Guest Post: How often are DUI cases expunged in California?

Robert Miller reached out to me to share a bit about the expungement process. It's not a part of gotten to yet (I'm still on my probation) but hope to do someday. Valuable information that I have found very useful in the hope of moving on. Hopefully Robert will help me out when the time comes. - Tom.

How often are DUI cases expunged in California?

dui criminal background check

If you have been convicted of a DUI, clearing your record is a worthy goal that most people will have. An
expungement of a California DUI would help clear your criminal record. So you may wonder how often DUI cases are expunged in California.

As it becomes easier and easier for potentially employers to obtain digital records of convictions, and as the job market makes job applications more competitive, it is easier and easier for employers to screen out the candidates with a criminal record, which leaves those with a DUI with less and less available jobs to even compete for. For those reasons, if you have a DUI on your record, expunging it from your record is something you would want to accomplish as rapidly as possible.

What exactly is on my record after a DUI?
It’s important to realize that when speaking about a “record”, that in California, after a DUI conviction you actually have two different records that your DUI shows up on.

The first is your criminal record.
A criminal record will show your arrest, the case number, and the sentence (or what is called the “disposition” on a criminal record).

The second is the driving record.
The driving record will show points from a DUI conviction, whether a wet reckless or a DUI, or any accident or other related traffic tickets. Any alcohol related conviction will show as a notification on your driving record, and will show the date of offense, the date of conviction, and any DMV actions related to the DUI or alcohol related offense, and the also any filings of an SR22 for insurance purposes.

A criminal conviction stays on your criminal record for life, unless it’s expunged, or pardoned by the Governor of California. It never automatically “drops off”, like items on your credit report. It can only be used against you for purposes of alleging a prior DUI for ten years, but
it’s still on your record, even after that ten-year period.

Any driving record notation also stays on your record for life. It can only be used to increase insurance for three years. The points from any tickets, accidents, or court convictions can only be used against you by the DMV for a three-year period to suspend your license. But the DMV keeps track of your lifetime points for their “negligent operator” program, which is used to pull the licenses of the most serious driving offenders. There is no way to expunge your driving record, only your criminal record.

What exactly is an expungement in California?
An expungement is a motion to the court that, once granted, retroactively dismisses your case from your criminal record. There are some things that by law, an expungement cannot help you with, namely preventing criminal charges for priors for future crimes, getting federal or state licenses, or contracting with the state or federal government.

How does someone qualify for an expungement of a DUI?
In order to get an expungement order granted, you need to first bring the motion. Most counties in California have a court form available online for applying for an expungement, and in addition to the form motion, you must also provide the order for the judge to sign (California has a form for these, Forms CR-180 & CR-181). A copy of your motion must also be mailed or delivered in person to the prosecutor.

You also must meet three requirements in order to get an expungement:

  1. You must be off probation. Either probation must have expired, or you must bring a motion to terminate probation early first.
  2. You must have completed all the terms of your sentence. The court will look at your court file and make sure that all fines are paid, all alcohol schools are completed, and any community service, or special classes or punishment have been finished.
  3. You must not have any other cases pending, and you must not have any convictions after the conviction you are seeking to expunge. Any convictions would be a probation violation.

What does California law state about an expungement?
California’s expungement law, Penal Code 1203.4(a)(1) states:

In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted, except as provided in Section 13555 of the Vehicle Code.” (Emphasis added)

So, how often are DUI cases expunged in California?
I have bolded the sections of the law that state “shall” in the law above, because those are truly unusual in law. In most cases, and in most laws, the law explicitly gives a judge a decision to make, by stating that the judge “may, in his or her discretion”.

The expungement law is different because the use of the term “shall” means that the judge doesn’t have that discretion. As long as the person seeking an expungement meets the three requirements above,
the judge has to grant the expungement petition.

As a result, a high rate of DUI cases are expunged. The only way to
not get an expungement is either to not qualify by not meeting one of the three requirements above, or to not apply for one at all.

Author: This article was written by
Robert Miller, an Orange County DUI Lawyer at the law firm of Miller & Associates in Newport Beach, California.

DUI Life: A Year Ago

Ran into somebody the other day. Recognized him immediately, but wasn’t sure from where. Started talking, trying to figure it out. Then it came…

“Fuck that DUI class, man. That was some bullshit”.

Ah yes. That’s where he’s from.

We caught up. He was one of the people I liked hearing from in the group session of class. Funny guy, honest. Hadn’t seen him in quite some time.

Made me think back.

A year ago, I was going every Wednesday to a three hour class, learning, and re-learning that what I had done was wrong. Learning that what others had done were wrong. Being lead in discussions around inane topics like “Why do you think people drink?”

A year ago I was going to an AA meeting every week, hearing people tell horrific stories of hitting the absolute rock bottom, then having to share “I had like three beers too many one night” and getting looks from everyone else.

A year ago, I would get into my car, turn the ignition and
wait 45 seconds for my interlock to turn on, and blow into it, and blow every 15 minutes to make sure that I hadn’t had any alcohol.

A year ago, I would have never had another person in my car.

A year ago, I would have to argue with a seedy car accessories owner to get two months on my interlock instead of one.

A year ago, I was getting constant reminders - from class, from my car, from the DMV, from my insurance, from tv commercials, that I had done something wrong.

A year ago I had to go into another separate class to tell me that yes, I had done something wrong.

While it wasn’t the most pleasant flashback, it made me realize how much this whole experience has changed me. More importantly, it’s nice how much I don’t have to think about my DUI every day, every car ride, every long meeting.

Today I drive my car freely, and easily.

Today I have passengers.

Today I am not required to be anywhere, at any time for the state.

Today I am half done with my probation.

Today I still feel bad about what I have done.

Today I realize that it doesn’t define me as a person.

Today I still drink, but when I do,
I take an uber.

Today if I end up drinking while out,
I use my breathalyzer to make sure I’m good to drive before I do.

Today I don’t drink as much as I once did.

Today I’m paying crazy high insurance.

Today I’m closer to having this behind me.

The process of satisfying the court seemed like it would never end. That every time I would have to calibrate my interlock another month seemed like it would be forever. Every class made it seem like time was standing still. It felt like I would be punished forever.

I’m glad that I can be here to say that you won’t be. You’re punished, and you do what you need to, and little-by-little, you get to think about it less. You feel the pain less and less every day.

You move on, and eventually life returns to normal.

When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to imagine. The further you go along, the quicker it seems to go.

I know I started this blog with advice a lawyer told me, “
It all goes away”. It’s hard to believe in the moment, but I can tell you:

It all goes away.



It all goes away.

Protip: Check and Double Check

Today was an interesting day.

Went down to the courthouse to pay my fine. My deadline is coming up and I wanted to get it out of the way. Most of my time was spent arguing how to do it - should I drive there and park or should I take the train and not worry about parking? How long is this going to take? Should I go early or wait till after the lunch rush?

Most of that wasn't the issue (I walked right up to one of the clerks)

However - I came to find that not all of my paperwork had been filed. The clerk informed me that neither my DMV certificate nor my MADD certificate had been filed. I was shocked! I had taken care of these things more than 9 months ago!

I called my lawyer's office - my lawyer was no longer part of the firm. I explained to them what was going on and within ten minutes they had everything sorted out and a person to go down to the courthouse tomorrow or Monday to file everything.

A few lessons learned:

  1. Don't wait - The longer you wait, the more chances that something will change, something will go wrong, some mistake will be made. The sooner you take care of stuff, the sooner you're not worrying about it, and the more time you have to correct things if they go wrong.

  2. Check and Double Check - Last Spring I biked over to my lawyer's office (I was on full suspension) and turned in my documents. I assumed that he would turn them in to the court in the next few days or so. No real worry. But he hadn't. Either he was waiting for me to drop off the check to pay my fine, or left the firm shortly thereafter (No idea when he left). But my documents had not been filed. It was a mistake to assume that they were.

This is a tough process, I know. And it's no fun, and it's a lot of hassle. But being early, and thorough will save you a lot of headache. If I had gone in at the last moment, I could've had a longer probation, more fines, or worse.

Get it done early, and double check.

Paying the Price: The Fine (and alternatives to paying the fine)

The minimum fine for a DUI in Los Angeles County is $390. Most likely if you plead out, and/or had no priors, this should be about what you were given in your sentencing.

So, naturally, when you get your documentation you receive a “Compliance of Fine Payment/Cashier Slip” detailing your fine and the various “court costs” associated with your case.

With court costs your $390 fine comes out to be around $2000.

Huh? How’d that happen?

When you think “court costs” you think that you’re being charged for the administrative system, much like the costs associated with getting your driver’s license or getting a permit to do construction. This is not the case.

Instead, the court costs are little fees that they tack on to every conviction to use it as a source of income. Some of this does go to cover Judge’s salaries and the infrastructure of the building, but most of it is used to make up budget shortfalls caused by the public electing to lower taxes (or voting in officials who lower taxes). Lower taxes, higher fines.

The biggest part of the fine is the “Penalty Assessment”. This is assessed on
all criminal fines, not just DUI fines. Get a speeding ticket - it’ll be on there.

Originally in the 1950s the rate of the Penalty Assessment was $1 for ever $20 of your fine. Mine was a little over $30 for every $10 of my penalty.

Additionally, there’s a “Penalty Assessment DNA” which funds DNA identification programs supposedly. Mine was around 1/3rd of my original penalty.

Believe me, how these rates are determined and what the money goes to is incredibly hard to research. For any rate I find online I do the math on my penalties and they don’t quite add up. Some are more, some are less. There’s not much you can do about this, but it would be nice to have some transparency during this part of the process. Alas, that’s not what they want.

The math of the form is difficult to add up - some numbers are listed, giving you a balance for them, but are supposedly included in the base fine - but that doesn’t mean they’re additional listings. If the fine that you agreed to from the court was $390, they’ll list the base fine as $320. Then you have items RESTDUI ($20 - no idea why it’s separate or what it’s for) and LABSVCS ($50 - believe this to be them charging you to use the station breathalyzer) claiming to be part of the base fine, but listed separately. It’s all designed to confuse you.

Trying to research this piece, I hit a lot of dead ends, and can’t find answers. I was charged $75 for PBHEALTH which states that it has a maximum of $100. What determines why mine was $75?

I asked my lawyer about it. He told me not to worry too much about it. He’d looked it over and it was in line with what the others looked like.

I guess you can worry too much about this sort of thing. Fighting any part of it would be an extreme uphill battle.

Alternate Options (and why they’re no good)

On your sentencing form you’ll see a part that says that you will pay a fine or “in default thereof serve ___ additional days in County jail, consecutive,
or perform ___ days of community labor”. Some people’s brain starts turning when they see this - with jails and prisons overcrowding you can often serve at 3:1 ratios (meaning you get credit for 3 days when you serve only 1), and sometimes even get 4:1.

Might it be worth it to give up a weekend or two to save a couple of grand? It seems kind of tempting.

Unfortunately, like most of the bright ideas you come up with to get out of things, it doesn’t work like that.

Serving jail time or doing community labor (which has it’s own difficulties, overcrowding means that you can’t serve that day instead of getting more credit for less) only counts against the base penalty of your fine. The court costs will still be there. In that case, a day in jail only counts for about $35.

Not worth it.

Additionally, some people try to get house arrest to either pay the fine, or count as their probation (more on that later), which isn’t ideal either - then you have to serve out the
full time, no ratios. So 15 days means 15 days (plus the fees for the monitoring bracelet add on, so it’s just a losing proposition).

How to Pay

For once, something in this whole process is simple. If you head down to the clerk’s office, you can pay with cash or a money order, which I expected, but, they’ll even take a personal check and some will even take a credit card.

If you have a check or money order, you can either give it to your lawyer or mail it to the county clerk’s office. If you want to pay cash or with a credit card, you have to go down there. Some places allow you to do this online, but, sadly, Los Angeles is not yet one of them. As with any civil service, expect to wait in line for a while to do a three minute procedure. Be sure to have your documents with you, as they need a lot of information to process your payment.

Payment can be done in a lump sum, or installments if you don’t have the resources. As long as the court is getting something, they’re willing to work with you.

It stings. It certainly does. But, once you’ve paid, you’re closer to getting this behind you.

The DMV Alcohol Class Section 2: Group Meetings.

Group meetings.

It sounds like the worst.

Am I going to have to go in and talk about my feelings, and cry, and get a hug from everyone, and talk about our growth and our spiritual journey, and all that other bullshit?

Thankfully: no.

It just sounds like it from the title of it. You won’t have to bond, you won’t have to talk about the first time you tried a drink, you won’t have to talk about your childhood, or anything like that.

Remember: they cannot, legally, compel you to share.

However, truth be told, I liked this part of the class
much more than the instruction period. The class gets a little bigger since there’s a nine week span it covers. Mostly it’s people in your same situation trying to get through it. It’s a lot like high school in that way. Just trying to get through it to freedom. Fortunately, like high school, there will be people trying to make jokes, trying to flirt, trying to get the teacher derailed, trying to find different ways to kill time until the final bell rings.

It’s a lot more fun than watching a grandpa in a leisure suit talk about how he didn’t know his weekly brandy could affect him
that much in an ancient video.

There will be a topic at hand - there’s some loose guidelines, but nothing particularly required from the state - and your instructor will talk about it. Usually something about how to go our and be responsible, or how to say no to alcohol, or how it affects the body. They’re usually built around the concepts of abstinence and temperance. They like things to be a big open question, with no clear solution except to cut down on drinking. I talked about using my own breathalyzer to prevent getting another DUI, and how the system was rigged against people by using a metric that’s difficult to understand since metering devices aren’t widely available - and was confronted with ways that wasn’t a real solution because it’s possible that you can be impaired at lesser alcohol levels (something I’ve learned is
not the case for the way my body handles alcohol).

They’ll ask you about what you would do if you went out some place and got too drunk, looking for the old timey solutions (always designate a driver who won’t drink! Limit yourself to two drinks a night! or… don’t ever drink!) when confronted with modern solutions that are reliable, but allow a person to keep drinking -
Uber, in particular, they would respond with “But how long can that last? How long can you just uber to some place!”. This bizarre response came from every instructor I had in the program, almost verbatim. Maybe that’s a state sanctioned thing, but given that many people are ditching driving their own cars and just ubering everywhere, I think it can last quite some time. I think they’re threatened a little bit by uber as it’s cut down on DUIs and will continue to, which threatens their business to a large degree. They’d give us the old “How do you know Uber is safe? Why not get a taxi?” which is such a bizarre argument since there’s no record of when you take a taxi. The whole thing is weird.

When discussing these things you’ll be asked about how you got your DUI, and many factors. As someone who hasn’t told many people about my DUI, it was honestly really nice to be able to share my story and get some sympathy from my peers. It was nice to openly talk about it and not be judged. It was also nice to have the instructor say that the biggest factor in mine seemed to be bad luck. It was really great to hear other people’s stories - horrible ones - about hitting parked cars, getting caught in a sting operation, getting caught by a checkpoint, one getting a DUI for being asleep in his backseat and the car parked overnight, their experience in refusing the field sobriety test, etc. Despite the instructors’ anti-Uber sentiment, I found them fair regarding people’s experiences, and expressing whether they exhibited problematic behavior (vast majority didn’t).

They’ll ask you if you’re still drinking.
It is ok to be honest and say that you are. The person who had quit drinking is going to be the outlier. They’ll share their experiences, you can judge if you want to join them, cut down, or keeping on. Your drinking is your decision. Granted, it has consequences as you well know at this point. But it’s still your decision. Nobody can make it for you.

The class runs for 9 weeks for an AB-541 3-month class, and 23 weeks for a 9-month AB-1353 class, so the topics get weak sometimes - it’ll get into “what does a person need for basic survival” some weeks, “how to handle stress” another - they’ll try to tangentially relate it to the big topic - drinking and driving - but the facts are that it doesn’t take 15 weeks to tell people to not drink and drive. However, 15 weeks of a 2 hour class, is enough to make them say “fuck that, I’m not ever going through that again”, so it works as a deterrent for a second offense.

Again, get there on time and sober, pay some attention, engage when you want. Depending on the group these discussions can actually be… well, not fun, but almost fun. There were some cool and funny people in my group, so it wasn’t that bad. Tell some jokes, make some friends (that you probably won’t keep once it ends), make the time go by easier for everyone.

Again, running out the clock is the name of the game. Get through it. Get to your final evaluation, and tell them how you drink less, and plan to be more responsible and don’t want to come back (which is certainly true). Get your paper for the court, then get out.

It’s tough at first, but once you see what it’s like, you’ll be fine. Even if you’re not that social of a person.

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

In California, to complete your AB-541 or AB-1353 class you’ll have to do either 6, or 19 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, respectively. This is just another entry into the long list of things they don’t tell you.

When I was seeking out an alcohol class the person mentioned being required to do 10 AA meetings. Naturally I called 3 other classes and asked if they required AA meetings. I just didn’t want to do them if I didn’t have to. The last person told me it was a state requirement. Never in the process had I been told about this by the court, or my lawyer. It was not a pleasant blindslide.

The AA website is terrible for giving details about where and when meetings are. I found some with conflicting start times, but you should be able to find a resource in your area to help you find some. AA is a popular organization, there’s meetings all over, and should be available in a variety of settings. If you’re in a populated area there should be a meeting any time from the early morning to late night, any day of the week. Those who commit to the program do a 30 and 30 - 30 meetings in 30 days, so there should be something to fit into your schedule.

AA is a loose organization - so meetings are very different. It may take you a while to find a meeting that works with your schedule, meets near you, and that you enjoy. The last part is the most crucial. Fortunately, I found a kind and understanding meeting near me first time. I tried another one (I tried to buck the system by going to a meditation AA meeting hoping that I could just zone for an hour and have it count. No, it’s an hour of meditation,
then the hour long meeting). But take how they treat you and others into consideration - you should not be forced to speak, or share. I know I certainly didn’t want to. You should not be made to feel bad for still drinking - AA is open to anyone who wants to learn about stopping as well as those who have stopped. Even those with multiple year chips will tell you how they hate what they call “AA Nazis”.

Like DMV classes you can only go to one AA meeting a week and have it count. You are, of course, welcome to go to more, but they will only be for your own enrichment.

AA, like the DMV classes, is daunting when you first attend, and then not a big deal once you get into the groove of things. There’s the reading of certain passages from the AA handbook, then usually somebody sharing their experience or a speaker. Part of this is counterproductive. After I got my DUI I, like anyone else, started to wonder if I had a problem, if I drank too much, if I was an alcoholic. After I heard the stories from these people, I felt that I was a moderate drinker who just made a bad decision. The stories that you hear are awful. They’ll stick with you. What they like to say is that even if it doesn’t make you quit drinking, it will affect your drinking. Pretty true.

Once the meeting is over you’ll give your card to either the secretary of the meeting or the speaker depending how they do it. They call it the “nudge from the judge” and should not give you any grief over it. Even if you make it clear that you’re only there because you have to be and do not plan on attending past your requirements. AA only asks of you that you attend the meeting and listen to what they have to say, that you make your own judgements, and consider all of the options, and look to them as a resource if you want to make a change in your life.

I, of course, didn’t want to be there any of the times that I was there. But, like most of the things that you go through in this, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve been through. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was shocking, sometimes it was engaging. I never felt judged. Sometimes I was really inspired by some of the stories that people told. The shadow of your DUI is an awful place to be in, and it’s really helpful to see that some people have been through the process many times, but they’ve been able to bounce back and put their lives together. It’s important to see that you
can bounce back.

As for it being part of the legal process, I don’t particularly like it (AA being an organization that seeks to be away from the government), but I understand it. A lot of the things that you go through in this process are there for people who have bigger problems than driving home from a night out to get a chance to find that there are recovery programs, that they can take hold of these problems and to start dealing with them. It allows you to put yourself in perspective and really gauge where you want to be in life. It is a chance to reflect and look forward. I saw that I did not have a problem, but probably should cut back, and did just that.

Some have a problem with AA’s slight religious bent. I’m not religious but did not have a problem with it, as others do (they get upset at any mention of God). The “God as you see him” is pretty non specific, non intrusive, and vague enough for everybody. Some claim that AA weens you off of an addiction to alcohol and replaces it with an addiction to religion/God. I can see that argument in theory, but in the program, and in my friends who have gone through it to quit drinking I do not see it being the case.

If you do not want to go through the program there are acceptable alternatives such as Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, etc. They’re not as available as Alcoholics Anonymous, and probably not as flexible. AA allowed me to go on my schedule and were close by (which was a great help as I was on my hard suspension and on my bike). Go with what works for you. For most people it’ll be the minimum amount of AAs, and then be done.

Like everything in this process, I do not advise waiting around. Get them over with. If you miss enough consecutive weeks in AA your DMV program can say that you’re not participating and send your case back to court. This is a bad thing. Do not let it happen. Get them over with. Yes, this does mean that in the beginning you’ll be in “classes” for 3 hours a week, and it’s a pain, but 3 hours a week is nothing when you get down to it. Yes, you have a busy life and a full schedule. Get it over with. Stay up later, get up earlier, whatever. Get it over with and move on with your life.

Don’t make things harder for yourself. Also, you might end up enjoy going to.

Heck, you might even learn something.

The DMV Alcohol Class Section 1: Alcohol Education Sessions

The first day is the hardest.

Going into the room, finding a seat, looking around and feeling embarrassed, judged, and guilty over what you’ve done. It’s not easy, you have to do it, and once you get past that, it’s all downhill from there.

Just remember, if you feel that you are being judged that everybody in there is in there for the same thing - and there’s always somebody with a worse story than you. You’ll hear them as they come out.

The first section of the class is called “alcohol education sessions” but most commonly referred to as “instruction”. It sounds like it’d be a bunch of straight lessons, drawings on a chalkboard, and an endless, droning lecture.

It’s not.

Most of the instruction period is watching videos about drinking and driving. One they’ll show some people driving, and then give them some drinks and let them drive again and they’ll be “shocked” at their different outcomes. Some detail teenagers who had their lives taken, one I saw was about “spirituality” and how if you don’t have it you must be depressed and that will lead you to drugs, alcohol, and ruin (one guy had a real problem with that and let the teacher have it about this, it was pretty cool). Most of the videos you watch will have been made in the 70’s, so you’ll be watching people unable to control vehicles that don’t have power steering. Real relevant.

When you sit down, remember that everyone around you is beginning this process with you. There will be somebody on their last part of this program (their sixth class), but the majority of them are people that you’ll see once a week for quite some time. Make friends, talk to them. Some of them will have questions about the process that you know the answers to, some of them will be able to answer your questions (Like what a good IID place is). If it’s also somebody else’s first week, tell them. It’s a lot easier to go through this with a friend.

Sit down, go through attendance (which takes a while, but is the most important part - get checked in!), watch the video, don’t talk, don’t play on your phone, and you’ll get through it. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Afterwards, there’s a discussion about the video, and eventually they let you go. No real, hard lessons, no quizzes, that’s it. Adult time out. Remember that.

They give you a break sometime, and some programs are lenient enough to let you go the whole class and take the break at the end - letting you out early (my favorite).

The discussions won’t be that involved, usually somebody will have some sort of question about the legal procedure you’re going through and that’ll derail the discussion into something actually useful, so it’ll be pretty welcome. Just be warned: your instructor is
not the expert you would hope they would be in these matters, and certainly not a lawyer. One kept telling us ways that we could violate our probation, and it was just a bunch of urban myths “If you’re sober and you have a drunk person in your car they can charge you with a DUI!” - they didn’t know the difference between a probation violation and a DUI, which really took their stock down in my book (a refresher on what a probation violation is here).

That said, your instructor and you are in this together - you both want to kill time and get out of there as soon as possible. They’d read to us email forwards about drinking and driving, and usually somebody would raise their hand and tell them how they’re full of shit (i.e. them telling us that getting a DUI in a different country would give us an automatic 5 years in jail, and somebody who actually lived there explaining that it couldn’t be farther from the truth). You want to believe they have an authority, but really they’re somebody who works in substance recovery and needed some more hours. I would not take legal advice from them.

In both a 3 Month (Ab-541) and 9-Month (AB-1353) class it’s just six weeks of classes. Nothing too big.

Do what I did - put your head down, don’t make waves, don’t fight them, and get through it.

Get it done.

The DMV Alcohol Class - An Overview

Part of “repaying your debt to society” involves taking either a 3-month (AB-541) or a 9-month (AB-1353) alcohol awareness class (If you luck out and get a Wet Reckless you’ll still have to take a 12 hour SB-1176 class. In rare instances you’ll have to take a 6 Month AB-768 or 18 month SB-38 class). The 3 month AB-541 is for standard DUIs, the 9-month AB-1353 is for people who refused the field sobriety test, or received elevated penalties for an excessively high BAC (usually double the legal limit) or were underage when they were arrested.

You’ll have roughly a year to do this (check your documents! Some people are required to enroll within 21 days of sentencing, and yes you can enroll before you’re sentenced), but I recommend getting it out of the way. There’s no good reason to wait. The DMV will generally require you to be enrolled to get your restricted license, if you want one, and will require you to complete the course if you want your full license restored after your suspension (both limited and full). If you have travel plans you can schedule a leave of absence, it’s actually somewhat flexible. Get it done. Get it over with.

Calling it a “class” is a bit of a misnomer - there will be no tests, no quizzes, no real education being provided. Odds are you’ve learned your lesson - the biggest motivator to not get another DUI is not wanting to go through this garbage again. Think of this as what it is - Adult Time Out. You were bad, so they’re going to punish you like you were a child - go sit in this classroom and think about what you did.

It’s a pain, it’s not fun, but you have to do it. Get it over with. You’ll actually be surprised at how quickly the class will pass by once you’ve gotten in the routine of going.

How the class works

The class works by wasting your time, giving you a practical consequence to your actions. It’s split into two sections - instruction and group sessions. At the beginning, middle, and end you will be interviewed, asked questions about your drinking. The questions will be pretty simple and you will know what answers they’re looking for. Additionally, you’ll have to attend some AA meetings.

It’s a pain in the ass and waste of time, but I understand why they make you go through all of this. For problem drinkers they want this to be an opportunity to turn their life around, to spend some time consciously thinking about their drinking, and perhaps decide that it’s time to stop or take an active role in cutting down. Most people do not fall into those categories, but they’re hoping that by putting everybody through this process that some will be able to turn their lives around.

All of the classes are pretty much the same - they have to stick to a set of state guidelines. Make a few calls and see how much it costs, what installment plans are offered (most of them have you pay a large amount up front then a set amount each week as you come in. You are, of course, welcome to get ahead of payment), what their tardy policy is, makeup fees etc. There’s not too much difference in how they’re run, but those slight differences can mean a world of difference if you have to take time off or are chronically late. If you get a good feeling or bad feeling go with it, but things won’t be too much different. I’d pick the one that’s the easiest to get to from where I’ll be at the time since attendance makes up most of the issues you’ll have with the class.

Additionally - if you have some time on your hands you can’t just go to a bunch of classes in a week and get credit. You have to go at the regular intervals. You can’t get ahead. You can certainly get behind - 3 absences in a row and they’ll send your case back to the court and things will get messy. Avoid this. Go to school.

How you are “graded” in class

The biggest grade you will get in this class is attendance. Just show up. Show up on time - as some places are
very strict about timeliness. One minute past start time and you won’t be able to take the class and are forced to take an absence (along with paying an absence fee). Others are a little bit more lenient. Ask before signing up what their late policy is. It may save you money. Be there on time, sign in when the teacher allows it. That’s 90% of getting through the class.

Be sober. If the instructors feel that you’re under the influence they can refuse your attendance. This becomes a mark on your record, and you’ll have to make up the class. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Most programs ask that you try to quit drinking for the duration of the class, but do not check, do not enforce this, and most will openly say that most of their “client” (not students) continue to drink during the program. As long as you don’t drink before/during class, you’re fine. A lot of discussion time pertains to how your drinking habits have changed after your DUI and during your class, so don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still partaking.

As long as you’re there, sober, and not causing problems you’ll be fine. They’ll force you to put your phone away, just put it in your pocket. Most of the disciplinary issues I saw while taking the class were related to the phone. Use it at break. Sit down and at least pretend to pay attention.

During class you’ll see the instructor cycling through large files - these are files about you and your fellow classmates. They’ll be taking notes about your attitude, responsiveness, etc. They can write anything they want, you won’t see these remarks, and they’ll be sealed unless you have another alcohol-related incident (Should that happen and injuries/fatalities be involved, they’ll have to testify about you taking the class and your demeanor during the class). I caught a glimpse at one of mine, it said I was “aloof, but participated when asked” for a class. I’d guess this is what most of the notes are.

Overall there’s 3 “grades” you may receive: 1) Participated fully - meaning that you engaged in the discussion at hand. 2) Paid attention, but did not participate - still a good mark, the instructors
cannot compel you to participate in the discussion, but as long as you’re paying attention, you will receive credit for your attendance. 3.) Did not pay attention - if it seems like you’re a million miles away, wearing headphones, fall asleep, etc. they can choose to not count your attendance that day. If you go make it count. You don’t have to be the life of the class, just speak up a little bit, or nod in agreement with things. Don’t be shy, you’ll not see these people again. Make it count.

The Various DMV Classes

I can only speak on the class I took - the AB-541 class, so you’ll have to bear with me on the others, as I don’t want to get more DUIs and learn about them firsthand!

The 12 Hour SB-1176 Class

This is the class you take if you’re lucky and only received a wet reckless charge. You’ll take 6 Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction), with the 3-month and 9-month people, then when they move to group sessions, you’ll say goodbye. You’ll meet with the instructor at the beginning and the end, talk about how the six weeks has changed you, blah, blah, blah.

Six weeks is nothing, it costs remarkably less. Watch six videos, and in the discussion afterwards, mention how you only have a 12-hour, and watch all your classmates’ faces drop, and be asked how you got away with it for the remainder of class.

The 3 Month AB-541

This is the basic class. You’ll get this for your vanilla DUI charge if you have no enhanced penalties, no record, etc. To get this, you’ll have to submit to the field sobriety test, if you refuse, you’re not going to get this.

It breaks down as such:
6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
9 2-Hour Group Sessions
3 short Individual meetings with your instructor
6 AA Meetings

As I went through these, I have them detailed.

The 6 month AB-768

This is for people who have a BAC above .15, but below .20. It’s a very narrow category, and seems to be used very sparingly, with most instances bumping you up to the 9 Month class. I can’t find many details, but I’m guess it’s the same as the 3 month, but has more group sessions.

The 9 Month AB-1353

This is the class you get if you received enhanced penalties for an accident, large BAC, or refusal to take the field sobriety test. I did not go through this program, but the components are the same as the 3 Month, so I have my thoughts in those.

6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
23 2-Hour Group Sessions
6 short Individual meetings with your instructor
19 AA Meetings

At some places you’re given gaps with this, so every 9 weeks or so, you’ll have a week off. A small break to catch.

The 18 Month SB-38

This is the program for multiple offenders. Do whatever you can to not find yourself in this situation. It’s administered for the second, third, and fourth convictions.

6 2-Hour Alcohol Education Sessions (Instruction)
52 2-Hour Group Sessions
Bi-weekly Individual meetings with your instructor
You’ll have a court ordered amount of AA meetings.

30 Month Program

This is a very special program that you have to get your lawyer to negotiate for you. It can only come with your third or fourth convictions (again, don’t get here). The negotiation is usually that instead of doing 120 days in jail, you’ll do 30 days in jail, and 30 months of the program. Take the SB-38 and add some more group sessions and you’ve got the idea.

For your fourth conviction the judge can order this at his discretion, especially if you’ve had the 30 month program before.

Getting Booked

So one of the weird little… quirks… of my arrest was they didn’t actually process me. It seems to happen about 50% of the time. Anecdotally the biggest factor seems to be when you catch the police officer in their shift (although some argue if you catch them at the end of their shift that they’re more likely to issue a warning and let you go).

So after you’ve plead out or otherwise received your conviction you’ll be given a wealth of paperwork, ordering you to take the DUI classes, conditions of your probation, etc. If you haven’t been booked you’ll receive a document ordering you to go to a certain police department and turn yourself in.

When you receive this document you will not have long to turn yourself in - only
seven days, and it’s not something you want to mess around with. If you fail to go in for booking you will have another court appearance and it’s generally not advisable. You don’t need to push them any more, you’ve lost, get things taken care of.

Booking offices are open 7 days a week, but may have limited hours due to budget cuts, holidays, and other reasons. Get it over with quickly in case you end up at the precinct and it ends up being closed.

When going to book yourself you’ll need your booking order, a photo ID (passport or state-ID works). I brought along my sentencing memo (the long form) just in case, but didn’t end up needing it. Better safe than sorry. I didn’t want to come back.

I had to book myself while on the hard no-driving-whatsoever suspension. Fortunately, downtown and the central government buildings are the most covered by public transportation. In any major, or large city, there should be many ways to get to your booking office.

Finding the place was a little bit difficult. The address given on my document was closed up. Doors barricaded, empty inside. I had to go to the place next door, that was labeled as a different part of the police. Again, give yourself ample time. Budget cuts have really messed with local government infrastructure. The area around these big police departments have a heavy feel. There’s hotels built just so family members can see loved ones in jail. Don’t think you’ll be able to stop in somewhere and use the bathroom - everything is on lockdown.

A friend of mine thought the idea of getting booked was really cool and wanted to take me down to get booked. They wanted to hang out, drink police coffee, and hear stories from the cops. I declined their offer, and glad I did. They won’t let anybody go into the building with you.

Walking into the building, you just get a heavy feeling. You’re looked upon as a criminal. Your mind starts to flashback through all the stories you’ve heard on the news where a typo means that they hold a guy for years wrongly, and stuff like that. Don’t worry. Again, like most of this process, your nerves will be the worst part of it. It’s a quick and easy process.

Don’t bring a bag with you, don’t bring weapons with you (as stupid as it sounds, it happens), don’t bring anything that can get you in trouble (again, it happens), and if you have any warrants out, well, this is your reckoning. You go through the metal detector and then are given forms to fill out about yourself - height, weight, address, basic stuff. Fill this out accurately as this stuff will be part of your criminal record. There’s a place for your occupation. I filed mine out, but the cops didn’t understand what I did, so they put “sales”. Apparently this is routine. It was nice to have a light, funny moment during this heavy moment for me.

You’ll be taken to a back room where you’ll have your hands scanned. What’s nice about this process is that you won’t be given the oily, difficult to remove ink when you’re usually fingerprinted by cops, instead you put your hand on a scanner that has a roller on it, and it scans your whole handprint. You can see how your handprint shows up on screen. It’s actually kinda cool.

Then comes the big moment - you have to remove any hats, glasses, earrings, facial piercings, and other accessories (best not to bring them in the first place if it can be helped) and look at a certain place on the wall for your mugshot. It’s not like it is in the movies anymore - you don’t hold up a thing with your booking numbers, you don’t turn to the side - you just look a little bit to the side. There’s no flash, it’s done by just a little webcam sized thing mounted on the ceiling.

In LA county, where I got mine, mugshots are not made available to the public. Which was nice to know that I’d never have to worry about a friend randomly googling around and coming across it, or anything like that. Kind of a bummer that I could never see it. Seems like most places are shifting away from immediately publishing mugshots on the web to prevent the business where people publish mugshots with SEO words and personal information and hold convicted people hostage - demanding money to take it down. Seems they don’t like anybody making money off of the system unless it’s them. But it’s nice to know that it’s generally becoming something that you won’t have to worry about.

After you’ve gotten your mugshot you’ll be sat down in the waiting room again, and after a few minutes you’ll be given a pink form - your prisoner’s receipt. Generally this is for having a record of your possessions when you get booked, but since you’re not actually ingested into prison, it’s just a record that you actually checked yourself in. Hold on to it just in case anything happens to where the court loses documentation on their end (it happens).

Leaving the police station, even without staying too long, felt like a big relief. It wasn’t a place I wanted to stay around. Things felt different, though. I’d been booked, handprinted, and my mugshot taken. I was a documented criminal. It’s a weird feeling to process.

I ended up hanging out in that part of town for a while. I had nowhere to be, I’d taken a personal day to get booked. Might as well explore, try out a new restaurant, hope that I wouldn’t ever return.

Shopping for the Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

When you get that big scary letter of the Order of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) it will give you a list of approved, certified installers - I advise you to look each and every single one of them up. Getting the interlock is a difficult, complicated, and confusing process - and that’s all be design. The interlock companies want it to be difficult as can be, withholding information, giving you the run around, and doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out of you.

What You Can Look Up Online

Most interlock companies websites are lacking a lot of information, instead asking you to put in all of your contact information - including some sensitive private information - in hopes of getting you on the phone with a salesperson. While the salesperson has some use (they can actually check with the DMV to make sure you’re in an eligible period, and theoretically answer questions) they slow down the process and make the task at hand very confusing.

But, some are nice to put
some information online. You’ll never get a straightforward price from the website or the salesperson, but you can try to get as close as possible. The websites I found were usually pretty good at disclosing the location of service centers for interlocks - each company deals with a handful of mechanics, car accessory dealers, etc. (you ever wonder how those tire stores or car stereo places stay in business, here it is) and that’s it. If you find an interlock company you like, but they’re not convenient for you, don’t go with them. You will have to visit the servicer multiple times over the installation (minimum 5), and it’s best to not have to travel all the way across town for this.

All of these places will charge you an extra fee if you’re late or miss your appointment. It’s very important to have an easy place to get to. If you miss your appointment you may end up locked out of your car and forced to tow it to the servicer. Closer is better.

What to Ask on the Phone

After you’ve eliminated some places you’ll have to end up talking on the phone with a number of salespeople. Do not let this part of the process put you off. I hate talking on the phone, but people’s unwillingness to discuss the difficult part of their lives plays into these people’s hands. Don’t let them take advantage of this.

Every interlock place claims to be the cheapest around - but it’s all subjective. Many places will say the first month is free with installation, or offer a free installation, or some other way to cloud what the device will actually cost.
Take lots of notes. The worst offenders are the ones who offered “No hidden fees”. I felt good about them, until talking with another provider they mentioned a removal fee. No hidden fees place did not mention this. I called them back and asked about it, and the removal free was massive. I asked them about it, and they claimed that the fee wasn’t hidden because they would mention it when asked. When talking with a lot of these salespeople I’d be asking myself, “wait, I’m the criminal here?”.

So, after a lot of calling I found myself with what I believe to be the best possible outcome for myself. Again, I don’t know the others, but in asking around, I believe I found myself the most reasonable - close, and relatively cheap to some of them. The back of the envelope math I did based on quotes had all them coming relatively close to each other… Around $450 total for 5 months, but I feel this space is shifting all of the time. Best to call around for yourself, but feel a little bit easy that getting the worst deal won’t mean a difference of hundreds of dollars. Still, this process is bleeding you dry, let’s save every dime we can.

I’ve compiled a list of the various fees I have found in my shopping and subsequent bills for the interlock device. As more people enter the business, as regulations change, I’m sure there will be more.
When in doubt ask questions. Ask enough questions to be a pain in the salespersons side, until they give you the answers you deserve. They are doing their best to confuse and mislead you - if you are unsatisfied or confused by their answers let them know. At the end of the day, they’re fighting for a somewhat limited amount of customers. They need you. You can still go somewhere else.

Known Possible Fees:

  • Installation Fee - A lot of places will use this as the big smoke and mirrors to what the interlock will end up costing you. A lot of places will claim that it’s free, only to give you a rebate on either your first or last month (double check and hold them to it if that’s the case) or have a reduced fee if you pay certain months in advance. This is so that it’s super hard to compare prices. Usually if the installation is free or reduced cost your monthly cost is going to be higher (not always the case, though).
  • Late/Missed Appointment Fee - Most people find out about this after they’ve made their appointments, the rep just adds a little “oh by the way, don’t be late!”. It’s always a little twist in your side - as you’re never allowed to charge them a fee when they miss the appointment. An unscrupulous (read:most) places can even charge you for being late even if you get there late and they’re still working on the person in front of you. So they had no downtime, but they still get to stick you for the money. Get there early every time. Don’t give them the pleasure.
  • Monthly Fee - Every month that you have the IID you have to pay for it. It’s a crappy rental, and when you see the fees that you’re paying for it, you’ll wish you’d gotten into the IID business. This, however, is a consistent fee that is the most straightforward of what you’ll end up paying. There’s not much that will change about this, unless you get a free first or last month.
  • Upgraded Unit Fee - Not all interlock devices are the same - they all require different blow patterns - some short, some long, some complicated. Some states like Oregon require devices come equipped with a camera that takes a picture of the person blowing the device every time, in order to prevent a passenger from blowing the device for an intoxicated driver. In some instances a more restrictive device - like one with a camera - has less of a cost than a more simpler device (some states there is no difference, some states it costs more). Explore all your options and decide how much restriction you can tolerate if these options are available to you.
  • Keyless Start Unit Fee - If you have a push to start or remote start car, be prepared to pay more - both monthly and in installation and removal fees. The upside? Some places are able to provide you with a remote interlock that you carry with you. So you can blow and start your car remotely, just as you did before. I imagine the remote part is all sorts of handy, but, alas, I’m still in the key-ignition days.
  • Disguised Unit - Some places try to “help you out” by offering a slipcover for your interlock unit that allows it to supposedly look like a can of soda. In practice this is a method to capitalize off of your embarassment and further profit off of you. Most of the ads for this covers make it seem as the unit will look like a 12 oz can of soda, while in practice they und up looking roughly the size of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp 32 oz jug. Some places will outright sell it to you (think of all the times you can reuse it!) and some will rent it to you for additional monthly charges, and others will give it to you free if you purchase an additional insurance policy. I say don’t bother. Even the biggest of IIDs is not very visible while driving, you will not be using it that often in view of other people, and it will not disguise the fact that you have an IID from a passenger. But, if you want it, be sure you know the total cost of it - either by purchase, rental, or attached to something else.
  • Download/Service Fee - You have to visit the place that installs your interlock device every 60 days to calibrate it and download the record of violations from the device. Some places will charge you $10-$15 a visit for this, others include it in their monthly fees. A lot of places will not tell you about this fee until you see it on your bill. Ask about it. Also make sure that their system will allow you to visit every 60 days, as some places only charge on a monthly basis - meaning you will have to dedicate more time to visiting your servicer, more possible late/missed appointment fees, more possible lockouts, more possible service fees. I know I wanted to visit this place as least as possible.
  • Lockout Fee - Every month (or two months if bi-monthly) your IID has a lockout date. Theory goes that the machine needs to be calibrated in order to be an accurate detection of alcohol in your breath. The court dictates that the machine be calibrated at least every 60 days, but the companies take it one step further and make it so that your car can completely lock you out if you miss your appointment - so you now have to tow your car to the service center and then pay them an additional fee to get your system back working again. Don’t miss your appointments. There can be some additional blowback from the court if you do, as it’s a violation of your restricted license… just don’t do it. Don’t get locked out. There’s no good reason to.
  • Lockout Code Fee - Some interlock devices have a keycode that you can punch in to give you an engine start, or period of engine starts, if, for some reason, you miss your appointment and get locked out, so that you can get to the service center and get your IID recalibrated. Of course, they’ll charge you a fee for this code. Don’t miss your appointments.
  • Violation Fee - If you have enough violations - either for too much alcohol in your system when trying to start your car (again, you should have your own breathalyzer so that you can check before you blow into your IID), or for trying to tamper with the device the court will take away your restricted license privileges, but your IID company can also fine you. It just keeps coming.
  • Warranty - One I didn’t see coming. Some installers will charge you a monthly fee that theoretically protects you in case the device breaks (in a manner that doesn’t look like you were trying to bypass the device). Would it in practice? I don’t know. I’m not going to find out. But when comparing prices see if they’re going to tack it on.
  • Insurance - The same as a warranty, but can also be purchased separately. In my experience the machine shouldn’t be beaten up too much, once you find a good place for it that’s out of the way when driving, it shouldn’t take too much wear and tear, but accidents do occur, I suppose. If you get it, know what it covers, ask if there’s a deductable (that’s where they get you), and know the ins and outs. Also double check if your current car insurance policy covers it (you have the SR-22, they know you have a DUI).
  • Damage - This should be conditional with you actually damaging the damn thing, but find out what their policy is before it happens. The devices are can be damaged by heat, animals, water spills, auto accidents, know what will happen to you in case this happens.
  • Theft/Loss - Most of the units are removable. Supposedly they can be damaged by extreme heat and extreme cold, so if you are in those environments, you are encouraged to take the unit with you to protect it. Does anybody actually do this? I have no idea. However, if you take it with you and somehow lose it (I don’t know how this would happen since you can’t drive without it) or your car is stolen (and the ignition interlock device is actually a fairly decent theft deterrent system), you should know what the consequences are.
  • Replacement Forms - If you misplace the paperwork, or make a mistake filling it out, they will charge you for replacements - even if you mess up when first filling it out. Stupid, I know, unfair, I know, nothing you can do. Fill it out carefully.
  • Tax - The IID is not a taxable item. However, most people do not know this and a shady vendor could be charging you tax and pocketing it. Do not allow this to happen. Alert the authorities if this happens.
  • Credit/Debit Card Fee - The bane of my existence at my nearest lunch spots. Some places can charge you for using your credit card. Usually a dollar or two, but still, it’s important to know.
  • Personal Check Fee/Bounced Check Fee - I don’t recall any of the places I dealt with saying that they accepted personal checks, but I didn’t ask. I’ve only paid my taxes and my court fees with a check in the last number of years. I’m going to guess most likely you aren’t either - but if for some reason checks are your preferred way to pay, make sure they take them, and make sure you know if and what they charge.
  • Cash Fee - Not sure I’ve seen this for anything, but, if you like to pay cash, know the drill. Do they need exact change?
  • Removal Fee - This is one of the fees they don’t want you to know about. A lot of people complete their IID then get that extra little kick in the pants for $75-$120 when they find out that there’s a cost to remove the IID. Again - a place that boasted “No Hidden Fees” hid this fee from me until I asked. They know you’ll pay this fee because at this point you’ll be sick of the dang thing. Supposedly you can do this yourself if you’re a gearhead and return the unit. I’m certainly not skilled enough, nor would I want to risk some sort of mixup and the court seeing this as a violation, or the service center erroneously claiming that I damaged it. Let them take it off, I’ll get something to eat.

Pricing and preparing for all of this is a difficult task. Especially with all the callbacks, run around, hiding of information, it’s exhausting to deal with.
Again, this is what they want. They want to drain you dry so that you settle and just say fine. They need you, you have your pick. Ask as many questions as possible, they are leaving something out.

More Than Just Proof Of Insurance: The SR-22

Both your criminal conviction and the conditions to reinstate your license (either restricted or full) will be that you carry proof of insurance. Easy right? You’ve always driven with insurance.

Unfortunately, that’s not what they’re looking for. Yes, you absolutely have to keep your current insurance (if they will keep you) but additionally you’re going to have to add an SR-22 to your policy.

Like most people, I didn’t know what an SR-22 was besides hearing about it on the radio ads for sketchy places that will insure you without a license. An SR-22 addition means that you’re a high risk driver in that you either got a DUI or into a serious accident. It’s just a proof that you have insurance and that your company knows that you’ve been in trouble before. The SR-22 itself isn’t insurance. It offers no additional coverage or protection. CA law requires you to keep it for 3 years, other states have similar polices and varying amount of times, but 3 years is the standard. Once that’s up, drop it from your policy.

Here’s the big “gotcha” of the whole thing: if you switch insurance companies and get a separate SR-22, your three years
will start over. This is an incredibly easy mistake to make, don’t get caught up in it. Once you get your SR-22 you are free to change insurance companies, just make sure they do an SR-22 transfer. Then it will continue to count and you’ll be over it as quickly as can be.

Additionally, in California at least, the SR-22 is never a document that you will hold in your hand. You purchase it, then it’s sent to the DMV, and you’re given an estimation of when it will arrive. Not particularly helpful, but whatever. In a pinch I’m told it can be
faxed in a matter of hours. In a world of instant gratification, this part is a complete hassle and frustration.

Getting the SR-22 isn’t hard, but it’s a pain. My insurance company has an app and reporting a claim is super easy, I don’t have to talk to people, it’s like ordering a pizza in this day and age.

There’s nowhere to get an SR-22 in the app. You have to call. Now that we have our technology, I hate to make the call, but you have to make the call. No insurance company (that I know of) allows you to get one over their website, or anything else. This also comes with them asking why you’re being required to get one. You gotta tell them, sadly. This is usually how your insurance finds out about your DUI, and adjusts their rates accordingly.

Can I get an SR-22 without telling my insurance company?

A common question. I looked into it. You actually can.

I don’t recommend it.
I really don’t recommend it.

There’s two types of SR-22 - one for owners of a car, and one for non-owners. When you get your DUI you’re going to get all sorts of mailings from people saying that they can give you an SR-22 without telling your insurance company. They’re trying to sell you a non-owners SR-22 for the car that you own (leasing, etc. counts). They’re trying to tell you that it will be fine.
It will not be fine.

First of all, the DMV knows whether you own a car or not. They’re going through your file already, it will be very easy for them to put 2 and 2 together when you go into the DMV to get your license reinstated with a form saying that you put an interlock device on your car, with an SR-22 that says that you don’t own a car. You laugh, but people have tried it.

Additionally, if you’re in an accident, all of your shit comes up, and it’ll be clear that you tried to get around it. Which would be a violation of your plea bargain, and that will get you in a world of trouble. In some states you are required to keep the SR-22 with your car. When you get pulled over in your car with a non-owner SR-22, well, it’s easy.

Basically, so many things can go wrong with this, it’s not even funny. I know you want to try to get away with something at this point because you feel that everybody’s turning the screws on you, but this isn’t it.

But the biggest thing is that non-owner SR-22s are
really expensive. Anywhere from $75-100 a month.

Typically, your insurance will not raise your rates by near that amount.

It’s not worth it.

Soft Suspension And The Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

Once you’ve gotten past the 30 days the DMV allows you to apply for a restricted driver’s license provided you’ve met a few criteria: you cannot have any other suspensions or revocations on your license, you have enrolled in the DUI classes, you have gotten your SR-22, and that you pay a reinstatement fee (usually about $45). The fees you can just take care of while you’re at the DMV applying for the license, the SR-22 is a little bit trickier.

When you get an SR-22, the insurance company sends the documentation to the DMV, so you have
no idea when it actually gets there. When I got mine I was given a span of ten days when it could be there. I complained because I was about to leave town for a week and wanted to let that week serve as part of getting the restricted license period over with. I was told that if things came down to it the SR-22 could be faxed, yes, faxed over “within a period of four hours if I get there and the DMV doesn’t have it”. What a complete pain in the ass. Fortunately it was there when I got my restricted license a few days later. Otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.

The Big Scary Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

The biggest part of the restricted license is that it generally requires that you either only drive to school/work/your DUI program, or that you can only drive with an interlock on your car, or both. I was only required to get the interlock, but some in my program had both restrictions put on them. One lucky person only had the school/work/program restriction (they’d gotten theirs in Orange County), which is much more workable (especially since cops don’t know where you’re going, and many jobs can require to be anywhere at a given moment).

The IID was my biggest fear regarding this whole thing. How can I drive around with this thing attached to my car? How can I drive somebody around without looking like a complete wino, how can I date with this thing? Won’t people look down on me as they pass me as I’m blowing on this thing while driving?

Like most things with this process, what you imagine it to be is much worse than what it actually is. Such is the power of the imagination.

The Restricted License Snafu

So, to get the restricted license you have to install the interlock on your car. To install the interlock you have to be eligible - and every place will be calling the DMV and checking to make sure (you really don’t want to accidentally install one when you don’t need it!). So by definition the DMV requires you to drive illegally twice- once to the installation and once from the installation to the DMV to get the license. I can imagine if you show a cop that you have an IID appointment they’d be tolerant, but as you well know, it’s all up to how the cops is feeling that day. If the cop wants to be a dick, well, they can. Drive safe.

Once you’re eligible for the interlock you’ll receive another menacing all-caps letter from the DMV telling you that you’re eligible, and will include an order for the ignition interlock, and a form to fill out if you’re exempt from the interlock. Could you possibly be exempt from the interlock? Like most things you’ve gotten your hopes up for during this process, probably not. An exemption only comes if you do not own a vehicle, do not have access to a vehicle at your residence, and you do not have access to the vehicle you were arrested in - and are able to explain why you do not have that access (the car doesn’t run is
not a valid reason, even if you have a PNO on file). Even if you are exempt, you will still be unable to legally drive a vehicle that does not have an interlock device on it as part of your restricted license. So even if you did qualify for the exemption it’s not a get-out-of-jail free card.

What if I have to drive as part of my job?

This is part that gets a little bit weird. If you have to drive a car as part of your job, you can drive a car owned by your employer as long as they have a notice that you have a restricted license (I imagine that this notice contains the reason you’re on a restricted license, so, if you were hoping to hide it from your employer, your luck’s run out). If you drive your own vehicle, you have to get the IID, even if it’s a big rig. Ownership has it’s downside.

Prepping for it

I know you’re excited to drive again at this point. I certainly was. However, I took my car out on a little bit of a test run. I needed an oil change before I got the suspension, and certainly things weren’t getting any better so I ran out and got one. The guy mentioned that my brakes were getting low, which is what the dealership told me when I last stopped in there a few months ago, so I knew things were getting bad. He quoted me an exceptionally reasonable price, so I went ahead and got it done right then.

I’m glad I did. If things got worse and I needed to get a brake job while I had the interlock on my car, I would have needed to give my mechanic information so that they could contact the manufacturer and disable the interlock on their own without disturbing it (testing it to drive and such). While it is a complete violation of your suspension, I would suggest getting anything that you need taken care of on the car taken care of before you get the interlock on it. If you’re worried, have a friend drive it for you. Be sure to check your mirrors and obey all laws. A cop got like three cars behind me and it was alarming to say the least (a big downside to looking up what will happen if you get caught).

Shopping for the IID

This ended up being a lot more complicated than I originally thought, so I made it it’s on separate entry. You’re definitely going to want to look into it and see the ins-and-outs and tricks that they’ll put you through.


The installation process isn’t that bad. You might have to wait around for the person before you to finish up, but you should have already basically set aside your day to the process since you have to get the IID installed and then go to the DMV. Be patient. It takes about an hour to install, and unfortunately, it’s not the kind of hour where you can walk over and get something to eat while you’re waiting. During the wait you’ll have your charges finally clearly explained to you, and you’ll have to watch a video about the use of the IID. You’re legally required to watch this video. You’ll also have to fill out a number of forms - be sure to fill them out clearly and accurately - they’ll charge you if you make a mistake and have to fill out a new form.

A lot of the information about the installation of the IID is really out there. I’m sure as you’ve googled around that you’ve heard some stories. The biggest misconception is that they install the device by drilling a hole in your dashboard.
This is completely false. It doesn’t even hold up if you think about it long enough. The installation of the IID should not damage your car in any way. If it is damaged you’re dealing with a disreputable dealer and they should be reported and a grievance filed. It is not acceptable. Some people ask about the wiring, but go ahead and take a flashlight and look underneath your dash - most of the wires are already held in place with electrical tape in a maelstrom of chaos - nobody will be able to tell.

The installation of your ignition interlock will get complicated if you have a push-to-start car or a keyless start system. Your installation will cost more, take longer, and be a little bit more of a headache. However some providers and states allow for remote interlocks for these systems, which may allow you to retain the level of convenience that you had before.

Once you have the unit hooked up, the installer will give you a certificate stating which unit you had, where it was done, etc. You take this
straight to the DMV where you will fill out some paperwork, wait around, hope your SR-22 is there, and get your restricted license.

IID Concerns

The first thing people worry about is the embarrassment of having the ignition interlock device (IID) attached to your car. It’s not the most fun thing, but it’s completely manageable. Once you figure out the shape and size of your device you’ll be able to find “hiding” places for it to rest while parked (you can always take the head of the unit and put it in your trunk if you don’t have a slot for it, or tuck it between the seat and console) and you can just duck your head out of sight when blowing and starting it up, as if you were getting something out of the glovebox, or you dropped something. I’ve done this as people have waved goodbye to me, nobody’s ever been the wiser.

For retests - I’ve not worried about people looking in my car as I’ve done it. You just drift back or forth, and blow - most people aren’t looking inside people’s cars all that often - they’re mostly looking forward or at their phones. If you’re truly concerned about being seen you can just drift back to where a car isn’t directly next to you and blow, or take a side street, or pull over and duck down. It’s not the most visible thing and you’ll only have it up 10-15 seconds, which is not that long. Additionally, most of the cars you see on the road are people who you’ll either never see again, or couldn’t recognize you if their life depended on it later. Most of the humiliation you face is in your own head.

People also worry about the IID impeding the functionality of their car. As long as you don’t drink, use mouthwash, etc. you should be fine. If a slasher from a horror movie is coming toward you it will take some time for the unit to start up and for you to blow into it to get it to pass, but, as those sorts of movies go, you should escape just in the nick of time. Additionally, the IID has served as a theft deterrent in several cases - criminals try to take the car or hotwire it, and are unable to figure out the breath pattern to get the car to start.

Another concern is that the device will drain your battery. The unit I have turns itself off after a certain amount of time when the car’s off, if I go into a place for a few hours the unit takes quite a while (about 40 seconds) to turn itself, initialize, and be ready to go, suggesting that it was completely turned off instead of going into a sleep mode. If you are truly concerned about this, the unit will detach from it’s cable much in the same way that a phone cord does (if you can remember wired phones or ethernet cables). When detached there’s no way for it to draw power (think light switch on but no light bulb). I have not seen any measurable drain on my battery, and, additionally, I left my car inactive with the unit attached for over a week and was still able to start it back up when I returned from my trip. In case you were wondering - should your battery die in most cases you will be able to jump your car as normal in most cases (some states require a car to go into lockout mode if without power for a prescribed amount of time - in that case your dead battery will cause you a lot of problems. Watch your gauge).

What is nice is that when you shut your car off you’ll have around 2 minutes where you’re free to start your car back up without having to blow into the device (on some units). Great for adjusting your parking, picking up a to-go food order, running into the house for something, etc. As you go on, you’ll get better at dashing inside for your phone, waiting till you’re out of the car, window down, turning the key and rushing. It’s kind of a fun test, and knowing that you made the deadline feels good. If you don’t make it, blowing isn’t that bad.

How It Works

Depending on the unit you get there’s a lot of different ways it can work - some have you blow and hum the entire time (usually 10 seconds) you have to blow, some just require a 3 second blow. I wish I had that unit, but do not think the extra cost it would have required is justified. Mine you have to blow for a certain amount of time and then blow and hum for the rest of it. The vast majority of interlocks will require a combination of blowing and humming.

To start your car you’ll have to turn the car on, then wait for the system to start. When it asks you to blow take a
big gulp of air and blow and blow and blow. It takes a large amount of air to blow into these things - that’s because they don’t want any chance of getting a false negative. They want any trace of alcohol in your lungs to get into the machine.

You will mess it up many times. It takes getting used to. No other breathalyzer system - your portable, the cops’ portables, the station’s use this system. It takes a while to get used to, but before long, you’ll have an increased lung capacity and able to blow whenever it asks no problem.

The most common error you will see is “Blow Harder”, usually meaning that you ran out of breath during the test. Don’t worry about this error - it doesn’t count as a violation.
However, it’s kind of a misnomer. I’ve found that the intensity of your breath does not matter. So I don’t blow harder, I blow longer. It wants a sustained breath. So don’t blow as hard, save the air, pace it out. Think back to that one year you took band in middle school - blow like that. Less air, doing more work. Smaller hole with your lips. Air comes out faster, but less is wasted, so you’re able to blow longer and sustain a note. The IID works the same way.

Try it yourself. Take a big breath of air then open your mouth and push it all out. It should be gone in a flash. Now take a breath the same size and open your lips only a little bit and push it out. It will take much, much longer. This is what you need to operate your IID. You won’t even have to blow that hard.

As you blow, at some point you will have to hum - at first it seems like a rub your belly and pat your head sort of situation, but after a bit, you’ll have it down completely. It gets easier every time you do it. I hardly even have to think about it anymore.

After you’ve blown enough and hummed enough, the machine will give you it’s reading - if it’s Pass you can simply start up your car and go on your way. If you have a little bit of alcohol in your system, somewhere between .02 and .029 (For CA, in other places it’s .015) it will give you a Warn - allowing you start the car, but saying you’ve cut it close. What’s important about a warn is that if you have recently drank alcohol your BAC can rise as your operate your vehicle and you can fail your retests. The worst case scenario is having too much alcohol in your system and getting a Fail. If you have .03 or more you will be unable to start your car for a little bit - if you try and fail again you’ll be locked out for a longer period of time.

A common reason for getting a fail, besides drinking alcohol, is mouthwash. If you’ve recently used mouthwash rinse your mouth out a few times with water and try again. You should be able to get a pass.

Rolling Retests

After you’ve blown and started your car, you will be subject to random retests. Your IID unit will beep and you’ll have six minutes to blow again into the ignition interlock device using the same hum pattern as you use to start it up. It will give you the same set of results - Pass, Warn, Fail and you’ll go on accordingly. If you do not blow into the unit you will be charged with a violation (The question comes up, what happens if you reach your destination and the IID goes off. If that happens
do not turn off the engine - that’ll cause a violation - blow, get a pass, and then turn off the unit. Additionally, I’ve had it go off right after I turned the car, I blew into it, it gave me my pass, and I went on my way without getting a violation. So there’s some leeway in all of this.)

The first retest generally comes within 5-10 minutes as sort of a general “double check” that you were ok to start the car, and to make sure that somebody didn’t blow to start the car for an intoxicated person. Afterwards it will go off every 20-30 minutes.

A lot of people worry that if they get a fail while driving that it will cause the car to stop.
This is absolutely not true. That would be a greater public safety threat than driving drunk. Instead you will be charged with a violation. Some units will allow you to continue driving, others are connected to your horn and cause your horn to start honking and your lights to start flashing, forcing you to pull over as soon as possible. There’s only two ways that you can record a violation like this - by drinking alcohol while driving (don’t mouthwash and drive) or the alcohol that you drank earlier gets processed into your system where you’re above the warn limit. Generally if you’re hitting that you should have gotten a warn when you started your car.


You can get violations a few ways - by having too much alcohol in your system, tampering with the unit, and refusing to take the rolling retest.

Obviously you should avoid these as much as possible - but, again, you do get
some leeway. They’re not going to for messing up by having too much mouthwash. Depending on a number of factors, you may have as many as 3 violations per month, or 3 violations allowed for the entire duration of your time with the device. The device is in the hands of the private companies that operate them, and it’s somewhat up to them what they report. Looking through all the information I was given and I was able to find on the web I was not able to find any concrete set of rules regarding how many violations will pull you out of the program and force you to serve out your days carless. Some places say 3, others seem to indicate that the DMV is more focused on tampering, bypassing, failing rolling tests, and just plain not getting the interlock rather than worrying if you got locked out twice.

My advice: Don’t chance it. There’s no need to make any more trouble for yourself.
Keep your portable breathalyzer with you or in the car and test yourself before the car tests you. You may have waited long enough after having those 2 beers with dinner, but you may not have. Don’t leave it up to chance. Keep as many extra violations as you can just in case you need them. I just checked mine - I have 5 left for this 2 month period. I’m going to do what I can to keep them, and just get less headaches overall.


Along with the overall hassle of having to blow in this thing ever so often, you have to show up to your installer and get the thing calibrated. Like all alcohol detecting devices, time and use wears them down so they have to get readjusted and set back to be accurate. The state requires that you do this at least every 60 days. Your installer, by default, will have you come back every 30 days. Just tell them at the beginning you want to do 60 days and you’ll be fine.

The biggest hassle of it is just showing up. Once you’re there, you just sit back, play on your phone, listen to whatever oldies station they have playing in the showroom. They take the head unit and put it in a box and blow air into it, and run a cable to your car and download all the records of your blowing into it. If you have too many violations or issues this is where you’ll have to deal with it. Most of the time it’s a smooth process.

If you don’t go your interlock will go into Lockout mode - meaning that you will not be able to start your car at all. Make your appointments (on time, too, as they can charge you, of course, for being late). However, your car doesn’t immediately shut down if you miss your appointment. You’re given a grace period, usually 2 days (check your state). This is just to be reasonable (plans change, etc) and also to deal with months having irregular amounts of days - so that you don’t have to pay for a full month just to get the 2 more days that you will need to finish up your suspension.


What you’ve been waiting for. Like most things, the time you have to deal with this goes by pretty quickly once you’ve gotten the hang of it. The only snafu with removal is that your installer can’t remove the IID without getting an order from the DMV.
Most of them will not tell you this in an attempt to squeeze another month out of you. Shitty, I know.

Your paperwork will have a number for the DMV office that deals with these affairs. Give it a call 7-10 days early (they won’t issue the removal orders too early), wait on hold (they actually have a system that calls you back when a person is available, which is great) get the order, and send that to your interlock company (go ahead and send it to your installer, too, let the whole world know).
On the big day, drive on in, be on time, and get ready to wait around a while. Like before, it can take an hour for these to get installed and removed. Pay another fee, then get in your car and turn the key without blowing on anything like God intended!! Rev the motor and peel out of the parking lot intent on never coming back. You’ve done your time. Drive directly to the DMV, wait in line, and get the restriction removed from your driver’s license. Like before, just cross the day off the calendar and dedicate it to this. However, this time it’s your independence day!

One little snafu…

There is one little thing. If, for some reason, your suspension is longer than the period you’re required to have your interlock (and I can’t think of a reason why this would be), once it’s off you will have a restriction that says you can only go to work and your alcohol classes. If this is the case, just remember: the cop doesn’t know where you’re going (that’s what a lawyer told me!)

The Hard Suspension: 30 Days - No Driving.

While going through this process, you’re going to get a lot of mail - the worst is the big imposing letter from the DMV that reads “ORDER OF SUSPENSION” across the top. The DMV writes in all caps, so it just looks intimidating.

When you lose your DMV hearing your license is suspended automatically for four months. After 30 days you can apply for a restricted license that will allow you to drive either to limited places (Work, School, DUI program), with an Ignition Interlock Device (IID), or both. I got the interlock restriction, but recently spoke to a woman in my DUI class that got the travel restriction and no interlock. If you have to get a DUI get one in Orange County, not LA County, I guess.

So, if you go for the restricted program you get additional time (just one month) on your suspension (unless your conviction gives you a 6 month suspension, in which case it doesn’t), but you have the ability to drive your car in many conditions, which most people we see as worth it, so you really only have to give up driving for 30 days.

When I served my 30 days of driving, it was the longest period I had ever gone without driving a car since getting my license. I live in LA, getting around without a car is unthinkable!

Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I got lucky and was working out of an office about two and a half miles away from me, so my commute to work involved me getting up a bit earlier (truly the hardest part) and biking at a quick rate, but one that wouldn’t get me very sweaty. This took some trial and error. I recognize that most aren’t so lucky, and that biking what was a 45 minute ride three cities away just isn’t practical. The most difficult part of this suspension for some people isn’t the mobility, but the thought of having to give their boss an excuse as to why they can’t drive into work. Car problems, family issues, and other excuses can work out. You will just have to gauge the situation for yourself. If you have an office that allows you to telecommute, by all means do that. If not, have a family member or trusted friend drive you. Or Uber.

Do I really gotta do this?

Yes. Yes you do. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Granted, there was a certain amount of people in my DUI program that were driving on a suspended license, I very much cannot recommend it. Driving on a suspended license is a serious charge, and the stiffest penalties are for when you drive on a suspended license because of a DUI. Penalties: Possible 1 year complete “hard” suspension, 3 years probation, $2000 fine, 10 days in County Jail, and 3 years of the IID.
That’s so much worse than the suspension ahead of you. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.

Sure, maybe you won’t get caught. Maybe you didn’t fix that taillight that got you pulled over the first time (crazy how many people get pulled over something and don’t immediately high-tail it over to the nearest AutoZone or mechanic to get it fixed). Maybe you’re still speeding, or driving recklessly. If you get caught drinking and driving while driving on a suspended license because of a DUI you are about to get really fucked over. That’s just dumb. If you’re going to drive on the suspended license, at least drive sober.
30 days is nothing. Besides, you don’t need that creeping fear when you’re driving on a suspended license and a cop pulls up behind you. It’s worth it to not drive just to avoid that feeling.

How To Get Around

I found the suspension gave me a great excuse to get the bike tuned up and try to get back into bicycle shape… which the first ride proved, had been far too long. Biking is fun to get around, especially once you figure out which side streets you can ride on easily and figure out where the big hills are. You get some exercise, which you never get in a car. You can still listen to your music on your phone, or podcasts, or whatever, just be sure to check into your local laws about headphones as some places are starting to crack down on that sort of thing. Just one bit of important information:
You can absolutely get a DUI while riding a bicycle.

Not going to lie, I take my bike to the bar and ride it back after a few. It’s generally not an issue, I use side streets and obey all traffic laws.
All traffic laws for cars apply to bicycles as well. Red lights, bike lights, etc. It’s incredibly rare for somebody to get a DUI while on a bicycle, and the general consensus is that you have to be a real dickhead to a cop or other person to get one, but - you are on probation, and that’s looked down on. So be careful and know you’re taking a risk if you continue to drink while taking the bike around. Be respectful to cars, be respectful to traffic laws, and you should be fine.

Additionally, I familiarized myself with Los Angeles’ subway system, which most people who live here don’t even realize we have one. It’s underused, efficient, and a pretty pleasant experience. Bring your headphones, bring a book, and you’re good. It’s kind of amazing to be able to change time you would spend driving into catching up on a book, or getting some work done. Makes you think about the time lost to actual driving. The difficult part about the subway is that it’s very limited in where it goes - some areas are just completely not served, and that it’s strict on it’s timetable - so many times I’ve been rushing down the stairs to hear the train leave the station and been stuck for some time. Still, it gets you to a lot of places you want to go, so I can’t knock it.

Then there’s the bus. The bus… is the bus. It has weirdos, and loose timetables, and you’re never sure if it’s coming late or left early… It’s a hassle. But it gets you around, and once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad. The big advantage is that it gets almost everywhere, and can be used with the subway to cut travel times down drastically. The bus is an underrated player in the transportation game.

Finally, there’s Uber and Lyft. The most priciest options, but also the nicest. You make the request and before too long somebody comes by in their car, picks you up and takes you to your destination. Sometimes the driver can be a little bit talky, but otherwise it’s a pretty good service. Cheaper than a cab (who won’t come get you when you want it to and is an incredibly unpleasant experience), and super convenient. It’s best to get familiar with these two for when you do have your license back and still want to drink. Additionally you can get a free ride for each of these with a code for one free ride on each of these services (you can use one to your destination and the other back for a free round trip and a comparison between the two.)

Additionally, each of these services have a carpool option, that picks up somebody along the way and going in roughly the same direction. Depending on how much you like random situations, this can be good or bad. I know people who have made very close friends from this, and even one couple that met through this. I do it because it’s cheaper.

Uber and Lyft are super popular, leaving some people to ditch their cars completely and solely rely on them to get around. Even a small car payment means a lot of rides on the service, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. Uber wants to take their technology to get a full fleet of driverless cars, and people would just get rides that way and replace personal car ownership. That’s a really interesting vision of the future, one I kind of hope comes - because if I never have to drive again, I can never pick up another DUI.

The Experience

Like I said, overall the experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was lucky enough to be able to bike in to work, a lot of the places I wanted to go were off the subway or bus lines and there were stops pretty near my place. Just because I was starting to get strapped for cash, I avoided using Uber and Lyft, but ended up using them a fair amount. They came in super handy when I’d be across town late at night and the bus wouldn’t be around for another 2 hours.

It’s much more doable than I thought it’d be. The biggest problem is getting groceries, grabbing lunch for yourself on the weekends, all the quick runs. If it’s a big thing, like joining your crew for a big hangout then you can figure out when you need to leave to take the train, or grab an uber or whatever, but when the nearest laundromat is 3/4 of a mile away, things begin to get tricky.

That said, uber drivers are very understanding.

It’s also a nice excuse to say no. Friends would want me to come out to something they were doing, usually I’d go even though I didn’t want to - now, because of this, I could say no, give them some excuse (I wasn’t telling everybody about this) and enjoy my time to myself. Watch a movie on Netflix, catch up on all those little side projects I’d been meaning to do. It gave me a nice excuse to work on myself, and projects I wanted to do, instead of being pulled every different direction like usual.

One worry people have is that if you can’t drive, that people will find out. I went out less than I normally would, but still went out, biking, catching an
uber, etc. and nobody was ever the wiser.

The Hitch

There’s just one tiny little hitch to the process - You’re
eligible to apply for your restricted license after 30 days. That doesn’t mean you’ll just automatically get it after 30 days. If you’re getting the interlock device, as I have, you have to get it installed before you can get the license, and you have to get it installed on the installer’s schedule. But you can’t make an appointment with the installer until you’re eligible, which means you can’t get the appointment until you’ve served the 30 days. It’s bureaucracy at it’s worst. I only had an extra 4 days without the car, but they served to be the four days I could’ve used my car the most.

However, it did give me a chance to think about driving my car again - I ended up illegally driving it over to a nearby service station and getting a few things taken care of - namely an oil change that was due, and brake pads that would’ve been needed sometime during my months with the interlock. I figured it was better to get them taken care of now, than when the device was on. Despite the illegal drive, I feel this was the right thing to do. It was the
only time I drove illegally.

In the end

30 Days seems like a lot, but it will go by
much quicker than you think it will. I started counting every day. Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. I lost track before I even hit 10.

This, like most of your punishments, will quickly become just a memory. Oh yeah, I did that.

Pleading Out: Making A Plea Bargain

When you get arrested for suspicion of DUI there’s two main schools of thought when it comes to your court case - I’m going to fight this, or just give me the minimums and let me get this over with. Unless there’s a spectacular mistake or injustice made, even in the case of the most focused fighter, they usually become a person who just wants to put it to bed.

The DUI process is long, and it’s taxing in a lot of ways - financially, mentally, logistically. But it all comes to an end one way or another.

The vast majority of cases are settled by a plea bargain. You don’t go to trial, you save court costs, you save time, and you (hopefully) get a minimal sentence or close to it. You can fight it, but you’ve given the state the evidence they need to convict you. This is the part where you really feel like you’re being eaten up by the gears of the system. The deck is stacked, and you didn’t have much of a chance to begin with.

So, it’s always with a heavy sigh that somebody says, “Ok, I’ll take the plea bargain”.

It feels both heavy, in that now, as soon as you sign it and return it you are a convicted criminal. How did your life end up like this? But there’s also a lightness in saying, “alright, I messed up, lemme do what I gotta do, and put it behind me”.

When you’re offered the plea bargain, you should know
all of the terms involved - what the fines will be, how much (if any) jail time, how long the DMV program will be, the conditions of an interlock device, suspension, the driver’s license suspension, any additional charges involved in this plea (any charge you picked up in your stop, can be rolled into this plea and effectively dismissed as well), everything. Be sure to ask as many questions as you possibly can. Get your money’s worth out of your lawyer, get the public’s money out of your public defender, or if you’re representing yourself, get the prosecutor to lay out every single bit of it. Know your plea forwards, backwards, and upside down before you sign anything. Do not sign anything you do not understand.

Absolutely, under no circumstances sign anything you do not understand or did not agree to.

There shouldn’t be anything screwy in there, it’s a procedure the prosecutor goes through hundreds of times a week, but, once again, and I cannot emphasize it enough -
Do not sign anything you have questions about or have not been informed about.

Alright, I think we’ve on the same page now.

How do you plead?

The first thing you need to understand about the plea bargain is what the actual plea is - there’s two options “Guilty”, which is what it sounds like, and
nolo contendere, which is a little bit different, and what you should be pleading.

Nolo contendere means No Contest, but the legal system likes to stick to using latin wherever possible so the phrase has hung around. Pleading No Contest is the same as pleading guilty for the most part - you still get a charge, you still skip the trial, you still get punished - but pleasing No Contest has a little quirk that actually, for once, goes in your advantage:
a plea of No Contest cannot be used against you in a civil case as an admission of guilt. So if you were drunk and hit a parked car, the owner suing you can’t use you taking a No Contest plea as proof that you did it and admitted to it. If you plead guilty you can. For most DUIs coming from traffic stops or checkpoints there won’t be a civil case associated, but you should take the protection anyway. Any time the legal system offers you protection, just take it. It also allows you to mentally not have the word “guilty” attached to yourself, which is good for your headspace.

The Plea Form

The plea form itself is a long document that asks you to agree to nearly 40 different statements - it looks daunting, but if you understand the offer given to you it isn’t bad. Here’s a quick walkthrough:

The first two statements are that you understand you that you have a right to an attorney. Easy enough. You pick whether you have one or not.

The next section lays out the charges against you - that you drove under the influence, that you had a BAC of .08, whether you were driving a commercial vehicle (special charges and BAC restrictions on those), and if you were reckless or not. It also has a place that can add on any other related charges to your crime (open container, no license, etc). Be absolutely sure to only initial the boxes that correspond to the actual charges against you. I wasn’t driving a commercial vehicle, so I did not initial that box.
Under no circumstance should you agree to anything that you weren’t charged with - this will come back to haunt you. Again, if you don’t understand something, you can ask your attorney, the prosecutor, or the judge, even.

Afterwards comes a section where you waive your rights. It’s always disheartening as an American to give up any of your rights, but this gets the process moving. If you’re pleading out you’ve already decided that you do not want a jury trial, or produce evidence, and that you don’t want to cross examine people. Also, by pleading you are self-incriminating, and giving up your right to silence. You’ve already implicitly agreed to these concepts, but seeing them in writing makes it a little bit difficult. Give up your rights? This is America. Eh. At this point it’s all a formality.

Then you’re presented with the consequences of your actions - there’s a chart with the minimum and maximum punishments and you agree that you understand the range of what can happen. What’s really important to understand is that this is where you agree to the Watson provision - where if you drink and drive again, and end up in a collision that results in a fatality
you may be charged with second degree murder. Let that sink in for a second. Screw up again and you may find yourself fighting a murder charge. If that doesn’t motivate you to avoid a second charge, nothing will.

Additionally in this section you agree to pay court costs in addition to the penalty. The on-the-books penalty for a DUI is $390-$1000, but you end up paying
much more because the various fees and court costs they tack on to your conviction. There is no way around these. You cannot fight them. Again, you’re just caught up in the gears of the machine.

This section goes on to illustrate the differences in the DMV case vs the criminal case, which you should understand at this point as you’ve been pretty well through it and may be on some phase of your DMV suspension.

Then you have your plea - either Guilty or No Contest, your signature (remember what I said earlier, nothing is valid until you sign it, be sure of what you’re getting into), what charge you’re pleading to (triple check it), the date, and agreeing to be sentenced when the court receives the document, or when a temporary judge receives it.

As a plea bargain is a court document you will have to get it notarized. A real pain if there’s not one by your lawyer’s office and you’re serving out your suspension. It also sucks that you have to go into a notary’s office, with your head down low, and show them that you’re taking a plea bargain. It’s just what you have to do.

Not such a bargain

The plea bargain isn’t a complicated document, but it’s a daunting one. It’s imposing, and it will mess with you emotionally, as once it’s submitted,
there’s no going back.

But that’s something you can use to your advantage - there’s no going back,
then it’s time to move forward. Once you’ve agreed to the plea bargain, there’s no more surprises, no more ambiguity. You know what you have to do, and when to do it by, and how to do it.

It’s the biggest step to putting all of this behind you.

The DMV Hearing

Once you have requested the hearing you’re in a weird legal gray zone. Most likely the police confiscated your physical driver’s license upon your arrest. If not, it doesn’t matter, it’s invalid anyhow. Upon your release from either jail or holding, the police should have given you your ticket for DUI and a pink form with the DMV’s logo on it called “Age 21 and older Administrative Per Se Suspension/Revocation Order and Temporary Driver License” - this is now your driver’s license. (Despite the title most people don’t pick up on that fact, I didn’t, but I was still shell shocked). You can drive with this as long as you have a photo ID - this is why you get a passport even if you don’t intend on traveling, it’s good to have a backup ID. If not you can get a state ID, which is handy to have since you will be using your alternate ID for everything, and passports are a hassle to carry around, and can be dangerous if stolen.

What’s important to note about this pink form is that the copy you’re given was made from the impressions of carbon paper.
The impressions on the front will fade quickly. It’s worthless if you get pulled over with it and a cop cannot read it. HOWEVER, it is completely legal to drive with a photocopy of this paper (as long as you have a photo ID). You are also allowed to go over the marks in pen. It seems weird that it’s legal, but, it is. You won’t be charged with tampering with the document as long as you do not make any changes whatsoever to it. Remember: they have the master document, if you get busted, they can easily find out. My lawyer provided me with both darkened copies and went over it, just in case.

This temporary license is only valid for 30 days from your arrest, however. Your DMV hearing will be more than 30 days from when you request it, so the DMV will issue you a temporary license. It clearly lays out that your suspension is stayed until your hearing date. Again, you must have a photo ID along with this piece of paper, but then you’re good to go. You can drive anywhere you want, for any reason. However, it’s important to know that you’re on probation until your trial date.
This is something that they do not tell you.

Between your arrest and your trial you are on a zero-tolerance for any detectable amount of alcohol in your blood. So, even if you had one beer an hour ago, have been drinking water, if their breathalyzer comes up with a .01 you can get in trouble. Mouthwash, onions, other things can trigger a .01 on a breathalyzer, so be careful. Again - my advice is to get a portable breathalyzer and keep it in your glovebox. If you do get caught with a detectable amount the police can’t give you an additional DUI - that’s a large misconception - but they can suspend your license for a year as a violation of this probation.

In some instances you may have to delay your hearing. This can be done for a number reasons, you’ll still be able to drive in the interim, and you’ll be sent a paper with your new date on there. Technically you do not have to keep this with you as you drive, but I decided to in case I got pulled over - the temporary license says that it’s only valid through the hearing, and it could be all too easy for a cop to think that my story about delaying the hearing was bullshit, so I wanted to have as much documentation as possible. Just put it in the glovebox and forget it. You don’t have to, but I can’t see a reason why you wouldn’t.

Additionally, if you have recently visited the DMV or did after your arrest, you may have a license arrive in the mail. Officially you’re supposed to surrender this license, but the process of how exactly to do that isn’t that clear even from the DMV. The bottom line is, if you get one, don’t get caught with it. Don’t carry it on you, don’t have it in your car. Throw it away, shred it, put it in your files. You will never be asked for any evidence that you surrendered it, but you can be facing some stiff penalties if you present it to a police officer at a traffic stop. Don’t worry about keeping it for when your suspension is up, you will have to visit the DMV and get a new one anyhow.

Your DMV hearing will be over the phone, usually in the mid-day. There’s a checkbox for it to be in person, but I don’t know how you get that, or why you’d want to. It’s important to know that DMV hearing is the most harsh part of this whole thing - there’s no sympathy, it’s as cut-and-dry as a trip to the DMV. You have to have all your documents in order, everything has to be filled out just right, you’ve been through it. This hearing asks two basic questions - 1.) Was the stop a legal stop? 2.) Was the operator intoxicated? That’s it. There’s no arguments, there’s no throwing yourself upon the mercy of the court, that’s all you get.

99% of the time you will be found in violation. Just be prepared for that.

The DMV hearing is going to trust your arresting officer pretty much all of the time, and neither you, nor your lawyer have the evidence against you to argue a point. You don’t have the calibration information, you don’t have the video of your arrest, and even if you did - it’s taking place over the phone. Even the most braggadocious lawyer will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to win this hearing.

As such you’re facing a 5 month suspension of your drivers license - but this can be adjusted. You absolutely must serve 30 days of what’s known as a hard suspension - no driving, for any reason, whatsoever. Tune up the bike, get a pair of comfy walking shoes, learn the route the bus takes, grab an uber, do anything but drive. If you get caught the penalties for driving on a suspended license for DUI are the toughest of all the driving on a suspended license penalties. They take this charge extremely seriously. Some of the people in my DUI classes drove without it. I looked up the penalties - Possible 1 year complete “hard” suspension, 3 years probation, $2000 fine, 10 days in County Jail, and 3 years of the IID. No thank you. No thank you at all. It gets worse if you get into an accident or get another DUI while driving on a suspended license. Just avoid it all together.

Once the 30 days are up you can apply for a restricted license - which will allow you to drive any vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device (IID) for five months (so it extends the total suspension to six months, but you’re driving). They used to also put a restriction that only allowed you to drive to and from your place of work and/or school, but I didn’t receive any such restriction. I don’t think they’re giving it out as much, as their concerns are not where you go, but what’s in your blood when you’re driving. I wasn’t expecting to not get this restriction, so I asked my lawyer a lot of questions about the work/school restrictions. First of all, if you do get them, it
does allow you to go to your DUI program - previously I had read that this wasn’t allowed and that cops would use the classes as a trap, but this isn’t true. Second, the lawyer basically spelled it out to me as this: a cop doesn’t know where you’re coming from, where you’re going, the hours you work, etc. As long as you have a reasonable explanation (work function, meeting, etc.) and don’t have a pile of groceries in the front seat, you should be able to skirt the restriction somewhat. It’s really hard to prove where you were intending to go and for what purpose. This is, of course, a dicey strategy, but it doesn’t seem like your destination is a high priority for the police.

Having gone through the process - this, in my opinion, is the most difficult part. The 30 days without a car and driving with the IID are hassles, and kind of just rubbing your nose in it. It does work as a preventative measure for a repeat offense. I’ve had enough of this, it’s not worth it.

The Discovery Process: Presenting The Evidence

In the United States you have the right to see any and all evidence the state has against you. This is one of the foundations of Due Process, right up there with the right to an attorney. This is taken incredibly seriously, as any withholding of evidence by the prosecution is an incredibly serious charge. They’re going to give it all to you, including any evidence that supports your innocence (spoiler alert: 99.9999% of times there isn’t any).

I went through the discovery process because I thought there was a chance that my stop was illegal based on what the cop said to me at the time of arrest (that I was weaving
within my lane, not outside of it). Usually your lawyer or public defender will show up at your first hearing and meet with the prosecutor, who will usually try to offer a plea bargain just to move the process along quicker and cheaper for everybody. At this point you can take the plea, or move into discovery. There’s always the vague threat that if you go to discovery that your current minimalistic plea bargain could be rescinded and a more harsh one be offered afterwards as some sort of “punishment” for using more of the court’s time. In the vast majority of cases this will not happen (I can make no promises for every single one, of course), and it didn’t happen in mine.

Should you decide to go further your lawyer will file for requests of the police report, the video from the traffic stop, and any other evidence the state has against you. Doing this will
not add to your court fees, nor should it cost you more money with your lawyer if you have them on retainer. Getting these materials will take some time and most likely you’ll have a court date moved because of this. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The waiting time for these materials to be produced is a really odd one. You’re going to turn over every single scenario in your head - did this happen? did that happen? I swear I didn’t do x… but what if video shows I did? You can’t really judge your actions that much - at this point it’s a few months after your arrest, and you were at least somewhat intoxicated. Nor can you judge what your actions look like to somebody else. It’s all a mystery, one you will try to solve over and over again, but get no closer.

After some time your lawyer will receive the documents in question and call you in. There’s a certain level of anxiety involved in knowing that you’re going to watch the footage of you getting arrested. My stomach was turning, I didn’t want to see it, I couldn’t see it, I had to see it. I think I ended up buying a mini-bottle from a nearby liquor store just to settle my nerves before walking in the door to my lawyer’s office.

The various law enforcement agencies across the nation all use different formats for their video. Get arrested in some places, you get to watch yourself in crystal clear full-color HD. Some places you get a blurry, vague SD picture that looks like it came out of an old 7-Eleven security cam. Some will deliver the videos digitally, some on DVD, and some in weird proprietary formats that your lawyer may have a difficult time opening up on their PC. There’s no real standard. Some will allow you to jump around in the video, some only let you restart it. None of it makes the process easier.

Watching the video of my arrest wasn’t easy… but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Your brain switches to analytical mode, looking for that sliver of hope, that off-chance that something on this tape disqualifies everything… but you’re probably not likely to find it. I didn’t.
My tire had crossed one of the lines, I was done. My weaving wasn’t too bad actually, but I had crossed the line and that was enough to get me. It’s important to know that a cop can pretty much pull you over, they have enough byzantine laws and regulations to make sure they can find some reason to pull you over if they want to. It didn’t help me when my lawyer confirmed that they had enough to perform a legal stop on me and added, “Y’know, I watch these all the time, and it mostly comes down to luck.”

Mine had run out.

I could have continued to fight it if I wanted, but, there wasn’t much to fight.

It was time for a
plea bargain.

The DMV Case vs The Criminal Case

One of the little “quirks” of the DUI process is that when you’re arrested you find yourself faced with two charges against you for one crime. It’s not Double Jeopardy - it’s a loophole that they’re exploiting against you.

The case that’s against you - technically just a ticket for a DUI - is a criminal case and it belongs to the court. The court can fine you, imprison you, suspend your license, require an ignition interlock device, it has a lot of range. This is what you get your lawyer for, this is the main thing you defend yourself against.

However, it’s not the complete case against you. When you sign the agreement to get your driver’s license, you agree to not drink and drive. It’s in the fine print that you didn’t read, and if you did, it’s not like you’re going to say “If I can’t drink, then I don’t want to drive!”.

Because you have violated the agreement, the DMV can punish you on their own, in a civial case against you
independently of your criminal case. Your court case can get dismissed, delayed, rejected, etc. and you can still lose your license because of the DMV’s hearing against you. It’s completely not fair, I agree, but them’s the breaks.

It is 100% possible to beat your court case and still face a suspension of your license.

In California you have just 10 days from your arrest to request a hearing about your case, otherwise your license will be suspended automatically for six months for a first offense(other states have similar laws, some even harsher). Supposedly the phone number that you call to request this hearing has a high volume to it, making it a long affair to request this hearing (I don’t know, my lawyer took care of this for me, and he claims that lawyers have an alternate number they can call for this. I, of course, have no way of verifying these claims).

After your DMV hearing is requested you can drive anywhere you want, at any time, free and clear, just as long as you aren’t drinking - until your trial you are on a zero-tolerance suspension, and can have your license fully suspended for a year if you’re found with
any detectable amount of alcohol in your system.

Given that you’ll still be a little shaky from your arrest, and already watching over your back, you don’t need any more distractions from your driving. Grab an Uber, don’t risk it.

Dealing with the DMV during your DUI adventure is just as much of a pain as dealing with the court is. The complete suspension of your driver’s license is the most difficult, day-to-day affecting part of your sentencing, and it comes with multiple visits to the DMV (reason enough not to get a DUI), lots of waiting, the utter hassle of the ignition interlock device (IID), and the paying of small, but annoying, fees on top of this.

Even if you beat the case, you still lose.

Hiring A Lawyer

Having called many lawyers, visited a few, and agonizing over the decision, I was ready to hire a lawyer. It’s an important milestone in the process because it’s the first time where you decide to put up a defense - as feeble as it may be.

Even if you are completely guilty, you need to defend yourself. Even if you have no priors, you need to defend yourself. The legal system is tricky, there’s so many opinions that come into play, even in what should be a clear cut case, you need to defend yourself.

I naively believed that I could beat my case, so I hired a punchy lawyer. Based on what I knew then, it was the right choice for me at the time. Now, now I believe I could have saved myself some money, but not a lot.

Could I afford the lawyer? Not really. But I didn’t feel that I had much of an option. The legal system is
scary. I wasn’t afraid that they’d lock me up for life, but I was worried abut all the different options that could happen to me. A public defender didn’t seem to be an option, and I certainly couldn’t go for it myself.

So, I made my pick, and told him my financial circumstances, and he worked with me. I didn’t expect this, but if you want, you can just put your lawyer services on a credit card. It’s not the most financially sound option (I think, I’m not great at that stuff), but it’s there. Most will also take payments - either monthly or quarterly. So, now for 18 months, I pay a bit of my legal fees off. The way things worked out, it’s not the huge drain I thought it would be. Have to tighten up the belt a bit, for sure, but, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would have been, nor as bad as I thought when the numbers came sliding across my lawyer’s desk.

I feel the sting from it, absolutely, but, it’s manageable. I’m greatly looking forward to the day I make the last payment, but, I can handle this.

Even in spite of me wrongly believing I could fight this, hiring the lawyer made me feel safe. I felt that I would be in a better position than otherwise, and for once I felt like I had somebody on my side. The whole world wasn’t against me - I’ve got my lawyer on my side!

I can’t say what’s right for you, or your situation. When it came down to it, I felt better safe than sorry. If I need money somewhere down the line, there’s always more options, working a second job, loans, etc. I wouldn’t have a second chance at this - there’s always more chances to make money.

The best way I can put it is the entire DUI process feels like you’re a kid on the playground and you’re just getting slapped around. There’s this process, and this fee, and this hurdle, and it all comes at you at once. Your lawyer is the big kid who says, “Hey, you can only slap him this many times, and you have to take turns”.

So, a little better.

The Search For A Lawyer: How to find them and what should it cost?

The biggest decision in your DUI saga will be how you want to represent yourself legally. It’s a difficult and costly decision that has a lot of pitfalls involved, and it’s one of the most “not fun” processes of the whole endeavor.

To Have A Lawyer or Not

This is an incredibly difficult decision. Unfortunately, as with most of the decisions you make during this time, there’s no way to know things would be like if you had gone the other way. It’s hard to say that you made a “right” decision - the best you can opt for is knowing that you made a “smart” decision.

Anecdotally, it seems to me that most people
do not choose to get a lawyer’s help in these matters. Or, as it seems to be with most matters, people are ashamed of spending the money involved in a lawyer, and they don’t want to admit they got one. I struggled with this decision, money was already tight before I got the DUI, and the strain of this was already looking to make matters worse. I really, really, really didn’t want to spend thousands on a lawyer, every time I got quoted a price, my heart just sank.

Ultimately I decided to get a lawyer because I needed the guidance that they offer. I’d never been through the legal system before, I was already confused reading outdated and inaccurate information online, and my expectations of what would happen were misguided. Would I have been able to get through everything? Probably, but it would’ve been difficult, and it’s always easier to have somebody experienced going on a journey with you. I needed somebody knowledgable, who knew the steps, and more importantly, knew the pitfalls along the way. The advice I had gotten was that it’s probably wise to get a lawyer for anything larger than a parking ticket.

What’s important to remember about the lawyer is that
a lawyer is not going to get you out of this. Everybody who gets into this situation begins to imagine some Perry Mason or 12 Angry Men scenario where a plucky lawyer, bent on breaking the system argues for hours upon hours and inspires a jury to not only vote you “Not Guilty”, but it inspires them to make something out of themselves.

Not going to happen.

Your DUI lawyer is mostly going to be your legal consultant more than trial lawyer (I get into what your DUI lawyer really does here). They’ll represent you in court, so you don’t have to go (I have no idea what the court that tried me looks like or where it is, even), and do what they can to defend you, but they’re not going to fight the system, they try to work it a bit.

Basically, you pay your retainer fee and your lawyer takes care ofdoes all of your appearances, paper work, negotiations, and various other legal affairs - filing paperwork and so on. Most likely they’ll have you plea out your case and negotiate the lightest possible sentence based on that.

Not quite a fight.

Finding A Lawyer

Like anybody else my age, I went directly to the internet! It’s overwhelming. Typing in “DUI Lawyer Cityname” into Google provides an avalanche of shady looking websites, all asking for a whole lot of personal information. Not quite what I wanted.

For whatever reason I decided to look at Yelp. Reading over the reviews and their styles, it all just felt fake to me. You also have to think - who in the world reviews their DUI lawyer on yelp? Most people want to hide their DUI experience, not tie it into their list ranking the city’s Pad Thai places. The reviews on Avvo seemed better, but who could I trust? I ended up reaching out to a few friends and seeing if they knew anybody as well as pulling a few off of Avvo. The best course of action for this - cast a wide net, get a lot of options.

Choosing A Lawyer
Another difficult decision, one with no “right” or “wrong” answer, one that you have no idea what would have happened otherwise. Again, the key is to make the smartest decision you can. Use your head and your gut. Your gut picks up on the vibe, and other things, it’s your animal senses, it handles trust - and if you don’t think you can trust somebody, don’t have them as the person keeping you out of jail.

It’s important to start calling lawyers -
more than one - as soon as possible after your arrest. The consultations are always free, and they’ll give you a lot of valuable ground-level information right up front. Even if you decide not to go with a lawyer it’s good to make a few calls just to see what the basic steps and options are. Take meticulous notes - both on the legal stuff, and your feelings about the lawyer themself. You want to make sure the lawyer is knowledgable, and understands your case.

I can’t tell you what values to look for - but make sure the lawyer you choose fits you. I talked to slick, shady types, up-front-and-honest ones, fighters, rationalists, plenty. Whatever course of action you want to take, you can find a lawyer that does that.

The False Hope Of The Lawyer

There is a drawback, however. When calling lawyers, each and every one of their ears perked up when I mentioned that the cop had stopped me for “Weaving within my lane” (this reasoning, of course, would not be what he put on the police report, but more on that later). They all thought they had a chance at a dismissal for an illegal stop. This, in turn, got me more excited.

Yes, I’m going to beat this, I’m going to get off scott free! I’ve learned my lesson, but things will be ok!

No, not quite.

What’s important to remember is that these calls are
sales calls. Yes, the lawyer is interested in defending you, but they’re mostly interested in the retainer that you’re going to pay them. If they can make you think that you have a sliver of a chance, they’re going to try their best to convince you that they can change that sliver into a chasm. Just how the world works.

When talking with the lawyer they’re going to tell you about false readings, errors in procedure, and lab tests, and all sorts of things to make you think you’ve got a shot at beating the case or getting a reduced charge.
Most likely you don’t. Let me say that again, just to let it sink in a little bit. In most instances, your lawyer will not do anything to “beat” your case. Consider them your Sherpa for this Mount Everest.

Visiting The Lawyers

From the lawyers you’ve called, pick at least two and go visit them in person. I know in this digital age we want to do everything remotely, and it’s hard to look people in the eye at this point and talk about your arrest, but you’ll be glad you did. Again,
visit at least two. Get a feeling for the environment they work in, how busy their office is, how nice their office is (you’re helping pay for it), how they treat their staff, everything.

Remember, these are
sales visits. The lawyer is going to fit you into his schedule, meeting with you, answer all of your questions, and treat you like the few thousand bucks that you are. This experience often does not reflect what the actual process of interacting with the lawyer will be like (see: What Your DUI Lawyer Really Does).

Ask lots of questions, any information you have will help you in both being reassured that this is not the end of the world, and in your legal case, as well in your search for your lawyer.
There are no dumb questions. Even if you ask a dumb question, you will see how the lawyer absorbs and reacts to it. Your gut will pick up on this information.

Ultimately, I went with a lawyer who seemed like he had some fight in him, who knew the tricks, who might pull something out to get this dismissed or lowered. That’s how I was feeling, I felt that this is a battle, I should have a fighter.

What should this cost?

This is another tricky question with no good answer (sensing a theme?). When searching I looked for advice on this matter and there’s no real consensus on this. I had one potential lawyer tell me $2,000 - $4,000 was a good range… but he was a lawyer. It’s not that terrible of a range to look in, however.

Know your budget, know what you can afford. But, in my opinion, the money should be secondary to how you feel about your lawyer, their reputation, track record, etc. If you need to you can always make more money. Most lawyers take credit cards, and so if you have space, you can float their services for a while.

What’s really important is to make clear what services
are included and what services are not included in your lawyer’s services. Most of the time you will be paying your lawyer for taking care of court appearances, filing papers with the court, and working out the details of your plea bargain. Most lawyers do not include a trial in these services and will charge you extra on top of this retainer if you decide to take it to trial. Trials are expensive and eat up a lot of the lawyer’s time and a lawyer’s time, as your are well finding out, is not cheap. Yes, it’s a shitty system that’s designed to have you plead guilty even if you think that you may be able to get out of it based on a technicality, or testimony, or other manner. If you are the type that’s gearing up for a long extended fight, ask lots of questions about what is and isn’t covered in the retainer - who covers the cost of additional lab tests? Of consultants? If you take your case to trial it’s going to end up being exceptionally expensive. But if that’s what you want, and you can afford it, then by all means, go for it.

One thing that bothered me about my lawyer’s costs in the end is that there wasn’t anybody in his office who was notarized, so when it came time to plea out, I had to go find a notary and pay the fifteen bucks. Doesn’t seem like that, but I paid all that money, cut me a break on the stamp!

If you’re feeling wary about the cost of the lawyer here’s what helped me. Take the cost of the lawyer and divide it by 200 - $200/hour is about what a decent lawyer costs. As such your resulting number is the base numbers of hour of work you’re paying for. Could be more, could be less. If you require multiple visits, delay your trial a few times, have lots of filing, your retainer could end up as a bargain.

20/20 Hindsight.

How do I feel about my lawyer and the whole experience? Well, like I said, it’s impossible to know the various outcomes and scenarios of what could have happened. I opted for a lawyer that seemed like he was a fighter, but all I had to go on was what I believed to have happened, what the phony friendly cop had told me, and the impressions from other lawyers. I didn’t go with the cheapest lawyer (felt that was just a bad way to go) but didn’t go with the most expensive lawyer (couldn’t afford it, and I spoke to some that gave me a quote well above the $4K mark). I negotiated with my lawyer for an amount and payment structure that seemed pretty decent, a smart decision at the time.

Knowing what I know now… I think I overpaid a bit. I think I could have saved myself a few hundred dollars. The representation I did get was good, I did get the minimums, but I have to wonder - without priors would this have been what would’ve happened if I had a cheaper lawyer? Maybe the same without any lawyer? No way to know, sadly. Still, given how difficult it was to get my lawyer sometimes, I wonder if I could’ve saved a little bit of money.

Oh well. It’s done. And I just have to deal with what’s happened and move forward.

Sensing a trend?

The Next Few Days

The first few days after a DUI arrest are the worst part of the whole experience.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

If you’re like me, if you’re like most people, you’re going to absolutely beat yourself up. You’ll feel the pain of knowing what you did, the fear of all the possible things that could happen to you. You’ll feel anxiety, nervousness, guilt, self-hatred and loathing. It’s an incredible mix of conflicting yet all-negative emotions swirling around in the pit of your stomach, your heart, and your head all at once.

It’s an incredibly difficult, depressing time.

Your conscience is going to tell you the 50 ways you made mistakes that night, tell you about all the other times you did and got away with it, tell you how you could’ve killed yourself or, even worse, somebody else, maybe even a kid, or a family.

What are your friends going to think? Will they ever talk to you again? Are you going to walk into a place and watch as everybody becomes quiet and starts pointing fingers, “Look, there’s the guy who drove drunk!”.

In my experience, you will beat yourself up worse than anybody else. You expect other people to yell at you, and revile you, and say awful things… truth be told… it doesn’t really happen. You’ll be told that you should have known better and that you fucked up, but, everyone knows that it’s wrong to do, and they most likely have done it themselves. So they’re not that hard on you. Not as hard as you would expect. The other DUI offenders I’ve spoken to have generally reflected this sentiment as well. Driving drunk is something that everybody knows is wrong and nearly everybody does. It’s bad, it’s stupid, it’s wrong, but it’s just how it is.

The churning stomach doesn’t start. I don’t think I ate the day afterwards until late and I really had to. You wake up and it’s the first thing you think about, at night it’s the last thing you think about - usually making you stay awake for an hour, maybe two, maybe more, in bed turning worst case scenarios over and over again in your head. At work it’s always in the back of your head, biting at you, making you wonder if everybody knows somehow.

Again, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I felt completely worthless as a human being, and it took some time to get over these feelings. The remorse I felt was more than I could ever express in any way, and I’m sure yours is too. The thought of feeing those feelings again is more of a deterrent for me than anything else.

I cried, I prayed for forgiveness, I was depressed, I felt completely horrible.

Ironically, the pain of my DUI lead me to drink more than ever. At home, of course. Hair of the dog? Maybe. I was certainly bitten. Sign of a reliance on alcohol? Perhaps. It only now really hits me how funny it is that we celebrate both the successes and victories in life by drinking, and use it to morn our losses and express our condolences.

I drank, and I drank a lot. Beer, vodka, whatever. I drank in a dark room feeling sorry for myself. I hated myself for what had happened. Was it the best way to get the feelings out? Maybe, probably not.

But it worked.

After two or three days of wallowing in self-pity, I came out of my complete depression, and put it together - alright, we messed up, let’s do what we can to make things the best they can be, fix the things we can, make amends, and get it to where we can move on.

Do I recommend heavy drinking afterwards? No, of course not. But I recommend getting your grief out, in whatever manner is appropriate for you.

Be sad, get the emotions out, then prepare to move on.

This is a temporary thing, it won’t change too much of your life.

You can get through this and on with your life.

I promise.

Getting Busted: My Story

… And now, the hardest part to write. It’s not like I haven’t revisited it a thousand times, as I’m sure you’ve revisited your story. I rethink all the different scenarios - if I had just done this instead of that, been stopped by the red light instead of catching a green, if I had taken the long route instead of the Highway… Wondering if I had any one of any other tiny decisions throughout the day… then maybe… just maybe… I wouldn’t be writing this, I would have no idea what this experience is like, no lawyer, never have blown into a breathalyzer… Maybe I wouldn’t have this on my record, more money in my pocket and less gray hairs.

But the truth of the matter is, that it did happen. And those other times where I left early, or stayed too long, cut through the neighborhood instead of taking main streets, those just might have been other times that I avoided a DUI. Maybe not. I’ll never know. You never reach home and know, “Yeah, tonight I slipped one by the cops, what suckers!”. I may have just slipped by the cops a few times, or this experience might have been the first time I found myself in the crosshairs. No way to know.

I can imagine things playing out a thousand different ways, all in my favor, of course, but I’d never have learned a damn thing. Maybe if a cop let me off (which is highly unlikely), otherwise, I’d have felt that it was just another night, and that I was ok to drive when I wasn’t.

That day

It’d been a busy day at work, meetings that I had to go, endless emails, requests, orders, it was rough. Too many times I had to drop everything to help somebody else, on something they should have done on their own a week ago, but… this isn’t about complaining about work.

Let’s just say, I was ready to blow off some steam.

A friend of mine was having his going away party across town - a startup in the Bay had poached him away with a
very attractive offer, and it was going to be a better fit for him in both work and life, so I was happy for him… I was ready to celebrate with him. Stopped by home, dropped off my stuff, got ready, and ate a quick, small meal… I had recently re-entered the dating pool and needed to shed a few pounds, so I was trying to monitor what I eat. Unfortunately the early meeting had donuts, and lunch had to be eaten quickly… and I planned on consuming some beer calories, so, dinner needed to be small and slight. Not smart.

A friend of mine even offered me a ride that night - something that rarely happens - looking back, I have to wonder -
was it a sign? Either way, again, there’s no way to know what will happen later. The ride would’ve taken me to another event and had me get there late so I declined, I’ll be fine, I thought.

My friend was living in a hip area of Los Angeles, far from my… cheap area of Los Angeles. Driving there would some time, and cover a decent distance… so the thought taking an Uber never entered my head, it would’ve been expensive!

Would’ve been so cheap in retrospect.

So I drove off on my own.
That Night

I went out… and I won’t lie… It was a fun night. The bar had a beer-and-shot special, so why not? I’m supporting my friend! I’m having fun! I’m escaping the work day! I’m embracing the weekend!

Things die down and I decide to take off, I hadn’t slept that much that week, so I was tired, so I get ready to start saying my goodbyes, but then-

The second wave of people hit. People I hadn’t seen in a while, and I felt bad about it.
Alright. I’ll stay.

Another round. Everyone does a shot for our soon-to-be-departed friend! What a great night.

Alright. Time to go. For real. Goodbye. See you later. Hey, hit me about that thing, I’ve got some thoughts about how to get that working faster. Good to see you. Goodbye. Goodbye. Hey, let’s grab a drink next week to discuss that project, I think I know someone we can bring in to streamline things. Bye. See ya. Take care. So long. Let’s hang soon, etc. etc. etc.

“Hey man, you good to drive?”


“You alright?”

Me? Yeah. I’m fine. I feel good, but I’m alright. I’m not that drunk or anything.

So stupid.

The Drive Home.

I take off. Get back to my car. Sit there, return some texts - feel a little buzzed, but, I’m fine. Of course I’m fine. Take off and navigate with my phone how to get back, hit the highway, and I’m good. Let’s play some music.

Once I’m on the highway, I’m good, I cruise through it. I recall it being oddly empty for a Friday night. Oh well. Gotta get home.

I drive, and for the most part, I’m fine. At least I believe I was.

Getting off the Highway, I see a car ahead of me that has slowed waaaaayyyyyy down, more than usual. They might have been drunk, they might have been lost, who knows. But I jam on the brakes, slow down myself, but they’re getting closer, so I drift over to the side so I can avoid him if he’s fully stopped. He keeps on, figures out which way he’s going, he’s fine.

But a cop saw me drift over the line. He’d just rolled up on me.

Red and Blue Lights


Panic starts to set in a little bit. My first thought: Was I going too fast on the highway? If you’ve been drinking and your first thought is worrying that you might have been going too fast… you drank too much.

I pull over. License and Registration. Everything checks out.

Cop starts talking to me, asking about the car ahead of me, no, I don’t know them, wasn’t sure what they were doing.

Then came the question we all fear.

“Sir, have you been drinking tonight?”

It’s a tough position to be in- you don’t want to outright lie to a cop, that can easily go poorly - in certain cases it can lead to an Obstruction of Justice charge (although, it would really be hard to get things to that point, but it’s possible). Most likely if you lie they’ll treat you worse when they have evidence against what you said.

So, like I did, most likely you’ll say something to tune of “Oh, I had one or two”. Meanwhile they can smell the alcohol on you and hear the slur in your speech. For some reason a popular answer is “Oh, I had a sip or two”… which isn’t even a plausible answer. Not even a sip from a long island iced tea or from straight vodka is going to affect you severely enough to get you pulled over, to make your car and breath smell of booze. Probably not even everclear or other superbooze.

You can refuse to answer under your Fifth Amendment privileges, but the cop is most likely going to see you as being difficult, which is the last thing that he wants. It sucks, it’s in violation of the spirit of the Amendment, but, that’s just how it goes.

Basically, there is
no good answer to the question. That’s why they ask it.

Also - good thing to remember - you can’t tell when you’re slurring. (That’s why you’ve always answered “No, I’m not” when somebody’s told you that you’re doing it.)

Throughout the process the cop put on an attitude that I can only describe as “phony friendly”. A common tactic that non-hardass cops pull is to act like they’re just a friend checking up on you. Just answer these questions, do these tests, just blow in this thing real quick, and we’ll get you on your way. That’s their line, “we’ll get you on your way”. It’s remarkably effective - it puts you in a positive mindset, you think you’re going to be able to beat it, then get home in time to eat the taco bell that’s sitting in your passenger seat before bedtime.

In this instance, the police officer is not your friend. They may act all chummy, but they are looking to see you fail the tests, and take your ass to jail.

The cop then leads me to the sidewalk, and we began “
The Drunk Olympics” or, as they’re officially called, the Field Sobriety Test.

It’s about this point when the seriousness of the situation really sank in for me. The officer had me follow his pen light with my eyes. I got this. Easy. I do it - no problems.

Not what they’re looking for. Well, if you can’t follow it all then you’re most likely completely plastered and there wasn’t any hope of you getting out of this and you really shouldn’t have been driving. Instead, they’re looking for what’s called
nystagmus of your eye - it’s an involuntary shaking of the eye that usually happens when you’re looking all the way to one side. If it occurs earlier, the cop has a pretty good indication that you’re above the legal limit. There’s nothing you can do to “practice” or “try harder” or “focus” to get it to not happen. There’s nothing you can do. There’s other reasons why this can happen, which I’m sure you’ve looked up and diagnosed yourself with several, but it’s an extreme longshot to get it thrown out.

Next came the most famous ones - touching your fingers to your noise. Pretty easy, I think I did fine. Who knows. Then came walking a straight line heel to toe. Not going to lie - this is one that’s hard to do sober. Especially on the cracked up sidewalk they had me do it on. They’re supposed to make a reasonable attempt at finding flat ground to make it fair, but reasonable is doing it on regular broken up sidewalk, when part of the sidewalk that’s been broken up by a tree root is near by.

I started thinking in my head, “Just concentrate, we’re going to do a great job, and
impress the officer, and he’s going to let me go.” Fucking stupid. “I’ll do more than what he asked to show him I’m A-OK”. Don’t do anything but exactly what they tell you to. They’re giving you a lot of instructions to overwhelm your drunk brain, and waiting for you to screw up any one of them… which is exactly what happened when I lost my balance and tapped my foot against the ground to regain it.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

This is when it hit me, they’re going to get me for this.

I should point out - they call it the Field Sobriety Test - but it’s really a misnomer. It’s not a test in that you can pass it if you perform above a certain standard. It’s all up to the cop. If he feels you did great, he can let you go. If he feels you did
great, he can still say that you failed the test, breathalyze you and take you in. It’s all up to the cop’s judgement and you can bet he’s not on your side.

When you’re pulled over, in most circumstances, you will be recorded. Remember this:
you are on video. Some people want to challenge their Field Sobriety Test in court (if they get that far) or think they can use it as a plea bargaining chip, hoping for a smaller sentencing. However, most police officers will stop directly behind your car and perform your tests juuuuuuuuust out of the range of the camera to one side. That way there’s only one version of events - theirs.

The police then handcuffed me “for my safety” (yeah, right) and started explaining how to blow into the breathalyzer. When the handcuffs went on… everything just went away. Not because of the drunkenness. Just because of how serious handcuffs make the situation. It’s an awful feeling both physically and mentally. Your stomach just sinks, the blood drains from your face, and a deep despair sets in. I got embarrassed, thinking about the cars driving by, imagining them saying “oh look at that drunk, glad they caught him” and such. It really hit me, they were going to take me in.

Once you’ve failed the field sobriety test - which, again, you most likely will, the police now have probably cause to give you the breathalyzer. For some reason, they need to do them just to get to the point. I’d have rather they just gave it to me and skipped the show of it, but some people have gotten off because they didn’t perform the tests. Lucky dogs.

They present me the breathalyzer and make a big show about opening up the plastic baggie to give me a fresh mouthpiece. I’m guessing there was a lawsuit or fear of it somewhere back in the day, they really make it clear that you’re not going to get a cold from it - which is the least of your problems at this point.

One of the things that lead me to getting my DUI was this was the first time I had
ever blown into a breathalyzer. What is .08? They have a chart that comes with your driver’s license, but who remembers that. What does .08 feel like? I didn’t know. I thought I was under.

I was wrong.

I blew on the breathalyzer thinking that this would clear me, and the cop would admonish me for being .06 or .07 and I’d go about my way. I blew into it, and wasn’t even able to finish the test. The breathalyzer takes a
surprising amount of breath. You have to take a deep breath and sustain a steady blow for quite some time. I got it the second time. Lucky me.

The officer took a look at it and told me that I was going to be taking a ride with them. They took off my glasses and put them in my car, made sure I had my keys with me, and put me in the back of their car. From there I was able to watch the tow truck come and pick up my car.

The Ride Downtown.

Here’s one of the few places where you have a choice in this whole matter - when they put you under arrest you have a choice - you can go downtown to blow into a
different breathalyzer, you can go to a hospital and have your blood drawn, or you can refuse. Refusal is a really complicated subject, and I’ll get into it later.

The most popular option is to blow into the breathalyzer at the station. Why do they have you blow into the second one? The answer is weird - the first one doesn’t count. The portable breathalyzers the police carry are prone to error, seldomly have solid schedule for their calibration, and, above everything else, are not court admissible. It will be mentioned in your police reports, and can be used for probable cause, but it’s not actual evidence against you.

This is part of why the cops don’t tell you what you blew on that one. Also to make you think that you were just over, and blowing on the official one or taking the blood test might clear you. Spoiler alert: They most likely won’t.

That was my thinking. We went to the station where they sat me down next to the official breathalyzer, which is constructed like IBM built in in the 50s - large, and an all-in-one unit. It’ll test you and print out a record of your failure all by itself.
This machine takes
even more breath than the portable. You feel like you’re tapping out the bottom of your lungs at the end of a breath on it. You’re pushing and pushing to get through it. And at that point, everything has sunk in, you just want to be through it.

After blowing on it, the cop got the results and looked at them - again, I wasn’t told what the results were, so I have no idea what neighborhood my BAC was. I started to get really worried.

When you blow on the official breathalyzer you have to blow on it twice - fifteen minutes apart. Part of this is so that they can get a reliable idea of what your BAC is, part of it is so they can get your BAC at its highest. Most people leave the place they were drinking right after finishing a drink, so with the drive home, the arrest, going downtown, your BAC should be peaking right about then. So your official BAC won’t be the BAC you were driving with. (Some lawyers have used this to defeat cases, but don’t count on it) They’ll take the two blows, record them, and you’ll be charged with the higher one - if the blows are outside of a certain “acceptable” range the test will be invalidated - but you’ll just have to blow two more times until they get the test “right”.

The fifteen minutes between blowing was one of the longest fifteen minutes of my life. It felt like an hour. The cops started asking me questions, filling out paperwork, and the sense of impending doom filled the room for me. I started to panic, I started hyperventilating - partially because I was nervous and worried about what was going to happen to me, partially because I was grasping at things I can do to lower my BAC. Breathing more oxygen in will clear my lungs and burn off alcohol, right?


I blew again, and that was it. They told me that I’d blown a .15 - way higher than I had even imagined it would have been. My heart truly sank at this point. I was fucked. I tried to throw out everything I had heard might help my defense, I told the cop that I had acid reflux, that I’d also had pizza with onions, but it all fell on deaf ears. It didn’t matter.

I was busted.

I was finger printed, the cop held onto my drivers license for me, I was asked what felt like a thousand questions, paperwork was filled out. The cop kept the same phony friendly routine throughout - telling me all this was just routine, and that the prosecutor “might not even pursue the case, you never know”. Yeah, right.

This process had stretched on for some time, and I was finally given a bathroom break. Peeing while handcuffed and with ink that wouldn’t wash off, but would come off on anything else that I touched was certainly a new one.

Here’s where I was cut a break. Instead of throwing me in the drunk tank or jail for a few hours, the cop took my phone and called my roommate, and allowed me to be released to him as long as he had nothing to drink that night, which fortunately he hadn’t (or at least was convincing liar). Maybe the cop took pity on me, maybe the jail was full, or the facility didn’t have one. I have no idea why it went down like that. It being the weekend he could have technically held me until Monday morning. Wouldn’t have done anybody any good, but that was an option for him.

When my roommate came I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. I felt like garbage. I could barely speak. Fortunately he was very understanding about the whole thing. Still, there wasn’t any consoling me, I had hit rock bottom. I felt like complete scum.

When we got home, I went and read through all the new paperwork I had before crying myself to sleep.