What are Sentence Enhancements and How Can They Affect My California DUI Case?

The DUI penalties for a conviction of driving under the influence in California can be severe. Even a first-time DUI misdemeanor could carry jail time for a DUI conviction. Sentence enhancements could result in the penalties for a first-time DUI conviction being as harsh as the penalties for felony drunk driving.

What Are Sentence Enhancements?

A sentence enhancement is an additional punishment for a conviction of driving under the influence. The courts add the additional punishment to the penalties usually ordered for a DUI conviction. 

The sentence enhancements could result in:

  • More days in jail or a prison sentence
  • A longer period for driver’s license suspension or revocation
  • Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices
  • Higher fines, assessments, and fees
  • Longer time spent in DUI school or a drug/alcohol treatment program
  • Mandatory restitution payments to victims
  • Vehicle impoundment for longer periods
  • Longer terms of DUI probation (summary probation)
  • Extended periods of community service
  • Enhanced conditions of probation 
  • Determining whether a person can receive probation or must serve time in jail

One of the worst results of sentence enhancements is the additional criminal charges you could face. If the police charge you with additional crimes associated with driving under the influence, those offenses are sentenced separately from the drunk driving charge. Therefore, you could receive multiple criminal sentences that could add up to 10, 20, or more years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines, assessments, and restitution.

What is Considered Driving Under the Influence in California?

Drunk driving can be charged under one of two sections in California Vehicle Code §23152. Therefore, you could be charged with both offenses.

The first DUI offense is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. It does not state that you have to have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. It only prohibits people from driving under the influence of alcohol. 

The second charge is driving a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher. You are presumed to be unable to operate a motor vehicle safely if your BAC is above the legal limit. 

Another part of code section 23152 makes it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs. As a result, the police could charge you with driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.

What Are Common Sentence Enhancements for California DUI Cases?

The circumstances of your DUI arrest could result in enhanced penalties. Aggravating circumstances that often result in harsher punishments for drunk driving include:

Prior DUI Convictions on Your Record

DUI convictions are priorable offenses. That means every DUI conviction you have within the past ten years counts toward your current drunk driving conviction. If the DUI is a felony offense, it does not matter how old the conviction is on your record. Felony DUI convictions always count against you.

Generally, the penalties for a first-time DUI conviction without aggravating circumstances are:

  • Up to six months in county jail (usually no time with a clean criminal record and driving record)
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000
  • Summary probation from three to five years
  •  A three or nine-month alcohol/drug education program
  • Six to ten months suspended driving privileges that generally can be converted to a restricted driver’s license or drive without restrictions by installing an ignition interlock device (IID)

However, if you have prior DUI convictions on your driving record, the penalties for another drunk driving offense increase. You face additional time in jail, higher fines, longer driver’s license suspension, mandatory DUI school, and longer periods of summary probation. In addition, the judge could impose additional penalties at his discretion. 

Excessive Speeding and Reckless Driving While Under the Influence

California Vehicle Code §23582 enhances the sentence for a DUI conviction if the person was speeding and recklessly driving while under the influence. The sentence enhancement applies if the driver was:

  • Convicted of driving under the influence, a BAC of .08% or higher, or DUI causing injury; AND,
  • The driver exceeded the speed limit by 30 mph on the freeway or 20 mph on other streets; AND,
  • Drove in a reckless manner.

A driver who was speeding and driving recklessly must attend DUI school (i.e., drug and/or alcohol education program). Additionally, the person faces 60 days more in jail for reckless driving and speeding while intoxicated. 

Even if the court grants probation on the DUI charge, you still must serve the 60 days in jail for the enhancement. Also, if this is the first DUI conviction, you must complete DUI school.

Causing Collision, Injury, or Death While Driving Under the Influence 

If you cause a collision while driving under the influence, the court or prosecutor may want community service or community labor as a probationary term. Another probationary term will be to compensate the victim for any economic losses.

When you cause injury to another person, you can be charged under Vehicle code 23153- DUI Causing Injury. This can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts of the case.

Furthermore, the police officers or prosecutor could charge you with other crimes related to the DUI accident. For example, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if the DUI accident results in the death of another person. In addition, you could be charged with felony hit and run if you leave the accident scene. 

Having a High Blood Alcohol Content Level

The legal limit for drunk driving charges nationwide is .08%. Therefore, if your BAC is .08% or above, the law presumes that the alcohol in your system impairs your driving abilities. However, California Vehicle Code §23578 allows judges to impose enhanced penalties when a person is arrested with a BAC level of .15% or higher. 

Refusing to Take a Chemical Test after a DUI Arrest

California’s implied consent law requires drivers to submit to chemical testing for BAC levels after being arrested on drunk driving charges. CVC §23578 also states that judges may impose enhanced sentences if a person refuses to take a chemical breath or urine test after a DUI arrest.

You can refuse a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test without penalty. A PAS is a roadside breathalyzer test. However, refusing an evidentiary chemical test (post-DUI arrest BAC test) can result in enhanced penalties for a DUI conviction and other punishments. 

Under this code section, the law states that the court “shall consider” a test refusal or excess BAC as factors which “may justify” an enhanced sentence. Therefore, it is in the judge’s discretion whether or not to increase the penalties for these two aggravating circumstances. 

Drunk Driving with a Child Under 14 Years of Age in the Vehicle 

Driving with a child in the car can result in enhanced penalties under California Vehicle Code §23572. The penalties under this code section are mandatory. Therefore, if the state proves you were driving under the influence with a child under 14 years of age in the vehicle, you will be sentenced to the harsher punishment. 

In addition to the penalties for driving under the influence, you face additional jail time added to your sentence:

  • 48 hours for a DUI first offense
  • 10 days for a DUI second offense
  • 30 days for a DUI third offense
  • 90 days for a DUI fourth offense

Furthermore, you could also face child endangerment charges for having a minor in the vehicle while intoxicated. Child endangerment is a wobbler offense. Therefore, you could face a misdemeanor or felony charge.

For a misdemeanor charge, you might serve up to one year in jail and pay a $1,000 fine. A felony charge increases your fine up to $190,000 with up to six years in state prison.

Underage Drinking and Driving

California has two DUI laws that specifically target underage drivers who consume alcohol and drive:

  • Underage Driving with BAC of .05% or higher (CVC §23140)
  • California’s Zero Tolerance Law for Underage Drivers (CVC §23136)

They may also be charged with either of the above charges, which carry separate penalties for a conviction. Underage drivers charged with DUI face significant sentence enhancements. The Zero Tolerance Law is a civil charge that carries a mandatory one-year driver’s license suspension for a first offense. 

Furthermore, anyone under the age of 21 years is presumed to give consent to a PAS test (roadside breathalyzer) when police officers detain them for suspected drunk driving. Also, an underage driver could be charged with any DUI offenses that apply to all drivers. Therefore, a drunk underage driver could face substantial sentence enhancements, depending on the circumstances of the arrest and the charges.

Should I Contact a California DUI Defense Attorney?

Most DUI attorneys in California offer free consultations. Therefore, it does not cost you anything to talk with a California DUI lawyer. DUI convictions can have long-term consequences on many aspects of your life. Instead of pleading guilty to a DUI offense, talk with a criminal defense attorney about options for fighting DUI charges.

DUI sentence enhancements can be severe. Don’t let a prosecutor push you into accepting a plea deal that is not good for you. Instead, make sure you understand your legal rights from a trusted advocate for people charged with crimes in California.

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