Having practiced DUI law in LA for the last twenty-five years, I've seen all kinds of different punishments either dolled out to criminal defendants in a DUI case or at least offered to criminal defendants in a DUI case, and I tell you, it starts as early as the arraignment now.
The prosecutor and the judge – even on a first-time DUI – don't just want to let the person go on their recognizance if their blood alcohol level is high or they're involved in any accident which shows some sort of a dangerousness level; then they're going to try to make them do AA meetings – like three AA meetings a week while the case is pending if they want to be released on their recognizance.
For me, that's punishment started right off the top. Even if the person does not have an alcohol problem, these guys are trying to make them do certain things right from the beginning, or they make them post bail in the case.
Other things I see them doing even at the arraignment level is if a person is dangerous enough because they have multiple DUI's or because their blood alcohol level was high or because they hurt somebody, they'll make them put a scram device on there, so they can determine whether or not they had any alcohol and then they'll order them not to consume any alcohol. Again, they're zeroed in and aimed at protecting the public, so that's why they have all these different things.
Another big thing that I'm seeing now in the Los Angeles courts related to DUI's is they have this program called the H20 program. What they're doing is they're waiting in the main DUI courts across Los Angeles county, and they will wait for the person – they have a whole list of all the people with DUI's who have to appear that day – especially people who have suspended licenses – and they will wait for them outside the court.
They'll have to identify information, and as soon as they get in their car and drive, they pull them over and charge them with violating their probation, driving on a suspended license – and when you get that, and it relates to a DUI case, you're looking at going to jail, so there are all sorts of punishments associated with DUI cases that you might not even think about in Los Angeles, California unless you are a DUI attorney who did this all the time, and like me, who has done thousands of these DUI cases.
Main Punishments For DUI in Los Angeles Courts
Probably one of the most common punishments is that they put you on three years' probation. Sometimes you can get it down to two years of probation if the blood alcohol level is low enough and you're not as much of a threat to anybody. Another thing is they will try to make the person pay a fine.
Usually, the basic fine in Los Angeles County is $390 plus a penalty assessment. That ends up being – especially when they tack on all their fees – anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000. Sometimes I've been able to get clients' community service to wipe out most of the fines, but you're still going to have to pay $400 or $500 in fees that the courts use to keep themselves going.
So, in addition to that, another thing is they're going to make the person do an alcohol program. In Los Angeles, for a first offense, they're usually talking about a 36-month alcohol program. However, there's also a 6-month alcohol program, a 9-month alcohol program, an 18-month alcohol program, and a 30-month one.
So, you can start to see all DUI's are not created equal. These guys are not messing around. It's a sliding scale depending on how high your blood alcohol level was, how dangerous you were, and how your criminal record looks. They can make you do a 9-month alcohol program.
Then you have to pay for it. You have to go once a week to the program. Having a reasonable attorney who knows the ins and outs of the court system is crucial when it comes to these DUI cases and trying to get the best possible result.
Jail Time and Community Service
Of course, the biggest weapon these guys have is jail time. They can give you up to six months in the county jail on a first offense. If you're on probation, it usually can be a year to a year and a half in the county jail. On a second offense, they can give you up to a year just for that offense, and if you're on probation, they can give you an additional year.
So, they have some teeth when it comes to these DUI's. Suppose they're angry enough – based on the person, what they did and how dangerous they were out in public. Other things that I've seen them do when it comes to DUI are making you do AA meetings because they feel you need an education and the alcohol program.
They can also make you do community service, community labor, Caltrans, graffiti removal. Then they can put other restrictions on you where you're not allowed to drink alcohol, and you're not allowed to drive your vehicle.
There's a whole host of things they do, and sometimes they will tailor punishments based on what they did. Based on the person's prior criminal record, and again, they're trying to do things to protect the public and make sure this person doesn't get out on the road and kill somebody.
Felony DUI's and Punishment
Often, for a first-time felony DUI, you can be looking up to three years in prison. Suppose you hurt somebody and cause them great bodily injury. In that case, you're looking at a strike on your record, an additional 3-year enhancement, so you'd be looking at up to six years in prison, and you can get your license revoked for three years.
There are all sorts of things that can be done. Again, these things are being done in the name of protecting the public.
So, if you're going to drive a car and you're going to take other people's lives into your hands, then you're going to take other people's lives into your hands, then you're going to be looking at a severe punishment.
Of course, the ultimate punishment they have – if you kill somebody related to a DUI, they can put you in prison for 15 to life and charge you with murder. So, a long story short, when it comes to DUI cases, you've got to have the best attorney possible who knows how to deal with the issues surrounding DUI cases, who knows how to protect your rights, your freedom, your interest, your reputation and your record.