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New Sentencing Laws

California has passed new laws that affect drivers accused of driving under the influence (DUI) on or after Sept. 20, 2005. The new California DUI legislation affects many aspects of California DUI sentencing from license suspension to probation conditions. A California criminal attorney who specializes in drunk driving defense can explain how the new driving under the influence laws will impact penalties for DUI and DMV offenses committed after the new laws took effect.

The most notable change in the DUI laws is that a California court sentencing a driver convicted of driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit no longer has authority to suspend or restrict a California driver’s license which has been issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). That authority now rests entirely with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Under the old DUI sentencing laws, the court could order the license suspended, but only the DMV could actually suspend it. Now, only the Department of Motor Vehicles can impose a DUI license suspension. This can be done either through a DMV administrative per se hearing or because the DMV was notified by the California criminal court of a driving under the influence conviction. The California criminal courts are now completely divested of authority relating to California driver license issues.

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Attorneys for the firm represent clients accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or driving with a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit in San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Alameda, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Sonoma and Napa counties.

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Any driver convicted in California of first-time drunk driving will now automatically have his or her California driver license suspended for six months by the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, the driver can apply for a restricted license to drive to and from work, in the course of employment to and from the DUI alcohol education classes. Another change involves alcohol education courses. Courts used to use a benchmark of .20 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) determine which DUI education program the driver must attend. The threshold has now been lowered to .15 percent BAC.

Under the new California DUI laws, any driver who refuses probation receives a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 96 hours, 48 hours of which must be served continuously, with the remainder to be served within six months.

Additionally, the new California legislation removed mandatory jail time for first-time DUI drivers who accept probation. However, a California judge can choose to send a driver convicted of driving under the influence to jail for 48 hours to six months, as an additional condition of probation. The fines remain the same for a first offense DUI for both drivers who accept probation as well as for those who refuse probation – $390 to $1,000. However, the fines are more than triple those amounts when penalty assessments imposed by the California courts are included. The current penalty assessment is 171 percent of the fine, meaning that a $100 fine is increased to $271.

California motorists convicted of drunk driving charges twice within 10 years will now lose their licenses for two years. The court will also require the driver to attend a DUI alcohol education program for 18 months.

Additionally, California drivers convicted of a second DUI within 10 years who accept probation now face 10 days to one year in jail, or 96 hours of continuous custody in jail. However, California drivers sentenced to the longer of the two options often are allowed by the court to serve the term in a work-release program or other alternative sentencing program. California drivers who decline probation face a jail sentence ranging from 90 days to one year.

There are no major changes in sentencing for California drivers convicted of a third- or fourth-offense DUI under the new legislation. However, it remains harsh. A person arrested for driving under the influence who has suffered two prior convictions for an alcohol related driving offense whether in California or another state, faces 120 days in jail, fines, fees, and a three-year license suspension. Drivers who have completed alcohol education classes may receive a restricted California driver license after 12 months.

A California DUI arrest that resulted in injury to a person other than the driver will result in five days to one year in jail, fines and fees, and alcohol education courses. Drivers who decline probation face jail sentences of 90 days to one year. In either event, each will lose their driver’s license for one year. Furthermore, there is no provision for a restricted license on a first-time California DUI with injury conviction.

A second offense California DUI conviction which caused injury will result in 30 days to one year in jail with alcohol education classes, or 120 days to one year with no alcohol classes. Drivers who decline probation face a jail term of 120 days to one year. In either case, the driver faces fines and a three-year license suspension, with a restricted license available after 18 months if the driver completes an 18-month education program.

California’s new drunk driving legislation creates unique challenges and obstacles for those accused of driving under the influence in California. A San Francisco Bay Area attorney who specializes in driving under the influence cases can help drivers arrested and charged with a California driving under the influence case navigate both the court and DMV processes.

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