What is the True Cost of a First-Time California DUI?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

You may have seen the billboards a couple years ago warning motorists that a DUI can cost a person up to $16,000 total. I suspect that it has gone up since then. People have asked me whether this figure is accurate and what they can actually expect to spend after a first-time California DUI conviction. So let’s do the math.

Now I don’t say this next thing because I’m an attorney who is trying to solicit clients, but rather I’m saying it as an attorney who knows what to expect from the court process. Hire a lawyer. Attorneys have gone through three or more years of a law school, passed the unbelievably rigorous bar exam, and eventually become licensed to practice law in California for a reason. That reason is to go to court for people. Don’t think you can do it on your own.

Having said that, attorneys can cost between $1,000 and $10,000 depending on who they are, what their reputation is, and what their experience is. You can do your own math based on these figures. But of the attorney and law firms I know, I’d say a safe average is $3,500. This will usually cover a retainer up to, but not including trial. Those costs can be much more.

Upon conviction, the court will impose fines and fees. The statutory minimum for a first time DUI is $390 and the statutory maximum is $1,000. Fortunately for first-time California DUI offenders, the court usually imposes the minimum. Unfortunately, however, the court tacks on “penalties and assessments.” It is difficult to know exactly how much these penalties and assessments will amount to. In fact, today in court I heard a judge say that even he didn’t know how much amounted to. But, as a rule of thumb, I tell my clients to expect four to five times what the base fine is. So for the sake of our discussion, let’s say an even $1,700.

Most people convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to take a three month DUI program. While people can choose from a number of programs with slightly different enrollment costs, a three month DUI program can cost a person around $575.

In Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare Counties, a person convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for five months. On average, a person can expect to pay about $100 to have the device installed and about $2.50 per day to lease the device, have it maintained, and keep it calibrated. This amounts to about $325.

If a person’s vehicle is towed and stored at a yard, which is often the case following a California DUI arrest, that person can expect to pay about $350 to have it released.

Once a person is eligible to have their license reinstated by the California DMV, they will need to pay $125 to the DMV as a reinstatement fee.

However the single most expensive cost following a California DUI conviction is the increase in insurance premiums. In order to drive following a California DUI, the California DMV will require a person to file an SR-22 form. This document certifies to the DMV that, notwithstanding the DUI conviction, a person’s insurance company still insures them for California’s minimum requirements for automobile insurance liability coverage. The exact amount it costs to maintain the SR-22 is difficult to calculate because a number of factors such as age, gender, place of residence, and the rates of the particular insurance company.

Because the amounts of increased insurance premiums are difficult to calculate, I’ll use the figure used by the 2013 Automobile Club’s estimate for a 25 year old male over a 10 year period. This was the amount used when the Automobile Club announced that the total costs of a DUI were $16,000 in 2013. This amount was $10,154.

I’ll save you from doing the math. When you add all of these figure up it amount to $16,729.

This is about as rough as an estimate as we can get. Remember there are a number of other factors that contribute to the overall cost of a DUI. Having said that, this number can still be used as a guide to what a person can expect to pay following a first-time California DUI conviction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Before you head out for a night of drinking don’t turn your $50 bar tab into a $16,000 mistake.


How Do I Choose the Right DUI Attorney?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

“What’s the difference between lawyers and vultures?”

Let’s face it, we attorneys do not have a good rap. But obviously not all attorneys are bad. And when people have been arrested for DUI and are at their most vulnerable, they must rely on attorneys to navigate their case through the maze that is the law. So how do you choose the right DUI attorney — and what will a DUI lawyer cost?

First off, you’re going to have to do some research. With so much on the line, why would you not? Ask people you know for referrals. Check the ratings of attorneys on websites like avvo.com and yelp.com. Check to see if the attorney you’re considering has had any disciplinary action against them from the California Bar Association. You can check this at calbar.org.

When attorneys become licensed to practice law, they can practice any area of law. Does that necessarily mean that they are qualified to practice every area of law? No. There are many attorneys that are “general practitioners.” This means that they take cases ranging from probate law to real estate law to DUI defense. Personally, if I have a probate case, I’m going to go to a probate lawyer. Understanding the nuances of DUI law and the science involved is crucial in defending a DUI case. If you get arrested for a DUI, wouldn’t you want an attorney who only practices DUI defense or even criminal law?

Be wary of the attorney who calls your case a “slam dunk.” No case is a “slam dunk” and very few things in law are that black and white. The By law, attorneys cannot guarantee an outcome. In fact, most of the time, DUI attorneys don’t know the facts of the case until the first court date, which is when they obtain a copy of police report. Sure, you can tell the attorney your version of the story during the consultation, but that, very often, varies wildly from what the police say.

Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean good. Having said that, you also shouldn’t shop for the cheapest quote on the market. Find out what attorneys are charging for the services you’re looking for. Again, you’re going to have to do some research. I can tell you right now, most DUI attorneys charge a flat fee for DUI defense rather than an hourly fee. And that flat fee can range from below $1,000 all the way up to $10,000. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the price, the payment arrangements, and the services that you’re receiving for them.

Attorneys are not cheap. Don’t drop your hard earned dollars unless you are absolutely completely comfortable with the attorney and the relationship. After all, you are entrusting this person with representing you in a court of law.

The punchline to the joke is “wings.” Don’t get stuck with a vulture.


Welcome to Our Guest Blogger, Jon Ibanez!

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

I have the pleasure to announce that our recent guest blogger, Jon C. Ibanez, will become a regular contributor to DUIblog.  

A graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, and an honors graduate of Western State University College of Law, Jon's law practice has focused on criminal defense, with a particular emphasis on DUI cases.  He also serves as "Of Counsel" to a number of criminal defense firms in Southern California, and is an Adjunct Professor at Westwood College where he teaches criminal justice and paralegal courses.

I am pleased and proud to welcome Jon as he joins me in presenting commentary upon the most interesting, controversial and important topics — legal, evidentiary and constitutional — in the fascinating field of DUI law enforcement and litigation.


DUI DMV Hearing: Where’s the Due Process?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

I often tell my students that when they hear the phrase “due process” they should think of fairness. When it comes to criminal actions in a court of law, due process (at least in theory) is the cornerstone to the proceedings. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for DMV hearings (Admin Per Se hearings) following a DUI arrest.

When a person is arrested on suspicion of a California DUI their license will be suspended by the California DMV if one of two things will happen:  1.) law enforcement takes a blood or breath test which indicates that the driver’s blood alcohol concentration level is 0.08 percent or more, or 2.) the driver refuses to complete either a blood or breath test. Due process provides that a driver has the right to request an administrative hearing to challenge the DMV’s evidence.

However, just because a driver is provided the right to a hearing does not mean that due process will be present at the hearing.

Imagine a criminal court case in which the defendant attends the hearing at the prosecutor’s office. During the hearing, prosecutor argues for a conviction. Immediately following the argument, the prosecutor throws on a robe, steps up to the judge’s bench, and rules on his own argument. Doesn’t sound fair, does it? It’ not, but that’s essentially what happens at a DMV Admin Per Se hearing.

The DMV, the same agency which is trying to sustain the suspension, is the agency which conducts the hearing. What’s more, the DMV hearing officer, who, believe it or not, is a DMV employee, conducts the hearing. (Starting to see a pattern?) The hearing officer can object to the driver’s evidence. The hearing officer can rule on his own objection. Finally, the hearing officer decides if he or she wins. They almost always do.

Forget about impartiality. Surely, the hearing officer must be someone versed in the law, perhaps a lawyer or someone holding a law degree. Think again. In fact, according to the DMV’s employment eligibility requirements, a hearing officer need not have a college degree!

Winning a DMV hearing is difficult for lawyers (although not impossible). Since the hearing is considered civil, there is no right to an attorney. What about those drivers who have to conduct the hearing themselves because they can’t afford an attorney? How difficult must it be for them to prevail in a hearing where the cards are already stacked against them?

Speaking of the hearing being civil, there’s much lower standard of proof that the hearing officer must meet before they can suspend your license. In a criminal court case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was driving with a BAC level of 0.08 percent or above. At the DMV hearing, the hearing officer only needs to prove more likely than not the driver had a BAC of 0.08 percent or more.

It is much easier for a hearing officer to meet this lower standard when they’re allowed to introduce hearsay police reports. Hearsay statements are generally excluded from court cases because the person making the statement cannot be cross examined. Not the case in DMV hearings. Most of the time, arresting officers are absent from DMV hearings. If a driver wishes to cross examine the arresting officer who wrote the report, he or she must subpoena the officer at his own cost. This includes paying for the officer’s salary for the time that they attend the hearing.

Loss of a driver’s license can have devastating consequences. One would think that with so much at stake, people would be afforded safeguards that would ensure fairness.  But where’s the fairness in any of this? Where’s the due process?