In California, it’s a crime to operate a vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.
Generally, California law provides sentencing guidelines for drivers convicted of a DUI. In other words, there’s a range of penalties that a judge can impose for a DUI conviction.
The allowable range is determined by a variety of circumstances, including:
- defendant’s record
- particular facts of the current offense.
Within the applicable range, judges use “mitigating” and “aggravating” factors to determine an appropriate sentence.
Mitigating Factors: Basically, mitigating factors are facts or circumstances that reduce a defendant’s culpability or warrant a more lenient sentence. For example, if a driver was impaired because of lawfully prescribed medication, barely over the legal limit, or completes voluntary substance abuse treatment after the arrest, the judge and prosecutor may lean towards a sentence at the lower end of the allowable range. Judges and prosecutors might also look to factors like whether the defendant is gainfully employed or a good student in deciding on an appropriate sentence or plea bargain to offer.
Aggravating Factors: Aggravating factors, on the other hand, are facts or circumstances that increase the severity of a criminal act or the defendant’s culpability and warrant a harsher sentence.
Typical aggravating factors for DUI cases include:
- prior convictions,
- high blood alcohol levels,
- reckless driving,
- excessive speeding,
- having a suspended license,
- causing injuries or property damage,
- and having a child in the vehicle at the time of the offense.
- extensive criminal record for other offenses can dissuade a judge or prosecutor from being lenient.
California’s Approach: Mitigating and aggravating factors (such as those described above) inform judges and prosecutors what’s warranted within the allowable range.
However, California law also specifies a number of circumstances that require more severe DUI penalties. Here are some of these sentencing enhancements:
Minor passenger: Having a child less than 14 years of age as a passenger in the vehicle at the time of a DUI offense results in increased jail time. The minor-passenger enhancement adds a mandatory 48 hours in jail for a first offense, 10 days for a second offense, and 30 days on a third offense. (California Vehicle Code § 23572)
Multiple victims: For felony DUIs involving injury or death to more than one victim, there’s a one-year enhancement for each victim; however, the maximum enhancement is three years. (California Vehicle Code § 23558).
Excessive speed: Driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit on a street or highway or over 30 miles hour over the limit on a freeway at the time of DUI offense adds 60 days to the defendant’s jail term. (California Vehicle Code § 23582)
DUIs in safety enhancement and construction zones: Fines are doubled for DUIs in “safety enhancement zones” (like the Golden Gate Bridge) and highway construction or other maintenance zones. (California Vehicle Code §§ 42009, 42010)
In deciding how to sentence a defendant—specifically, in regard to whether to impose an enhancement or even weather to grant probation—the judge must also consider a defendant’s refusal to submit to DUI chemical testing or the fact that a defendant had a BAC of .15% or more. (California Vehicle Code § 23578).
Thus, getting arrested for a DUI can have much greater consequences based on the circumstances surrounding the arrest.