If you have never been in serious trouble with the law, but you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence – DUI – in the state of California, what are your options?
Will you have a DUI conviction on your record – for years into the future – or can a conviction be avoided?
Is “deferred judgment” available in DUI cases?
For particular criminal offenses in California, if you are eligible, you may avoid a conviction with a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ).
With DEJ, a defendant pleads guilty, but if all the requirements for a deferred entry of judgment are completed by the defendant and no new offenses have been committed, the court does not “enter” the judgment, so no conviction goes on the defendant’s record.
For adult defendants in California, DEJ is offered only for particular drug offenses, but if you are charged with driving under the influence in California – and this is important – deferred entry of judgment will NOT be an option for you.
DUI is considered a serious crime in California, and while a first-time DUI offender may be offered a plea bargain – or may be able to have a DUI conviction expunged later – DEJ is not offered for driving under the influence in California.
HOW DOES DEFERRED ENTRY OF JUDGMENT DIFFER FROM DIVERSION?
In California, deferred entry of judgment is somewhat different from “diversion.”
For particular drug or drug-related misdemeanors, qualified defendants may avoid conviction by completing a diversion program.
But like DEJ, diversion is not offered to DUI defendants because DUI is considered a more serious crime.
Because driving under the influence puts the public at risk, California law enforcement officials – prosecutors, police departments, judges, and lawmakers – take DUI very seriously, and you should too.
If you are charged with DUI in Orange County or any other jurisdiction in southern California, you’ll need the advice and representation that an experienced DUI lawyer can provide.
It can’t be emphasized strongly enough: if the police arrest you for DUI, the court will not be lenient, and you won’t “skate” on the charge just because you’ve never been in legal trouble before.
Across the United States in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10,265 people reportedly died in alcohol-related traffic collisions.
WHAT ARE A DUI DEFENDANT’S OPTIONS?
Thousands more were permanently disabled or otherwise seriously injured.
That’s why even a first DUI offense is treated so seriously in California, and it’s the reason why diversion and deferred entry of judgment are not offered in DUI cases.
Anyone accused of DUI in California will need an attorney to fight for a dismissal of the charge, an acquittal at trial, or an acceptable plea bargain.
The precise penalties for a misdemeanor first DUI conviction depend on the driver’s age and the type of driver’s license he or she uses.
California enforces a no-tolerance policy toward underage drinking, so penalties are different for drivers under the age of 21.
And DUI penalties are harsher for drivers who hold a California commercial drivers’ license.
However, for most adults convicted of a misdemeanor first DUI in California, the penalties can include: 96 hours to six months in jail; up to five years on probation; a fine of up to $1000; and a driver’s license suspension for up to ten months.
In Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties – and every California county beginning in 2019 – an ignition interlock device (IID) must be installed on the offender’s personal vehicle when the license suspension is lifted.
WHAT ARE DUI SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS?
California will “enhance” a DUI sentence – that is, make it harsher – even for a first offense – if the offender’s blood alcohol content measured at 0.15 percent or higher when the driver was tested; if a child below age 14 was in the vehicle; if the driver refused to take a DUI test; or if the driver was speeding and/or reckless.
If property was damaged or persons were injured, a first DUI offense will probably be prosecuted as a felony.
So how can you avoid a conviction as a first-time DUI offender in California?
A skilled Orange County DUI lawyer will review the facts regarding the traffic stop and arrest.
If your rights were violated by law enforcement officers, it’s possible that the DUI charge against you could be dismissed.
Alternately, your attorney might try to have the charge dismissed by casting doubt on the reliability of breathalyzer or blood test results.
Some first DUI offenders in California will be allowed to plead guilty or no contest to wet reckless, a reckless driving charge which is considered less serious than DUI.
In return, the DUI charge will be dropped.
The police can’t charge you with a wet reckless violation.
The charge is used only by prosecutors, and only in cases where there was no property damage or injuries, to move cases quickly through the court system.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF ACCEPTING A PLEA AGREEMENT?
A wet reckless plea allows DUI defendants to avoid jail, and the fine costs less.
Perhaps more importantly, a DUI conviction automatically disqualifies the offender for certain kinds of employment, while the wet reckless conviction does not.
However, if the offender is charged with DUI again in the subsequent ten years, the wet reckless conviction is counted as a previous DUI conviction.
If the evidence of a DUI defendant’s guilt is overwhelming, even with a good attorney’s help, in some cases a DUI conviction will be unavoidable, and a plea bargain will not be offered.
In such cases, the offender may be able to have the conviction expunged, but expungement of a DUI conviction takes some time and effort, and expungement doesn’t fully erase a DUI conviction, either.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF EXPUNGEMENT?
For example, a conviction that’s expunged will still count as a prior conviction if a subsequent DUI charge is filed within ten years.
However, employers cannot ask about an expunged conviction, and they cannot use the expunged conviction as a reason to refuse to hire you.
To qualify for expungement, you must complete your DUI sentence by adhering to all of its terms and conditions, and you cannot be serving a jail sentence or probation for any other conviction.
The best advice about drinking and driving isn’t even legal advice – it’s just old-fashioned wisdom.
Don’t Drink and Drive.
But if you’ve never been in trouble with the law, legal help is available if you need it, and a qualified DUI lawyer in California will fight vigorously for justice on your behalf.