On Probation

On Probation

Hi everyone. Been a while, I know. Truth of the matter is that once you’re sentenced, you’ve done your classes, gotten rid of your interlock, got your license back, life continues where you left off. Sure, your insurance is still high, but there’s an end in sight.

You might not believe this, but there comes a time when you
hardly even think about your DUI.

It’s a good feeling. It’s a weird feeling.

Probation in CA lasts for three years. Throughout my journey with the DUI I kept getting different answers as to when it started. In my final assessment, my DUI class instructor told me that it started from the date of arrest. That made me feel better. It did not turn out to be the case. You’re on
probation as soon as you get arrested, but it doesn’t count towards your probation. Would’ve been nice if it did, but, alas, it’s just how things go.

My lawyer told me it would start from the day I was
sentenced. This seemed to make sense, but this, too, wasn’t quite the case. One day a few weeks ago, I decided to call up the DMV and double check (always a good idea) to make sure that my probation had passed like it should have. It did. Just my last day of probation was a month and a half later than I had calculated.

No idea why, and there’s really nothing I could’ve done about it. Can you imagine calling the DMV, “Hi, while I didn’t violate my probation, can you retroactively make my probation have ended earlier?”

If I had to do it again, which I’m trying my damnedest not to, I would’ve gotten my lawyer or called myself to find a definitive date that my probation was over. Would’ve had a small little celebration to myself when midnight ticked over on the clock when it happened (not drinking and driving, of course).

The probation you go on for your first DUI (and possibly others) is called “Summary Probation”, which basically means “don’t fuck up or we’ll throw the book at you”. There’s no expensive probation officer, which is probably the first time they let you not have another fee they could charge you. No PO, no checking in, nothing like that. Just don’t mess up.

Additionally you can't refuse a field sobriety test, and your odds of getting picked at a
DUI checkpoint raise if they're checking plates (although I cruised through two, sober, without being tested).

So what is messing up?

Some people believe it’s committing any crime, but that’s not quite it. My lawyer told me that he had somebody arrested for shoplifting while on DUI probation and the court didn’t care, didn’t consider it a violation. (
Update: I have been told in other states that this will trigger a violation, so best to keep clean as a whistle) While this blog does not condone shoplifting or any other crimes in any way whatsoever, you should know what scrutiny you’re under.

This probation deals with alcohol and driving - basically you can’t get caught with even a drop of alcohol in your blood when you’re driving or else you’ll face some consequences (and remember, you can't refuse a test). The common thing to say is that it’s another DUI even if you’re at .0001, but that’s not true either. They can only give you a DUI if you’re over .08 (.05 now in some places), otherwise it’s “just” a probation violation, which means more school, more money paid, more probation. If you’re above .08 you get a DUI on top of that. Not good.

Other traffic infractions are fine. This I can verify personally - I did receive a parking ticket, and an out-of-state speeding ticket (14 over on the highway, bullshit speed trap), and neither affected my probation or caused any additional consequences (and yes, I was sweating bullets when pulled over on that highway and very worried about if this counts as a violation. Next rest stop I did a lot of googling until I calmed down enough to continue on my trip.)

Any sort of aggravated driving, road rage, that sort of thing takes you into the “maybe” territory. It’s all up to a judge and the system, and by this point you know how it goes. If they can, they usually will. You might catch a break, probably not, depends on a lot of things out of your control, and how you handle yourself around them. Bottom line: I wouldn’t depend on anything.

Your Summary Probation basically comes down to two tenets:
  1. Don’t drink and drive
  2. Don’t be an asshole.

Seems easy enough. But three years is a long, long time. It gets harder and harder the longer you are from your DUI. Drinks after work, wine with a meal, beer at a ballgame. The temptations are everywhere. And if you’re like me, and haven’t quit drinking, you’ll eventually indulge yourself.

“A beer or two won’t hurt, not like I’m getting drunk, not like that night”

And then you wait a little bit, don’t get ‘one more for the road’, call it early.

And then you get in your car, and you head home. With just a little bit in your system. Nothing too bad, just a little bit.

And then a cop gets behind you.

And then you start sweating, worrying. Praying that your tail light is working, making sure your seat belt is fastened tight.

And the cop keeps following you, and you start worrying if he is playing games with you, you’re worrying that he somehow knows that you’re in violation.

You turn off the radio, you pay the best attention you can, and then eventually the cop turns down another road, and you let out a big sigh of relief.

Then two weeks later your friend asks you to happy hour.

And you start to sweat again, and think about what could happen.

This is what it’s like. It’s easy in that you don’t really have to do anything except not mess up. It’s hard in that our society practically pushes people to drink and drive. Odds are you’re reading this because you went to a social function, or did something that we’re told is how you relax. You felt fine because we don’t teach people how alcohol affects the body and it’s impossible to “feel” what your BAC level is. We make fun of people who use breathalyzers, and everyone condemns drinking and driving but nearly everyone does it.

You’re going to find yourself in a lot of situations where you will be tempted to violate your probation. I suggest
knowing your BAC by using a portable breathalyzer, or taking an Uber or Lyft.

Looking over your shoulder for cops all the time sucks.

Some lawyers will offer you a service to where they can reduce your probation, usually take off the third year. I didn’t go for this, they wanted a thousand dollars for it, and I’d spent enough. Instead, I went through the whole thing. The theory is they cite your fulfilling all your commitments and use your two years (one and a half in some cases) of not violating probation as evidence that you won’t violate it for the next. Works some times, doesn’t work others. I decided to stick it out, a thousand dollars buys a lot of Lyfts, and I can refuse one last round and wait it out.

And so I did.

And now I’m free.

Reader, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be free of the system to come this far. Now I just have to get past the 3-year anniversary of finalizing my suspension to get my insurance rates to fall to normal and then… it’s all behind me.

The journey is long, and it’s hard, but just take it one step at a time, and you can get through it. It costs a lot, and it takes up a lot of time, but you can get through it.

You can Survive a DUI.

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