California has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country. The penalties for DUI convictions increase with each subsequent drunk driving conviction within ten years. A felony DUI conviction remains a priorable criminal offense, regardless of when the conviction occurred. Unfortunately, you could face additional penalties for driving under the influence in some cases.
California DUI laws include provisions for sentencing enhancements. You could face enhanced penalties if you are convicted of driving under the influence with aggravating circumstances. An experienced California DUI attorney can review your drunk driving charges to determine what DUI defenses could result in a dismissal or reduction in charges and penalties.
What Are Sentence Enhancements for a California DUI Conviction?
A sentence enhancement is an additional penalty imposed by statute for DUI offenses involving aggravating factors. The specific enhancements that could be added to your DUI sentence depend on the aggravating factor involved in your DUI case. Potential sentence enhancements for DUI cases include, but might not be limited to:
- Longer periods of driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Extended jail time or prison sentences
- Longer periods of summary probation (informal DUI probation)
- Increases assessments, fines, and fees
- Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs)
- Additional community service
- Longer terms for DUI school and/or alcohol and drug treatment programs
- Additional terms added for probation
- Mandatory restitution payments to DUI accident victims
- Vehicle impoundment for longer periods
Many factors could trigger enhanced sentencing for DUI charges. The factors generally increase the risk of injury to others or the threat to the general public. Therefore, in addition to being charged with DUI, you could be charged with additional crimes and traffic offenses that result in separate penalties for a conviction.
California DUI laws include several factors that can enhance DUI punishments. Examples of aggravating factors that can lead to harsher DUI sentences include:
- Prior DUI convictions on your criminal record
- DUI cases involving excessive speeds
- Driving recklessly while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Causing injury or death to individuals while driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Refusal to submit to chemical tests or breath tests after a DUI arrest
- Having a high blood alcohol content (BAC) level
- Underage drinking and driving
- DUI with a minor in the vehicle under 14 years of age
This article specifically deals with the California code section that enhances DUI penalties for excessive speed and reckless driving. More than one aggravating factor can be present in a DUI case. Therefore, the defendant could face multiple enhancements for different aggravating factors.
California Sentencing Enhancement Code for DUI With Excessive Speeds and Reckless Driving
California Vehicle Code §23582 adds enhanced penalties for speeding and reckless driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. According to the code section, an enhancement of at least 60 days in jail is added to the sentence for a DUI conviction when:
- A driver is convicted of drunk driving under California Vehicle Code §23152 or §23153; AND,
- While driving at a speed exceeding the maximum, prima facie, or posted speed limit by 30 miles per hour on a freeway or 20 miles per hour on any other street; AND,
- The driver was driving in a reckless manner.
If the driver is convicted under Vehicle Code §23582, the driver must also attend an alcohol and/or drug education program (DUI school) as part of the enhanced sentencing requirements.
It is essential to understand that the 60 days in jail is in addition to any other sentence imposed by the court for a DUI conviction. So, for example, if the judge suspends the execution of the sentence or grants DUI probation, you must still serve the 60 days in jail according to the enhanced sentence.
The enhanced penalties are mandatory. Judges may only waive these penalties when justice would be served by waiving the enhanced penalties for aggravating factors.
Fighting Speed Enhanced Penalties for a DUI in California
The state must prove each of the three legal elements for enhanced penalties to apply. Therefore, if the state proves you were driving under the influence, but fails to prove you were speeding by more than 20 to 30 miles per hour (depending on the location), enhanced penalties will not apply. Likewise, if the prosecutor proves drunk driving and speeding, but fails to prove reckless driving, the court does not impose enhanced penalties.
The burden of proving each legal requirement rests with the state. The prosecutor must prove that you are guilty of each legal element required to justify speed enhanced penalties beyond a reasonable doubt. A skilled California DUI defense lawyer understands how to raise reasonable doubt by challenging the statements by police officers and the results of BAC tests.
Furthermore, speeding does not automatically qualify as reckless driving. Therefore, the attorney may argue there is a lack of evidence proving the person was driving recklessly. Without specific and strong evidence of recklessness, the state’s argument for enhanced penalties might fail.
Negotiating a DUI Charge Down to Reckless Driving or Exhibition of Speed
Determining whether to accept a DUI plea deal depends on the facts of the case. In challenging cases, a California DUI attorney may negotiate for reduced charges. Reduced charges may avoid the enhanced penalties required under California Vehicle Code §23582. Other potential benefits of a plea deal for reduced charges include:
- The reduced charge may not be a priorable offense on your criminal record
- Reduced or no jail time
- Decrease in fines and assessments
- Less of an impact on professional licenses, student loans, scholarships, job applications, etc.
- Elimination of mandatory ignition interlock devices (IIDs)
- Reduced or no DUI school or DUI probation
- No mandatory driver’s license suspension
The reduction in fines and penalties depends on what charge the prosecutor agrees to allow you to plead guilty to instead of drunk driving charges. Reduced charges that might be available for a DUI plea agreement include:
Wet Reckless (Vehicle Code §23103.5)
Wet reckless is a common reduced sentence used for DUI plea agreements. The “wet” reference in the charge refers to a reckless driving charge involving alcohol. The law requires the court record to reflect that alcohol was involved. Therefore, wet reckless might avoid high fines, mandatory jail time, and other penalties for a DUI conviction, but it counts as a priorable offense for future DUI cases.
Dry Reckless (Vehicle Code §23103)
As a defendant, dry reckless is a better charge for a DUI plea deal because it does not count as a priorable offense for future DUI convictions. A dry reckless may not be viewed as harsh by insurance providers and other parties reviewing your criminal record.
Exhibition of Speed (Vehicle Code §23109c)
This traffic offense is used when drivers engage in a speed contest. Unfortunately, prosecutors seldom agree to reduce DUI charges to exhibition of speed charges. It is a misdemeanor offense with no note regarding alcohol. The penalties for this offense are much less harsh than the penalties for reckless driving charges.
Non-Criminal Traffic Offenses
There would need to be several potential DUI defenses and serious problems with the state’s case for a prosecutor to plead a DUI down to a traffic offense. However, an experienced California DUI defense attorney considers all possibilities. For example, if there are issues regarding probable cause, lack of evidence, or police misconduct, your DUI lawyer may propose a pleading down to a traffic offense.
Your attorney might propose pleading down to a charge of consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle or another traffic offense. Because the charges are non-criminal, you only face fines, points against your driver’s license, and traffic school for a guilty plea.
Should I Accept a DUI Plea Agreement or Proceed to Trial?
The decision to plead guilty or take your chances in court depends on many factors. The prosecutor and police officers do not give you honest, reliable advice about your legal options. Instead, you should review your options for fighting DUI charges with an experienced California drunk driving defense lawyer.
Several factors that your lawyer considers when advising you about a DUI plea agreement include, but are not limited to:
- The strength of the evidence proving your BAC level was over the legal limit of .08% (.04% for commercial drivers and for-hire drivers and .01% for underage drivers)
- Your criminal history and prior DUI convictions
- The evidence the prosecution has to prove each of the required legal elements beyond a reasonable doubt
- Whether there are aggravating factors that could lead to a much harsher sentence if you take the case to trial and lose
- The potential DUI defenses for your case and the strength of those arguments
- Evidence indicating you were impaired while operating a motor vehicle
Only you can decide whether you are comfortable fighting DUI charges in court or accepting a plea agreement. However, remember that prosecutors are experienced, trained trial lawyers. They will take advantage of your lack of knowledge regarding the law.
Before accepting a DUI plea agreement, talk to a California DUI lawyer. Verify that the plea agreement terms are in your best interest before pleading guilty to DUI charges.