New Driving Under the Influence / Driving While Intoxicated Sentencing Laws

New Driving Under the Influence Driving While Intoxicated Sentencing LawsThe California Legislature has passed legislation affecting Driving Under the Influence (DUI) / Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenses that occurred on or after Sept. 20, 2005. The new legislation affects everything from license suspension to probation conditions. A California attorney who specializes in drunk driving defense can explain how the legislation will impact offenses committed after the new laws took effect.

There are several new rules that affect individuals sentenced for drunk driving, but the most notable is that the court now has no authority to suspend or restrict a driver’s license. That authority now rests entirely with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Under the old law, the court could order the suspension of the license, but only the DMV could actually suspend it. Now, only the DMV can suspend a license, either through an administrative per se hearing or because of a DUI criminal conviction. The courts are now completely uninvolved in license issues.

Under the new law, any driver convicted of a first-time drunk driving offense will automatically have his or her license suspended for six months by the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, the driver can immediately apply for a restricted license to drive to work and alcohol education classes. In the past, the driver had to wait one month to apply for a restricted license.

Another shift involves the assignment of alcohol education courses. In the past, courts used a benchmark of .20 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) to determine the duration of the education program the driver must enter. The new distinction is .15 percent BAC.

Another change involves whether a first-time DUI offender chooses to accept probation. Under the new law, any driver who declines probation receives a mandatory jail sentence of 96 hours, 48 hours of which must be served continuously, with the remainder to be served within six months.

There is now no mandatory jail time for a driver who opts to accept probation. However, a judge can choose to send the driver to jail for 48 hours to six months, as an additional condition of probation.

The fines for a first-offense DUI remain the same for both drivers who choose probation and those who refuse it – from $390 to $1,000. However, with penalty enhancements imposed by the state, the fines nearly triple. The current penalty assessment is 171 percent of the fine, meaning that a $100 fine is increased to $271.

For a driver arrested for a second DUI / DWI within 10 years, the DMV will now automatically suspend the license for two years. Again, the court is not involved in license suspensions. However, the court must refer the driver to an alcohol education program ranging from 18 months to 30 months.

A driver whose license is suspended for two years for a second-offense DUI / DWI can now apply for a restricted license after one year only if he or she is enrolled in alcohol education classes, has an ignition interlock device, files proof of insurance, and pays all costs involved in fulfilling the conditions. This means an automatic one-year license suspension for drivers convicted of a second-offense DUI. In the past, a second offender could skirt this automatic suspension with a successful DMV APS hearing and an application to the court for a restricted license. Now, the only chance an individual facing a second drunk driving charge within 10 years has of retaining driving privileges during that year is to fight the case with the help of an experienced DUI / DWI attorney.

Drivers with a second drunk driving arrest within 10 years who accept probation now face 10 days to one year in jail, or 96 hours in jail split into two stints. A driver sentenced to the longer of the two options likely can serve the term in a work-release program or other alternative sentencing program. Drivers who decline probation face a jail sentence ranging from 90 days to one year.

There are no notable changes under the new law for drivers facing a third- or fourth-offense DUI – they can expect 120 days in jail, fines, fees, and a three-year license suspension. Drivers who have completed alcohol education classes may receive a restricted license after 18 months.

Drivers charged with a DUI / DWI that injured someone other than the driver face new regulations as well. Drivers who accept probation face five days to one year in jail, fines and fees, and alcohol education courses. Drivers who decline probation face jail sentences of 90 days to one year. Both will lose their driver’s license for one year, and there is no provision for a restricted license on a first-time DUI with injury conviction.

Drivers facing a second offense with injury who choose probation will receive 30 days to one year in jail with alcohol education classes, or 120 days to one year with no alcohol classes. Drivers who decline probation face a jail term of 120 days to one year. Both face fines and a three-year license suspension, with a restricted license available after 18 months if the driver completes an 18-month education program.

Clearly, the new laws affecting accused drunk drivers present unique challenges and obstacles. A California lawyer who specializes in DUI / DWI defense can explain the new legislation and help drivers navigate both the court and DMV processes.

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