after your sentence
- Higher likelihood of being ordered to install an interlock device
Other DUI Sentence Enhancements
In California, any of the following circumstances can lead to a sentence enhancement:
- Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing. Like all states, California has a doctrine of “implied consent.” That means that you agreed to a blood or breath test in advance, on the day you got your driver’s license. If you refused to allow such a test after you were arrested for DUI, you face a longer administrative license suspension and increased jail time.
- High Blood Alcohol Concentration. Driving with any alcohol level over .08% is illegal. But if your alcohol level is very high, you’re considered a greater risk and sentenced more harshly. The threshold in California is .15%.
- Child Endangerment. If any passenger in the car was a minor, you will face an enhancement for child endangerment. In California, the definition of a “minor” for these purposes is anyone under the age of 14, not 18.
- Speeding. If you were speeding excessively while driving drunk, you are considered a greater danger. This means going 20+ mph over the speed limit on surface streets, or 30+ mph over on a freeway.
- Reckless Driving. Reckless driving is any dangerous or careless behavior on the road. Swerving into oncoming traffic or running up onto the sidewalk are examples.
- Underage. Drivers under the legal drinking age (21) face a substantial sentence enhancement, including much longer license suspension. They can also be found guilty with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, instead of the usual 0.08% minimum.
- Injury or Property Damage. Normally, this refers to a car accident. It can also refer to hitting a pedestrian or cyclist, injuring someone in any way, or running into a fence, home, parked car or business. Different jurisdictions have their own special enhancement rules, but in general, if you caused an injury to anyone you will face felony DUI charges.
Note that these are general explanations for the state of California. Individual jurisdictions have passed their own local rules enhancing penalties for DUI. A DUI defense lawyer can help you understand exactly what additional penalties, if any, you face in your case.
Any DUI charge can be severe, but a sentence enhancement can mean that it truly derails your life. If you’ve been charged with DUI, it’s important to get a professional legal opinion on your case from a DUI lawyer. DUI lawyers can help you evaluate the best strategy, fight the evidence against you, and stand the best possible chance of improving your outcome.
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