Here in California, even a single DUI conviction can complicate your life greatly. A first-time conviction can cost you jail time, license restrictions, fines and mandatory classes—not to mention embarrassment in your home and professional life. However, these difficulties pale in comparison to what you could face for multiple DUIs. By the time you reach three or more convictions, California law places you in an entirely different category, in part thanks to the “three-strike” criminal penalty structure. If you are facing your third (or more) DUI conviction, you’ll need to be prepared for some major changes in your life.
The penalties for three or more DUI convictions within 10 years are spelled out in California Vehicle Code 23546 and 23548. We’ve summarized the key points below so you’ll know what to expect and how to prepare.
Be Prepared to Spend Time in Jail
Under California law, a third DUI conviction carries a minimum penalty of 120 days in jail—and since this is a mandatory minimum, there’s not much a defense attorney can do to mitigate it once you’re found guilty. Depending on the offense and the circumstances, your jail time could be as long as 1 year, and even longer with aggravating circumstances.
Be Prepared to Live Without a Driver’s License
When you get out of jail, you’ll need to use public transportation or find rides for at least three years. That’s how long your driver’s license will be suspended on a third DUI conviction—four years, if it’s your fourth DUI. In certain cases, the suspension may be converted to a restricted license after 18 months, but just be prepared to do without your license for a while.
Be Prepared to Spend Two-and-a-Half Years in Treatment
A third DUI offense in California requires you to participate in a minimum 30-month approved DUI/Alcohol treatment program. This requirement actually could serve you well, especially if you struggle with alcoholism; regardless, the state assumes third-time offenders need this treatment, so you won’t be given the option if you’re convicted.
Be Prepared to Pay Stiff Fines and Fees
Technically, the fines are the same for a third DUI offense as they are for a first or second offense ($390-$1000, or a total of about $1800 with additional fees). However, penalty assessments usually cause this amount to go up exponentially, sometimes as high as $18,000.
Be Prepared to Lose Your Vehicle
It’s not a guarantee, but the court may impound your vehicle for up to 90 days for a third DUI offense. If you’re being charged as a felon (see below), you could lose your car upon conviction. You may be required to pay daily storage fees for the vehicle while it’s impounded.
Be Prepared to Get an Interlock Device
If and when you do get your car back—and remember, you’re not allowed to drive it for three years, anyway—the law requires you have an Ignition Interlock device installed. This device employs breathalyzer technology and will keep your car from starting if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath.
The points above only address the direct consequences you’ll face under California law for three or more DUI convictions; they do not address the additional complications you may face in your life as a result—the chain-reaction effects of these penalties, if you will. Let’s look at some of the collateral damage your life may take as a result of multiple DUI convictions:
• Be prepared to lose your job. Some employers obviously won’t hold your job for you if you’re spending three or more months in jail. (Paying the fines can obviously be more difficult if you don’t have an income.)
• Be prepared to have greater difficulty in getting another job. When you get out of jail, you’ll have multiple DUIs on your police record. Any employer who runs a background check on you (which today is most employers) will see this information, and it may affect their decision to hire you.
• Be prepared for your insurance rates to skyrocket. When you start driving again, the DUI convictions will remain on your record for at least 10 years, putting you in a high-risk category.
• Be prepared for your family to go through hardship. Remember that what happens to you also happens to your family, at least indirectly. Jail time for you can deeply affect others in your household, both emotionally and financially. They, too, must deal with the lack of income, the increased expenses, the possible loss of a vehicle, the aggravation of the Ignition Interlock, etc.
Four-Plus DUIs = Felony Charges
If your DUI caused someone to be hurt or killed, you could face felony charges even if it’s your first offense. However, a prosecutor will almost always try a fourth DUI as a felony even if no one got hurt, based on your three prior convictions. If you’re convicted for a felony DUI, not only will you face all the consequences mentioned above, but you could lose your vehicle, lose your license for four years (possibly permanently) and face between 16 months and 4 years in state prison. In addition, a felony stays on your record permanently, making it more difficult to get hired and completely disqualifying you from certain types of jobs.
Obviously, the best way to avoid a third or fourth DUI offense is not to get a first or second DUI. Practice sound judgment and just don’t get behind the wheel if you indulge. If you find yourself in need of legal representation over a DUI charge, please call our offices to learn more about your options.