Note from the editor: This article was submitted by one of our readers, and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DrunkDrivingLawyers.com. However, we chose to publish it as a way of offering a first hand account of a DUI case for those who are facing a similar situation for the first time.
Getting Arrested for a DUI Sucks... Being Convicted of a DUI Sucks More.
My DUI happened in California, but I'm sure every state has similar procedures, penalties and fines. If you've gone through a DUI arrest and conviction, much of this should sound familiar. If you've just been arrested for a first time DUI, then the first part should still be fresh in your mind, and the rest will be a narrative of things to come.
I was stupid. I had already made it home from the bar, but found there was nothing to eat, so I figured I'd run out and get something. It was 2am. And I drove to Jack-in-the-Box. Drunk. Suffice it to say, if you're at Jack-in-the-Box at two o'clock in the morning, you've probably been out drinking, and the police know this.
I got my food, and started back home when I saw the flashing red and blue lights.
I won't go into the specifics of the arrest, except to say I passed all those stupid "walk the line" tests, but blew 0.14.
Learn more about Your Rights at a DUI Stop.
Jail is a terrible place to be. After the booking and blood test (which showed a BAC of 0.15), I was deposited into a concrete holding cell with about 20 other guys, most of whom also got arrested for DUI. It smelled terrible, and trying to sleep was damn near impossible. The only place to lay down was the seating area which wrapping the circumference of the room, and was basically a concrete slab. I took off my sweatshirt, used it as a pillow and eventually fell asleep.
I woke up to find I had somehow fallen to the floor, and was sleeping with my head right next to the toilet. At least it was close, because I needed to use it. Keep in mind, the toilet is a stainless steel unit, attached to the wall, with nothing around it, and my need at the moment required that I drop my pants in front of 20+ strangers to do my business. I held out as long as I could, apologized in advance to my fellow cellmates, and did the deed.
After what seemed like a few hours, the guards brought in breakfast. It was a Styrofoam tray wrapped in cellophane. Inside were two slices of bread, a piece of bologna and a single serving package of kool-aid powder to mix with the water from the faucet.
I was in there long enough to also receive lunch and dinner. Both of which were identical to breakfast.
I never understood Einstein’s theory of time relativity, until I spent the day in jail. If you would've asked me right before my release, I would've told you I'd been in there for three weeks. It was 12 hours from the time I awoke. I'm actually glad there wasn't a clock in there, because it probably would have made things worse to know that last hour had really only been forty five seconds.
Once I was released, I had to go get my car back from the impound lot. I walked up to the window, checkbook in hand, and asked how much I owe them. $400. Jesus Christ, that’s like overnight parking in San Francisco.
A man in a greasy jumpsuit pulled my car out for me. I got in. It reeked of auto garage and stale French fries. I left my burger and fries in the car from the previous night. Oh yeah, I didn't even get to eat.
I drove home and showered in an attempt to get the smell of that holding cell off of me. I didn't work, it had permeated into every pore and into my nasal passages. I can still smell it now.
My First Court Appearance
My brother had gotten arrested for a DUI ten years prior, so I asked him if I should get an attorney. "No dude, you'll be fine, just a slap on the wrist". I had no idea what to expect. I got to the court, and listened as each defendant got up, one at a time, and elected an extension so as to speak to an attorney. I did the same. The judge asked if I would like to enter in a plea or talk to an attorney. I chose the latter.
Learn more about the first court appearance: The DUI Arraignment.
I went to the public defender’s office to see if I could get some advice. I filled out some paperwork asking about my income and monthly expenses, then talk to the secretary. Turns out I made too much money to qualify for a public defender. I fell into the income spectrum where the majority of people do. I made too much for free legal assistance, but couldn't easily afford to spend several thousand on a private defense attorney.
So, after much thought, I decided I would just represent myself.
Back to Court for Sentencing
I went back to court, and sat, waiting as the defendants ahead of me entered their pleas. Surprisingly, none were represented by an attorney. I thought I could pick up some strategy as I waited, but everyone just entered in a plea of guilty and took the standard penalties.
I did the same, and was ordered to pay $1,600, serve 6 days in jail (although I could do the equivalent in community service as an alternative), attend weekly DUI school for nine months (after which I would get my driver’s license reinstated), and court ordered probation for three years. During the next three years of probation, if I were to get pulled over and blow ANYTHING above a 0.00, I would get a 2nd DUI.
Learn more about DUI: Charges & Penalties.
Community service is actually a "privilege". You get to do one day of community service in lieu of every one day you should serve in jail. As a result, you have to pay for the opportunity to pull weeds, pick up trash, and scrub bird droppings off the blacktop of an elementary school.
I went to the sheriffs’ office as instructed by the court to offer up the following three weekends to serve my community. It cost me $350. They charge per day (in my county it's almost $60 per day) so the more time you get the more it's going to cost you.
I was ordered to report at 7am on the following Saturday to a local school district grounds management office. I arrived 15 minutes early, and found that I would be spending the next three weekends with mostly young guys, teenagers who'd been busted selling pot, fighting at school, stealing cars, or driving drunk.
It actually wasn't so bad. It was summertime. I got a tan and a good workout. I'm just glad I wasn't on the side of the freeway in an orange jumpsuit as most people are.
Restricted License and Insurance
During the previous three months, since before my first court appearance, I had been driving everyday on a suspended license. I had to get to work, and I couldn't get a restricted license until 30 days after my guilty plea.
In order to get the restricted license, I would have to show proof of insurance, and my insurance company would have to submit an SR-22 form to the DMV, which proves that my insurance company knows about my DUI conviction.
My insurance company sent me a letter telling me they were denying me coverage. Shit.
Now I had to go looking around for new car insurance. I finally found a company that would cover a driver with a recent DUI. My monthly insurance premium went up by more than five times! I was now paying $230 per month, vs. $45 before my DUI.
The bills were really beginning to rack up at this point.
Finally, after working out the insurance issues, I went to the DMV, forked over $120, and was granted a restricted license. This allowed me to drive to and from work, and to and from any DUI related activities. All I had left to do now, is the nine months of DUI school.
Normally, at least in California, you would do 6 months of DUI classes on a first time DUI conviction. But since my BAC was so high, they tacked on three extra months. This also meant it was going to cost me more.
Just over $1,600, about the same as my court fine. Fortunately, I could pay in installments of $200 per month until my classes were done. Good thing, because this whole thing was already getting me seriously in the whole on my credit cards.
DUI school consists of six weekly "Alcohol Education" classes, and 30 some weeks of group sessions. I did the education classes first. In these, we would sit in something akin to a 3rd grade classroom, and watch two hour long videos on the devastating effects of drunk driving accidents, and the emotional toll taken on a family with an alcoholic parent, as well as various videos on the health effects of long-term consumption of alcohol.
The instructors were not kidding around. If you were even one minute late, you would be barred from admittance. Do it enough, and you have to go back to court and start all over again.
One person actually showed up with alcohol on his breath. The instructor decided to do a "random" BAC test. Everyone was tested, but he already knew who he was going after.
This guy was on his LAST day of DUI school, and claimed to have booze in his system from the previous night. He must have drank a lot, because it was 8pm. Regardless, he was sent on his way, back to court, and would have to do ALL nine months all over again. Bad move.
Once the "education" portion was done, I began the group classes. In these, we would basically sit in a circle and discuss the previous week, what we did, how work was going, etc. Then, the instructor would choose a topic and we would go around the circle discussing it. The topic always revolved around alcoholism. I imagine it's similar to going to an AA class.
The real education was discussing everyone’s DUI story, their penalties, and what they did in court. This is what I took out of it:
Get the best DUI lawyer you can afford.
Seriously, there were people who's stories were much worse than mine, but somehow, the consequences were less severe. One young woman past out while driving on the bay bridge on the way home from San Francisco, hit the guardrail, and ended up sideways across two lanes. BAC 0.22. DUI school: 3 months.
Another girl ran into someone’s house, then passed out in her car, only to wake up to the police tapping on her window. Her charge in court? A wet reckless. This is a step below a DUI, doesn't require an SR-22, only three months of DUI school and that’s it.
Yet another guy got arrested one block from his house after a party. He blew 0.20. Also a wet reckless. 3 months of DUI school, and that's it.
I can't imagine how many people with stories similar to mine that I didn't meet because a lawyer got them off completely.
Learn more about Getting Help With a DUI Case.
The Final Tally
Once I had finished my DUI school, with a flawless attendance record I might add (every time you missed a class, even if scheduled, you had to pay $20 and I wasn't paying anything I didn't have to), I was able to get my drivers license back and move on with my life. One final payment of $90 to the DMV and I was done.
All in, my DUI cost me a little over ten grand. Not to mention, three lost weekends, having to leave work early once a week for nine months to drive 30 miles to DUI school, and that time warped night in jail that continues to haunt my dreams.
My suggestion to anyone charged with a DUI. Talk to a dui lawyer and find out if you have a shot at a reduced sentence or beating it altogether, especially if your BAC was close to 0.1.
California DUI Guy