Is a DUI a Criminal Offense?
If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence in Alameda County, you may be wondering, “Is a DUI a criminal offense?” The most straightforward answer is yes, a DUI is a criminal offense in California. There are, however, several facets of the law. You should be aware of the differences among the DUI crimes that exist within California’s legal framework.
In Alameda County and throughout California, there are three different types of crimes: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are the least serious, and can be thought of as getting a ticket. While driving under the influence is never an infraction, crimes like having an open container of alcohol, an underage minor possessing a fake ID, and someone under 21 possessing alcohol, are all infractions. The penalty for an alcohol-related infraction can range from only a fine – as with an open container violation – to a license suspension, fine, and community service, as can be the case for a minor possessing alcohol.
If you or someone you love has been arrested in Alameda County for driving under the influence, the charging crime is likely a misdemeanor DUI. For first, second, and third DUI offenses – providing no one was injured – the crime is charged as a misdemeanor.
In California, there are about 120,000 misdemeanor arrests each year for driving under the influence. Men account for three in four arrests, and 49 percent of those arrested for misdemeanor DUI are Latino. This is disproportionate to the state’s Latino population, which is about 40 percent. Approximately 42 percent of those arrested for misdemeanor DUI are between 20 and 29 years old, 25 percent are between 30 and 39 years old, and 29 percent are over the age of 40.
While a misdemeanor DUI is not as serious as a felony DUI in California, the penalties for a misdemeanor DUI conviction are real. Even for a first offense, your driver’s license is confiscated. In order to get it back, you need to prove to the DMV that you have insurance and you must pay a $125 administrative fee. If you’re convicted of a DUI in Alameda County, you are fined between $390 and $1,000. You also must pay assessments, which can total about $2,000.
The costs involved in a misdemeanor DUI conviction don’t stop there. You vehicle may have been impounded, in which case you may pay $150 for the tow, $150 to get your vehicle back, and $55 for each day your car was in storage. You may also be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID). With an IID, you must provide a breath sample before you start your vehicle, and again intermittently as you’re driving. An IID comes with installation costs and a monthly fee.
You may receive a sentence of between 96 hours and six months in Alameda County jail for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction. If so, then you can serve that time on days when you’re not working. However, the court may also sentence you to probation instead of jail time. If you are offered probation instead of a jail sentence, a condition of probation is likely the completion of an alcohol education program – also know as “DUI school” – that may last three or nine months. Your driving privileges are not restored until you’ve completed DUI school.
The steep penalties involved with even a first-time misdemeanor DUI are why you need an experienced Dublin DUI lawyer by your side. Your Alameda County DUI attorney can poke holes in the prosecution’s case by, for example, arguing that the field sobriety test was invalid or that the breathalyzer produced a false high reading. If that’s not possible, then your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge, such as a “wet reckless.” A wet reckless conviction means that you can keep you driver’s license and that you pay fewer fines.
Second and Third Misdemeanor DUI Penalties
In California, penalties for driving under the influence are based upon the number of DUI convictions you’ve had within a ten-year period. For each prior DUI conviction, the penalties increase. For a second or third misdemeanor DUI conviction, the fines remain the same, but the maximum jail sentence increases to one year. The minimum jail sentence for a second DUI is 90 days and for a third DUI it’s 120 days. You may, however, receive an alternative sentence. In Alameda County, an alternate sentence can consist of community service, wearing an electronic monitor, or residing in a sober living house. This is where the help of a knowledgeable Alameda County DUI attorney can be invaluable. If you’re facing jail time, your attorney may be able to negotiate an alternate sentence that will enable you to keep your job, your home, and your children.
If the prosecution has an airtight case, then your attorney may be able to negotiate probation in exchange for a guilty plea. If you are granted probation, then you will have to participate in – and pay for – up to 30 months of alcohol education. In addition, your license is suspended for one year for a second conviction and two years for a third conviction, and you must install an IID.
Felony DUI Penalties
While the vast majority of DUI charges in Alameda County are misdemeanors, driving under the influence can be charged as a felony if the circumstances warrant such a charge. For example, if you have three previous misdemeanor DUI convictions on your record within a ten-year period, then your fourth DUI and any subsequent DUIs are charged as felonies. A felony conviction carries a prison term of 16 months, two years, or three years. You are also subject to fines, license suspension, and a three-year designation as a habitual traffic offender.
In California, there are about 5,000 felony arrests each year for driving under the influence. Men account for even more felony arrests than misdemeanor arrests; close to 80 percent of those arrested for felony DUI are men. Mirroring misdemeanor arrests, about half of those arrested for felony DUI are Latino. Just as with misdemeanor arrests, close to 42 percent of those arrested for felony DUI are between 20 and 29 years old, 25 percent are between 30 and 39 years old, and 29 percent are over the age of 40.
Multiple DUI convictions aren’t the only road to felony DUI charges. If you are charged with injuring someone else while driving under the influence, that is considered a “wobbler,” and may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor can lead to between five days and a year in county jail, up to $5,000 in fines, and an alcohol education program of up to 30 months. You are also required to pay restitution to those who were injured.
If you are convicted of a felony DUI because you injured someone or caused someone’s death while driving under the influence, you may be sentenced to 16 months, two years, or three years in prison. Plus, you receive a sentence enhancement of one year for each additional injured victim, up to three years. You also receive a “strike” on your criminal record.
If you have been charged with a felony DUI, then you need the services of an Alameda County DUI attorney. Your Dublin DUI lawyer can mount a rigorous defense to avoid a conviction or, if necessary, negotiate a plea agreement to a lesser charge. If you are convicted of a felony DUI, then your attorney can advocate to the judge that you should receive probation rather than a prison sentence. If you are granted probation, then you will spend six months to a year in county jail.
Other Factors Contributing to a DUI Criminal Offense
While the concept of driving under the influence is straightforward, there are a number of factors that can have an impact on the nature of the DUI criminal offense. For example:
- Blood alcohol level (BAC): Most people associate a DUI with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more, but the law makes finer distinctions. If you are driving commercially – whether as a big rig driver or a Lyft driver – then a DUI violation is a BAC limit of .04 or higher. If you’re a regular driver and are caught with an extremely high BAC – .15 or higher – you can face enhanced penalties.
- Passenger under the age of 14: If you are convicted of driving under the influence and you had a young passenger in the car, then you are subject to a penalty enhancement. The penalty is mandatory jail time which, depending on the circumstances of your case, can range from 48 hours to 90 days.
- Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer: If you are pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence and refuse to take a breathalyzer, then you can face additional jail time, more alcohol education classes, and a longer license suspension or revocation. For example, if you’ve had a prior conviction, refusing a breathalyzer can mean an extra 96 hours in jail.
- Engaging in reckless driving: If your BAC was .08 or higher and you’re convicted of causing injury to another person while driving under the influence, then you may receive penalty enhancements if you were also driving recklessly and exceeding the posted speed limit by 30 miles per hour on the freeway or 20 miles an hour on the street. The enhancement is 60 additional days in jail, which must be served even if you are granted probation.
- Driving under the influence while under 21: California has zero tolerance laws for underage drivers, meaning that a BAC of .01 or higher can lead to a driver’s license suspension. A BAC of .05 or more carries a $100 fine and mandatory DUI school, while a BAC of .08 or more can carry the same penalties as a regular DUI if the minor’s driving was impaired.
Other Substances and Criminal DUI Offenses
While alcohol is the first substance that comes to mind when thinking about driving under the influence, it’s not the only substance that can lead to a DUI arrest and conviction. For example, even though recreational marijuana is legal in California, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal. The same is true for driving under the influence of prescription drugs or illicit drugs. It’s also a criminal offense to drive under the influence of a combination of drugs – whether prescription, legal, or illegal – and alcohol.
If you or a loved one are pulled over for driving under the influence, it’s important to know that the answer to, “Is a DUI a criminal offense?” is a resounding, “Yes.” Once you’ve been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Alameda County, there’s a tremendous amount at stake – your reputation, your financial well-being, and even your freedom. That’s why you need a seasoned Dublin DUI attorney by your side. Your Alameda County DUI lawyer will ensure that you get the best possible defense. That could result in the charges being dropped altogether, in a plea bargain to a lesser crime that doesn’t count as a prior DUI, or in more lenient sentencing.
A DUI conviction in California has serious repercussions. You don’t want to – and can’t afford to – gamble on your future. Silver Law Firm will be at your side, guiding you through every step of the process and making sure that your DUI charges will have the fewest possible negative consequences.