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It’s going to be ok

So you’ve just been charged with a DUI in California. First of all, that sucks. That’s a tough thing to go through, and you’re probably feeling scared, confused, and ashamed. Second of all, it’s going to be okay. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have been in your shoes. Getting a DUI doesn’t mean you’re a crappy person, or that you’re going to lose everything. You made a mistake, and there are consequences, but not usually of life-ruining proportions. If found guilty, you’re going to have to pay some fines, take some classes and deal with the inconveniences of having a suspended license and limited driving privileges. But none of that is insurmountable, and it’s going to seem way less intimidating once you realize there are resources to help you through this.

Automatic 30-day suspension

There are a few things you might not expect. For one, the DMV will automatically suspend your license for 30 days no matter what. Your driver’s license will be confiscated, and your schedule a hearing at the DMV within 10 days to try to delay the suspension. This DMV hearing is totally independent of your court case, but you might still want a lawyer to represent you and help you through this process. When your license is taken, you’ll get a little pink slip, kind of like a DUI receipt, and you won’t be able to drive anywhere for a while. The DMV is not typically very lenient about suspensions, so you might have to adjust to being chauffeured around by an Uber driver, taking public transit, or bulking up your calves on a bike for at least the next month. Silver lining: you can get some reading done or pedal closer to your fitness goals.

Required court appearance

You’ll also have to appear in court. This can go one of a few ways. You’ll either be representing yourself, you’ll have a public defender, or you’ll get an experienced private attorney. Although you might be lawyer-averse and tempted to represent yourself, it does feel good to have an advocate, someone by your side who understands the complicated legal journey on which you are about to embark. That said, regardless of how you choose to proceed, you’ll have to attend an initial court hearing. There, you’ll either plead guilty or not-guilty. Even if you feel like you weren’t really drunk, or that your driving was not impaired, it’s difficult to overcome a BAC of .08 or more. All that the prosecution has to prove is that you operated a motor vehicle while it was moving and your blood alcohol was above the legal limit. If you plead not-guilty, you’ll either go to a jury trial or a plea bargain. If you plead guilty, your lawyer will hopefully at least be able to help you reduce some of the penalties you face.

What are the penalties?

At this point, you might be wondering what said penalties are. Presuming that this is your first DUI, and that no one was hurt or died because of it, the minimum penalties are a $390 fine and over $1,000 in assessments plus additional DUI assessments of around $1,800. Aside from the 30 day DMV suspension, you will also face a 90-day license restriction. This restriction permits you to drive only to and from work and to and from an alcohol treatment program OR you’ll face a 48-hour jail sentence. The aforementioned alcohol treatment program will be another expense. It’s a three month, $500 program, assuming your BAC was between .08. and .20. If it’s higher than that, you’ll have to take a nine month program. The maximum penalties for a first misdemeanor DUI are a $1,000 fine, over $2,600 in assessments, six months in county jail, six to ten month license suspension depending on BAC level, storing your vehicle at your own expense in an impound lot for 30 days, and being required to attach a “breathalyzer” to your car, which will run you about an additional $800.

But you do have options…

Obviously, none of that sounds great, but it’s not life-ruining, right? Plus, always remember that you have options. This is where an attorney might be helpful, or, at the very least, you’ll want to do your research. There are a number of ways to give yourself small advantages here and there, and you’ll want to know what your best chances are before you go to court. For instance, an attorney might know which judges are particularly harsh on DUI charges, and try to avoid those judges for your case. This can make a huge difference, as which judge you get can determine a number of factors in the outcome of your DUI. As mentioned, it’s not likely that an “I wasn’t even drinking, ask my mom!” plea will get you anywhere if your BAC tested above the legal limit, but that doesn’t mean you have no chance of getting out of this. If the police obtained their evidence illegally, coerced your consent to take the test, or in any other way mishandled your arrest, your attorney can file a motion to suppress, meaning that any information unlawfully procured will not be presented at your trial. You or your attorney can also call into question the validity of your BAC test based on the local police department’s maintenance and upkeep of BAC test equipment, which is legally required and may cast some doubt on your test results. However, this isn’t common and you shouldn’t rely on faulty equipment as your sole defense.

Plea bargains and compromises are also options that still work

Assuming that your BAC results hold up, you’ll still have a few options. One is a plea bargain, which is not as attractive as it used to be since minimum penalties are still enforced. However, compromise is still possible, and even encouraged by some judges. Maybe you or your attorney can get your charges reduced to reckless driving, which would decrease your penalties and fines. Many judges prefer to work something out in your arraignment to avoid long and costly jury trials, and if the prosecution is amenable, you have a decent chance at a lesser charge or at least minimizing the consequences of your DUI. Having character witnesses who can attest that you were sober before driving, especially if you’ve taken a less reliable breath or urine test and your BAC is very low, can also be an asset.

Overall, a DUI is never a great thing. No matter how you ended up in this situation, it’s tough. It can feel like you’re up against a cold, unfair system that just wants to shuffle your case number through with all the rest. But if you’re well-informed and/or have a competent attorney to advocate for you, a DUI doesn’t have to be a devastating blow. You’ll get through it, and hopefully, it will be a learning experience.

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