The New World of California DUI Law

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Again, consider the probable consequences if the client were arrested for, say, petty theft, solicitation, or assault. Since it would probably be his first offense, and since he has probably led a sterling life, he will probably not receive jail time. Instead he will be fined perhaps $300 and placed on informal probation for approximately two years. In many jurisdictions, he can come back into court after a probationary period and have the conviction expunged - that is, erased from his record. End result: a few hundred dollars, inconvenience, and attorney's fees. In fact, statistics indicate that the majority of defendants convicted of felonies end up serving no time in custody; the majority are placed on probation, often without even having to pay a fine.

What does the citizen arrested for DUI face? Depending on the jurisdiction, of course, the first offender may be fined $1,500 and also placed on probation, as a beginning. In addition, the court and/or DMV may take his driver's license, a license that may be critical to operating his business or performing his job. His car maybe impounded or he may be required to have ignition "interlocks" placed in it. He will have to attend special DUI schools, occasionally for a "fee" of hundreds of dollars. According to one somewhat dated study, a convicted first offender's average cost for bail, a DUI defense attorney, treatment programs, and fines exceeds $5,000 assuming no accident. Auto Club News (Southern California), October-November 1989. That figure is much higher today. And he may well serve time in jail; many jurisdictions now impose jail sentences for first offenders. On his second conviction he will almost certainly spend time in custody. This is not time served by a hardened con but by a terrified citizen totally unfamiliar with the callous penal system.

Already the person charged with DUI has suffered more punishment than the majority of convicted felons do. But there is more: A convicted defendant will end up paying thousands of dollars over the next few years in increased auto insurance premiums. He is required by law to carry automobile insurance, but he is now a convicted drunk driver who falls into a high risk category; his premiums will be far higher than those of a bank robber or murderer. Further, the client may be suffering from alcoholism. In effect, he may be criminally prosecuted and punished for having what is now recognized to be a medical (and possibly genetic) condition.

If there is any doubt about the clear trend around the country as to sentencing in DUI cases, consider the case of a defendant in Los Angeles. In an article appearing in the Los Angeles Times it was reported that this defendant had been arrested in Hollywood for DUI. He had three other DUI cases pending, though none of the four incidents involved personal injury or property damage; he was also on probation for drunk driving. In proceedings that the Times reporter said "resembled those for a notorious murder," bail was set at $500,000. The defendant subsequently pleaded guilty. His sentence for these consolidated misdemeanors? The judge imposed a jail term of nine years and 220 days! Three years later, a Louisiana jury topped that by sentencing a defendant convicted of drunk driving with three prior convictions to 11 years at hard labor.