Even a first-time DUI offense is punished harshly in California. A conviction may subject you to fines, jail time, DUI School programs, etc. Therefore, if arrested, you will need all the help you can get to avoid a conviction. With the help of a DUI defense lawyer, your charges may be dropped, and so you won’t have to face these penalties. In a case where your charges can’t be dismissed, you may get a charge reduction, which means lenient consequences.

If you are in Orange County, you can reach out to us at Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm.  Our attorneys use the knowledge and legal understanding of DUI laws to fight clients’ cases and get them the best possible results. Call us as soon as you get arrested so we can scrutinize your case and prepare the defense on time. This article explains a first offense DUI in California in detail.

Understanding DUI Laws

When you get arrested for drunk-driving in Orange County, you will most likely be prosecuted under two separate laws:

  • Vehicle Code (VC) 23152(a) DUI
  • VC 23152(b), driving with a BAC of .08% or more

These are different crimes, and you could be prosecuted and convicted of any of them or both. VC 23152(a) defines the law on simple DUI.  Under this law, you are forbidden from driving when you are intoxicated with drugs, alcohol, or both. 

On the other hand, VC 23152(b) is the DUI per se law. Under this statute, you are prohibited from driving a vehicle when you have a .08% or more BAC.  You can still be prosecuted under VC 23152(b), whether or not you are impaired. What matters is that your BAC measured .08% or higher when you got arrested.

Note that the 08% BAC limit applies to non-commercial adult motorists. Underage drivers are prohibited from DUI with a BAC of as low as .01%. For commercial motorists, the blood alcohol limit is set at .04%.

First Offense DUI

A first offense DUI is charged if it is your first time to be arrested for drunk-driving. Or, it could be charged if, since your past DUI conviction, you haven’t had another DUI conviction again for the past ten years. Generally, a first drunk or drugged driving offense is a misdemeanor. Its punishments are both administrative and criminal.

DMV and Court Proceedings

Being arrested for DUI subjects you to two different legal proceedings. That is a DMV administrative hearing that takes place at the DMV headquarters and a jury trial that takes place in a criminal court.

The Distinction between Criminal Court and DMV Proceedings

The main reason DMV proceedings happen is to decide whether the department should allow you to keep your license or it should suspend it. The hearing officer presiding over your case at the DMV can only suspend or revoke your driver's license. He/she cannot put you in jail or fine you. The DMV will suspend your driving privileges unless you timely request and then win the administrative hearing.

Note that the hearing doesn’t come automatically, and it isn’t compulsory. You have to ask for it within ten days of your arrest only if you wish to challenge the automatic license suspension. Failure to request a hearing, or if you lose the hearing, the DMV will suspend your privileges to drive for six months.

Note that the decision by the DMV to suspend your license is distinct from the court’s decision to do so. It doesn’t affect your criminal case. Neither does it affect possible criminal consequences. Luckily, you can challenge a first DUI arrest in court and at the DMV to prevent a license suspension and any other penalties imposed by the court.

The criminal court presiding over your case can also suspend your privilege to drive. It can do this whether or not you win the DMV hearing. And unlike the administrative hearing, a judge can subject you to criminal penalties to add on a suspended driver’s license. These penalties may include jail time, probation, and fines.

Also, unlike an administrative hearing which is not mandatory, criminal court proceedings aren’t optional. The prosecutor is left to decide whether to or not to charge you and the counts with which he/she will charge you. After being charged, your attorney has to appear in court for all court proceedings. This is inclusive of the arraignment proceedings at which you will plead not guilty, guilty, or enter a no-contest plea.

As we said earlier, the outcome of the DMV does not affect court penalties. However, the results of your trial may impact the DMV disposition. For instance, if the court finds that you are not guilty, usually, the DMV will reverse license suspension. But, this happens only if the hearing officer finds the decision of the court amounts to a real acquittal against winning on a technicality. 

The Consequences for First Offense DUI

Criminal punishments for first DUI offenders vary across counties and courts. In Orange County, first-time offenders may face the following penalties:

  • Informal probation for three to five years (mostly three years)
  • Three to nine months of a DUI school program (mainly three months)
  • Penalty assessments and fines adding up to between one thousand five hundred dollars and two thousand dollars
  • Suspension of the driver’s license for six months, or, a defendant can acquire an IID restricted license or a restricted license
  • A jail sentence of not more than six months
  • IID Installation in the defendant’s car for up to six months
  • Work release
  • The incapability of traveling to Canada. The defendant may prevent this punishment if he/she takes the necessary steps to solve the issue with the Canadian immigration agency

Note that sometimes you can get the charges against you to be reduced. If you manage to do so, you will not face a court-ordered suspension of your license. Although, the DMV might still order that your license be suspended if you have accumulated sufficient points on your DMV record.

Probation Sentence Instead of Time in Jail

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your first DUI of alcohol or DUID offense, the court may impose a probation sentence instead of a jail term.   If your penalty is probation, you will face little or, in other cases, no jail time. However, a DUI probation sentence comes with various conditions the court orders against you. These conditions are mandatory, and you have to adhere to them for the probation to count. They include:

  • You may not operate a vehicle with any detectable alcohol quantity in your bloodstream
  • You may not decline to take a drunk-driving chemical test in case you get rearrested for another DUID or DUI of alcohol offense
  • You may not commit any further crimes
  • You must have your car installed with an IID for up to six months

In addition to the above conditions, the judge may impose other optional conditions of drunk-driving probation. The judge will consider the circumstances of a specific case to impose these conditions. They include:

  • Victim restitution. This condition is imposed if you caused a crash while DUI
  • Attendance at Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings
  • Involvement in the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Program

If you are on probation and violate any of these conditions, you may have your probation sentence revoked. The court could then restore the original punishments of a first DUI, which usually includes jail time.

How You Can Win a DMV Administrative Hearing

The chances of winning at the administrative hearing are minimal. However, winning isn’t impossible. If you seek the help of a skilled defense lawyer, he/she may prepare a strong defense that will help you prevail. The DMV considers various factors in determining whether or not to suspend your license. These factors are:

  • If you completed the required DUI chemical tests
  • Did the arresting officer have probable reason to believe you were intoxicated?
  • Did you have a BAC over the standard acceptable limit when you drove?
  • Were you legally arrested?
  • Did the arresting officer advise you that if you didn’t complete or refused a DUI chemical testing, your license could be suspended?

Obtaining a Restricted License to Drive After a Conviction of First Offense DUI

Drivers whose licenses get suspended for a drunk-driving offense can acquire a restricted license, except if:

  • The court forbids it explicitly (this rarely happens), or
  • The reason for the suspension was because the driver refused or failed to complete chemical testing

There are two kinds of restricted driving privileges. Each license has its rules. They are a restricted license and an IID restricted license.

An IID Restricted License

The IID restricted license enables you to drive to any place provided you keep an IID installed in your car. An IID works similarly as a breathalyzer. It prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol.

You may apply for an IID license immediately. In case the DMV has your license suspended after an arrest, you need to have an Ignition Interlock Device in your car for four months. If you are convicted of drunk-driving in a criminal court, you would have to use this device for six months. Keep in mind that if your BAC is 0.2% or higher, the IID license is prolonged from six months to ten months.

A Restricted License

You may also obtain a restricted license once your original license gets suspended for thirty days. The restricted license will enable you to:

  • Drive yourself or other members of your family to get medical treatment for any severe medical problem
  • Drive during work hours if your job entails driving, or to and from your workplace
  • Drive to or from a DUI School or treatment program
  • Drive a child dependent on you to or from school in case there is no school bus or public transportation.

Typically, you apply for a restricted driver’s license if:

  • Your drunk-driving charges are still pending
  • You don’t want to use the IID restricted license, and
  • The DMV suspends your license.

For you to obtain an IID restricted license or restricted license, the DMV will need you to file an SR22 form with them. Other conditions to get these types of driver's licenses are:

  • Proof that you enrolled in a drunk-driving or drugged driving treatment program
  • Paying a residue fee of $125 or $100 in case you were an underage driver and your license got suspended under the Zero Tolerance Law

Permanent Record for First DUI Offenders

If you are convicted of DUID or DUI of alcohol, your criminal record will be permanently stored unless you have it expunged. Record expungement is possible for any person whose sentence included DUI probation, and he/she completed the probation. 

To have your criminal record expunged, you have to present a petition in court. Then, the judge will take the time to review your petition and confirm its validity. If the request to delete your DUI conviction record is granted, you will be permitted to withdraw your guilty plea or plea of no contest. After that, you will enter another plea. This time, you will plead not guilty to DUI charges, and the court will dismiss your case.

Expunging your DUI criminal record comes with several advantages. One primary benefit is for job-seeking purposes.  The  Ban-the-box statute already forbids any employer from inquiring about one’s criminal convictions when interviewing him/her.

However, after you have been offered a conditional position, the employer might lawfully question you about your convictions. Usually, at this point, a conviction of DUI has to be revealed. But, a conviction that has been deleted from the public records doesn’t have to be uncovered.

A current or potential employer is not supposed to discriminate against a given employee on the grounds of an expunged record. Therefore, if a drunk-driving conviction was deleted, an employer is not supposed to make it count when considering someone for promotions or employment.

Other advantages of deleting your criminal record from the public database include:

  • Record expungement makes it easy to apply for a professional license
  • Record deletion helps prevent a sentence from being applied when impeaching a person’s credibility in a court of law. A deleted record can only be used if the person is being charged with a subsequent DUI offense
  • In some instances, record deletion helps a person to avoid immigration-related consequences like deportation or inadmissibility

Aggravating Factors That May Enhance First Offense DUI Penalties

Several aggravating factors could increase the consequences you would face for a conviction of DUI. The factors will apply whether or not it is your first offense. The various aggravating factors that could apply in your case include:

  • Refusing to take a DUI chemical test
  • Driving when you have a BAC of .15% or greater
  • Causing a crash while driving under the influence
  • Driving the car at above the legal speed limits (over 30 miles per hour past the stipulated limit of highway driving or over 20 miles per hour past the specified limit for street driving)
  • Having minors who are below 14 years in the vehicle (this may also trigger a child endangerment charge under PC 273a)
  • Being below the age of twenty-one when driving under the influence.

Whatever amount of increased penalty that is imposed depends on what factor was present in your case and your criminal history. Notably, the judge will consider whether or not you have past DUI convictions.

The Punishments for a First Offense DUI Resulting in Injury

You will be charged under VC 23153, DUI resulting in an injury or injuries when you drive while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol, and as a result, another person gets injured. In this case, the other person who gets injured could be a passenger of the other vehicle, another driver, cyclist, or pedestrian. It can also be a passenger in your car.

VC 23153 is a wobbler offense. By wobbler, it means it could be charged either as a felony or misdemeanor. Whether a prosecutor will charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depends on your criminal history and the specific facts of your case.

When DUI resulting in an injury is your first drunk-driving offense, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. Though, if the facts of the case warrant, you could be charged with a felony.  Circumstances that lead to VC 23153 violation being a felony are:

  • Death or severe harm to another party
  • A previous felony conviction of DUI
  • Multiple past convictions of drunk-driving or a wet reckless offense

The punishments for a felony conviction may include:

  • Between sixteen months and ten years of a prison sentence
  • An additional and consecutive one to six years of prison term for the surviving in injured victims. The sentence period depends on the number of victims harmed and the severity of their injuries
  • A fine ranging between $1,015 and $5,000
  • Restitution to the persons injured
  • Eighteen to thirty months of drug or alcohol school program
  • A strike on your criminal record. This penalty is imposed according to the Three strikes law

The punishments for a misdemeanor VC 23153 include:

  • Summary probation lasting between three and five years
  • A county jail sentence of at least five days to a maximum of five years
  • A fine of at least $390 to a maximum of $5,000
  • A three, eighteen, or thirty months of alcohol or drug school program
  • Between one and three years of a driver’s license suspension
  • Restitution the victims that were injured

Alternative DUI Sentences for First Offenders

Alternative sentence options can sometimes be availed to defendants that are found guilty of drunk-driving for the first time. The sentences are alternative options to a jail or prison time. They may include:

  • House arrest or electronic monitoring
  • You may be given residence in an environment inhabited by sober people
  • Community service
  • Caltrans roadside work
  • Confinement in a city or private jail

How Your Attorney Can Help You Challenge a First Offense DUI

The best you can do to contest a first offense DUI is to seek the services of a skilled DUI defense lawyer immediately you get arrested. Preparing a solid defense will be more effective in case it is done on time. Your attorney will help you in doing the following:

Filing Motions and Conducting Legal Research

Several statutes govern traffic stops as well as DUI investigations. If you have an attorney helping you, he/she will know which areas to carry his/her research on and what proof will support his/her motions. Motions the attorney could file include motion to suppress the evidence.

For example, for the police to pull you over, they must have a reasonable suspicion to do so. If the doubt of the officer weren’t reasonable, the stop would be rendered unlawful.  Any motion is filed and heard before trial. Therefore, if your attorney files a motion to dismiss your case, and it is successful, then your case will be dropped. 

Collecting Proof

An expert lawyer will try to look for and interview possible witnesses. The attorney will get video recordings of the traffic stop or take pictures of the supposed scene of the crime. For example, the arresting officer may attest that he/she flagged down the car since one of its headlamps was broken. However, upon investigation, the footage of the video may substantiate that the arresting officer never inspected the front part of the vehicle before making an arrest.

Negotiating

Most drunk-driving cases don’t reach the trial point. Instead, they come to an end due to negotiations between an attorney and the prosecution. Negotiations can lead to a plea deal to a reduced charge or a complete case dismissal. The plea deals that you can be offered include:

  • A dry reckless
  • A wet reckless
  • Drunk in public
  • An exhibition of speed

However, there are cases where the prosecution is not likely to offer you reduced charges. These include when your DUI caused an accident, you had a BAC of more than 0.10%, and your case had an aggravating factor or factors. An expert attorney would know what evidence would persuade the prosecution to dismiss your case or lower the charges.

Get an Experienced First Offense DUI Attorney Near Me

California is one of the states that have implemented the harshest laws for a DUI, even for first-time offenders. You must find an experienced DUI defense lawyer who can help you in fighting any charges against you. At Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm, our attorneys may be able to defend you in court and at the DMV hearing successfully. This may help you avoid harsh penalties. Call us at 714-740-7866 for any questions or for a free consultation.