If you're arrested for drunk driving, you'll likely be charged with two offenses: (1) driving under the influence of alcohol (and/or drugs), and (2) driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08% of higher (assuming you didn't refuse to take a chemical test). You can be convicted of both offenses, but can only be punished for one. The penalties are identical and can be severe: jail, heavy fines, DUI school, possible ignition interlock devices, probation -- not counting the intangible factors such as car insurance, criminal records, employment issues, security clearances and more.
How can I avoid these harsh penalties?
Of course, these penalties be avoided altogether by either obtaining an acquittal in trial or a dismissal of charges (usually because of legal problems uncovered by your attorney). Short of that, penalties and other consequences can be lessened by negotiating a plea of guilty to a less serious charge. Essentially, your attorney and the prosecutor agree to you pleading guilty to a less serious offense, with the DUI and .08% charges being dropped.
What less serious offenses can my attorney negotiate for me?
There are a number of possibilities, but the most common is "reckless driving" (California Vehicle Code sections 23103/23103.5). There are two types of reckless driving: so-called "wet reckless" and "dry reckless". "Wet reckless", the more serious of the two, is reckless driving with alcohol involved; it will likely include no jail, a smaller fine and shorter DUI school. The "dry reckless" will generally involve nothing more than a smaller fine. An additional -- and important -- difference is that if you're arrested again for drunk driving within ten years, the "wet reckless" will count as a prior conviction so that the potential punishment will be more severe; the "dry reckless" does not.
So how do I get my case reduced to reckless driving?
Find a reputable, experienced and specialized DUI attorney. He can review your case, then investigate police breathalyzer records (calibration, maintenance, operation), officer qualifications, reanalysis of blood or urine samples, possible video tapes and radio logs, etc.
Quite simply, the prosecutor decides whether to reduce the charges or drop them altogether. The reputation of your attorney -- and what he has uncovered in his investigations -- will be critical in that decision.
Additional resources provided by the author
For further information concerning California DUI laws, penalties and license suspensions, visit the websites maintained for Mr. Taylor’s statewide in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, and San Diego.
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