If you got arrested for a first-time DUI offense in California, it can be upsetting, stressful, and even frightening. The most important thing you can do is to take time to understand the penalties you face and the defenses you can use.
You should not plead guilty. Instead, get a professional opinion on your case. Before you make any firm decision, it’s best to get in touch with an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney to help you. Hiring an attorney is the best way to challenge your arrest and avoid facing any penalties.
What Happens After My First DUI Arrest?
After police officers process you, they will take away your driver’s license and give you a form that serves as your “temporary” license along with a notice of potential DMV suspension. The officers will then forward a copy of this notice to the DMV to process. The DMV will review the details of your case and, in most cases, decide to suspend your license.
To stop this from happening, the DMV’s general information on DUI arrests states that you must request a hearing with the DMV within ten days of your arrest. In some rare cases, police will give you a suspension notice during the arrest process. In these circumstances, you have ten days from receiving the suspension notice to request your DMV hearing.
What Are the Administrative (DMV) Penalties for a First Offense DUI?
If you do not request a DMV hearing for your first-time DUI offense, or if you lose at this hearing, the DMV will both:
- Suspend your license for at least four months, and
- Require you to carry “SR-22” insurance to reinstate your license after the suspension. SR-22 insurance costs more than regular car insurance.
This is in addition to the fees you’ll have to pay the DMV and any points the DUI puts on your driver’s license.
The DMV process is not part of the court system, but you do have rights. For example:
- You have the right to be represented by an attorney.
- You can request that your hearing be done in person rather than over the phone; most DUI lawyers will use this method because it is generally advantageous to your case.
- You can require the arresting officer to appear at the hearing and give testimony. Their story is often much weaker than you think it is. This can be invaluable to your case.
Your license suspension will get postponed until your hearing takes place. This is often months away and could allow you to resolve your DUI entirely in the court system without ever facing suspension. The best way to keep your license is to have a DUI lawyer handle the hearing for you.
What Are the Criminal Penalties for a First Offense DUI?
The criminal process gets handled by the courts and is entirely separate from the DMV process. If convicted of a first DUI violation in California, the penalties include:
- Mandatory jail sentence of anywhere from 3 days to 6 months. In some cases, the jail sentence can get waived as part of your probation.
- Paying a fine of anywhere from $390 to $1000.
- Additional financial penalties that can bring the total you owe to several thousand dollars or more.
- You will be required to attend at least three months of DUI classes (see below).
- You will be on DUI probation for 3-5 years (see below).
Your DUI will remain on your record for ten years. During that time, if you have any other DUI arrests, you will face much harsher penalties. Your DUI can also affect employment, college admissions, and other aspects of your life.
What Are DUI Safety Classes or “DUI School”?
DUI school, also known as traffic school, is required for all convicted DUI offenders. It is a series of classes you must pay for and attend, and you will need to prove that you completed them to the courts.
The classes aim to teach you the dangers that driving under the influence poses to other people and yourself. They also teach you to reflect on your use of alcohol or drugs and reduce or eliminate your use of these substances.
Most first-time DUI offenders in California need to complete a 30-hour program that lasts three months. If your blood alcohol content was .20% (two and a half times the legal limit) or higher, however, you will be required to complete a 60-hour class that lasts nine months. Failure to attend or complete these classes comes with additional penalties.
How Does DUI Probation Work?
DUI probation is generally “unsupervised” probation, meaning no probation officer keeps an eye on you. However, during this time, you will have to follow specific rules, and if you get caught breaking them, you face penalties for probation violation:
- You cannot violate any law that results in your arrest. In other words, anything more severe than a speeding ticket.
- You must not drive during the period of your license suspension.
- You cannot drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system.
These are baseline DUI probation requirements. The judge may impose other conditions as well. If you violate them, you will almost certainly be sent to jail to serve any jail time that got waived at your trial. You may face other consequences as well.
Are There Other First-Time DUI Penalties?
Potentially, yes. Some DUI drivers will be required to install an interlock device on their car, which requires them to blow into a breath-testing device to start the vehicle.
Other possible penalties include mandatory alcohol or drug treatment, community service, or wearing an alcohol-detecting “SCRAM” bracelet on your ankle. Many of these penalties aren’t as common with a first-time DUI offense, but they are all possibilities at the judge’s discretion.
You can also face sentence enhancement and other mandatory penalties if you refuse to take a blood, breath, or urine test, if your blood alcohol level was very high, or if other aggravating circumstances are present in your case.
What If I’m a Minor and This Is My First Offense DUI?
You may wonder what happens when you get a DUI charge if you’re under 21. If you’re a minor, the same general penalty and restrictions apply to your case, only much stricter in some instances.
California has a zero-tolerance policy under California Vehicle Code (CVC) § 23136. This means that any percentage of BAC is enough to warrant, at minimum, a suspension. The higher your BAC is, the more severe the punishments become.
How Do I Fight My DUI?
The criminal penalties above only exist if you get convicted of DUI. But prosecutors often have difficulty proving a DUI charge—sometimes even if a breath test says you were over the legal limit. So, by focusing on the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s evidence, a good DUI lawyer may be able to win your case or get your DUI reduced to a much less serious offense.
Talk to a DUI Attorney Today
Don’t assume that you’ll get off the hook just because this is your first DUI offense. Understanding the penalties is only one part of the equation. The next part is hiring an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney to help you with your case today. Don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.