Drivers convicted of DUI / DWI face repercussions from the court that include jail time, fines, mandatory education programs, and probation. Certain factors known as sentencing enhancements can substantially increase the court’s punishment in a drunk driving case, including speeding, driving drunk with children in the car, or being involved in an accident. Consulting with an experienced California criminal defense attorney may help mitigate these factors.
Sentencing enhancements can add to nearly every aspect of court punishment, resulting in longer jail sentences, higher fines, longer driver’s license suspensions, greater mandatory education requirements, and more restrictive probation.
These enhancements typically are included when charges are originally filed; however, they may be added at a later date as long as the case is still pending, and the enhancements would not unfairly endanger the defendant’s right to a fair trial. The additional allegations, like the underlying DUI charge, must be proven by the prosecutor or the sentence cannot be enhanced.
One of the most common enhancements added in a drunk driving case is speeding. A driver who is alleged to have been traveling 30 mph or more over the freeway speed limit or 20 mph or more over the speed limit on a surface street or highway likely will face this allegation.
Some prosecutors who allege speeding also may add an enhancement of reckless driving. If both allegations are found to be true, the motorist faces 60 days in jail in addition to any other punishment handed out. However, if the prosecutor alleges reckless driving, he or she must prove that the driver had willful or wanton disregard for the safety of people or property, and wasn’t merely driving too fast.
Another enhancement is the allegation that there were children in the car at the time the driver was stopped and arrested for DUI / DWI. If there were children under the age of 14 in the vehicle at the time of the stop, the driver risks a sentencing enhancement and/or a child endangerment charge.
If proven, the allegation of driving drunk with children in the car brings additional jail time – 48 hours for a first offense of this nature, 10 days for a second offense, 30 days for a third offense, and 90 days for a fourth offense. This additional jail time is mandatory if the facts establishing child endangerment are proven.
Another sentencing enhancement can be added if a traffic accident occurred. If the accident resulted in injury to someone other than the driver, the DUI likely will be charged as a felony. If the sentencing enhancement of being involved in an accident is proven in conjunction with a felony DUI / DWI conviction, the driver faces an additional 90 days to one year in jail.
Sentencing enhancements can also be added for a number of other factors, including prior DUIs or “wet-reckless” convictions, or drunk driving offenses that involve a death or multiple victims. If proven, each allegation carries substantial penalties.
Because some prosecutors “pile on” sentencing enhancements in DUI / DWI cases, it’s imperative to defend each case aggressively to avoid additional penalties. A lawyer skilled at defending drunk driving cases can evaluate each case to determine the best strategy to fight sentencing enhancements along with the underlying charge of drinking and driving.