dui industrial complex

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.

Guest Post: 4 Tips to Survive A DUI Checkpoint

I received an email via my contact page from Brandon Leuangpaseuth, who wanted to share some tips to get through a DUI checkpoint. - Tom.

There has been a lot of controversy with the legality of checkpoints because you are protected by the 4th amendment from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the Supreme Court evaluated the entire circumstance of DUI checkpoints. They determined that the state's interest in safe roads and the success rate of finding impaired drivers weighed against the average
delay of less than 30 seconds per driver meant that the search and seizure were not unreasonable. The U.S. Supreme court upheld the legality of DUI checkpoints.

The best way to survive a checkpoint is to be completely sober. However, if you had a few drinks and you encounter a police DUI checkpoint, here are 4 tips to surviving the checkpoint.

1. Use Your Right To Remain Silent

The majority of checkpoint encounters would start with the police officer asking you a series of questions to determine if you have been drinking. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you are not obligated to answer any of these questions. You are protected by the 5th amendment and have the right to remain silent and not have to contribute to your own potential demise. If an
officer asks you if you had any drinks tonight, you can just say “I respectfully decline to answer these questions, and I would like to talk to my
defense attorney”.

Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a case if you are arrested. If you answered that you had a few drinks, the officer has some suspicion that you are potentially breaking the law. No matter how nice the officer may seem, they are doing their job - trying to get evidence to support a case against you.

2. Refuse the Field Sobriety Test and the Breathalyzer Test

Most people think that if they refuse the field sobriety test or the breathalyzer test, they will get their license suspended. This is a common misconception. The only time you will get your license suspended is if after you are arrested and you refuse to take a breathalyzer or blood test. If you decline the field sobriety test or the breathalyzer test before the officer has any probable cause to arrest you, you will be okay.

The officer is collecting evidence to determine if they have probable cause that you have committed a crime. Failed completion of field sobriety tests is used, in the officers eyes, as evidence that a crime has been committed. The field sobriety test is a difficult test to take even if you are completely sober. In a field sobriety test, an officer will administer three tests to determine if you are intoxicated: the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. It is in your best interest to not provide any excess evidence to allegations of you committing a crime.

3. Do Not Get Out of Your Car (Unless There Are Signs of Alcohol And You Have To)

Officers have no right to force you out of your car unless they have reason to believe that you are drunk. However, slurred words, an open container or the aroma of alcohol can be enough probable cause to make a case for a DUI. Going this route, the officer has to establish exactly what they are being arrested for a DUI.

Oftentimes, the police officer will ask you to step outside and you should always respectfully decline. Do not give the officer probable cause to arrest you.

4. Don’t drive through!

You do not have to drive through a DUI checkpoint. You can turn around and simply not drive through the DUI checkpoint. There are no laws forcing you to drive through a DUI checkpoint.

As long as you do not commit a crime i.e. an illegal turn or any other traffic violation, the officer does not have enough probable cause to pull you over and detain you. Oftentimes, DUI checkpoints can be a long line and you are not obligated to wait in the line.

If you have been out and drinking, and you do not want to deal with the hassle of a DUI checkpoint, just turn around legally and you will be fine.


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.

What your DUI Lawyer Really Does

As soon as your charge is booked your mailbox is going to explode - flyers, brochures, letters, all from DUI lawyers offering their services. Some of the shadier ones will attempt to make their letters look like official documents from the DMV or police. Don’t fall for it.

All these lawyers come in with a few promises - that they’re on your side, they can guide you through the process, that they’re the best, and most importantly - they can get you off or reduce the charges against you.

When you’re feeling the world is going to collapse around you, you get super excited about the thought that you can pay somebody to get out of this.
Most likely this will not happen. Hate to be harsh and dash your pie-in-the-sky dreams, but, sadly, it’s just how it goes. Most likely you won’t be getting out free and easy just because you decided to hire a lawyer.

All the ads and flyers will tell you that this lawyer wins 95% of their cases, and they’ve defended a man who was arrested with a .32 or was on cocaine and had residue all over his face, or a number of other zany stories.
These are half-truths at best. When they win 95% of their cases, they mean 95% of the ones that go to trial. The vast majority of DUI cases do not go to trial, and it’s probable that yours won’t. This number is meaningless to you. The guy with coke on his face… I’m sure the lawyer did win this case, but this is one out of thousands and thousands of DUI cases the lawyer has. Most aren’t going to “plead out to the usual sentencing” on their flyer.

When you decide on which lawyer you want, you pay them a retainer - this basically works as an all-inclusive price. It theoretically gets you unlimited talks, visits, explanations with your lawyer, and it’s nice because you’re not estimating how much you’re paying each time you delay your court day for some reason. However what they don’t point out is that
taking your case to court, where it would actually be decided, costs extra. 95% of DUI cases don’t go to trial, this is one of the reasons why. Usually by the point any potential trial will come out, you’ve already paid for the lawyer, researched the classes, researched the interlock, researched the insurance, and been told that you have little-to-no chance anyhow. At that point spending money is the last thing you’re going to want to do.

That’s not to say that a lawyer is useless, I’m glad that I got one, but if you’re expecting to get out of jail free, temper your expectations.

Your lawyer is going to handle the messy stuff - the filing of paperwork, negotiating with the prosecutor, save you trips to court for your hearings, deal with the DMV, etc. It’s a handy thing to have because there’s a large amount of things that you have to do. It’s a hassle. A lawyer takes some of the weight off.

Once your retainer is paid, your lawyer will usually say something like “Don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for a while.” and you won’t hear from them for a while. It’s kind of an odd feeling to give somebody a large amount of money just to be told “see ya!” but in the beginning, there’s not a lot to do.

However, there’s another surprise around the corner - most likely the person you met with, the face on the business card, the person with their name on the door
will not be your actual lawyer. When you hire a lawyer you hire them and their team. So you may find confidence with this person, and then be handed off to a person lower down the pecking order. Be sure to read your retainer agreement in full before signing as this is most likely in there. If this happens to you, be sure to look up this new person. I got handed off and was shocked at first. I looked the new lawyer up and found that they were fairly comparable. I had mixed feelings about this and met with the new lawyer as my first plea offer had been given and found them knowledgable, and very similar to the head lawyer, so I came down as being ok with it. If you do not like your new lawyer or trust them - raise all hell to the firm. Additionally, ask about this when consulting with lawyers the first time, had I known this would happen I certainly would have.

First thing your lawyer should do is to schedule your hearing with the DMV. In CA you have 10 days to schedule a hearing with the DMV, otherwise your license gets an automatic suspension for 5 months. If you schedule a hearing, you retain your driving privileges until your hearing, which is incredibly handy. Your lawyer should also be able to file for your suspension to be split into two sections - hard and soft. I’ll explain more on these later, but it’s a preferable scenario.

Supposedly you can do this yourself. There’s a number on your DUI ticket that you can call to arrange this hearing. I’ve been told that it’s a high-volume phone number and that reaching a person on the other end can be difficult. I’ve not tried it myself, but given the DMV is involved, I wouldn’t be surprised. Fortunately, your lawyer has connections and people working for him, so it gets taken care of.

Your lawyer will represent you when the DMV hearing comes. Don’t expect too much, the DMV hearing is as cut-and-dry as any other DMV procedure. There’s no real arguments to the proceeding, no passionate heart-felt speech by your lawyer is going to tug on any heart strings. They basically ask if it was a legal stop, and if you were over the limit. It’s hard for even your lawyer to argue these points. They don’t take special circumstances into consideration, or anything like that. This hearing is done over the phone, so it’s especially hard to defend - they can see the video evidence, you or your attorney can’t. But, if you get a lawyer, they deal with it, they make time in their schedule to take the call, you just hear back later.

Your lawyer can also delay this hearing if you need to put off the suspension. This can work as a double edged sword, though, so be cautious.

Your lawyer will then be pretty quiet until your first hearing date. This can be a frustrating time because you may have a lot of questions about what’s going on, about details, about things far down the road, and you may contact them many times, and your calls and emails will go unanswered. This is, sadly, par for the course. Many other DUI offenders I’ve spoken to who have gotten lawyers shared this frustration. While the lawyer does guide you along the path, they’re not right by your side. They’ve got other clients, sure, but it can be frustrating to just not hear back. Sadly, it’s just the case.

Upon the first hearing date your lawyer will pick up the charging documents in your case, and more often than not, receive your first plea offer. This will be the first time that you see what the arresting officer wrote about your arrest.
Do not be surprised if what is written is not what happened. The courts go based off of cops testimony, and it’s not unusual for them to embellish what happened. It’s wrong, it’s sickening, it’s just how it goes, and there’s nothing you can do.

From here, you have a choice - you can take the plea deal, or go to discovery. Going to discovery means that you will actually have the evidence against you. Yes, they do ask you to plead out before you can see what evidence there is. It’s supposed to save time, but it’s kind of a reprehensible practice if you think about it. Going to discovery also carries the threat that the plea deal could be rescinded. This, too, is to discourage any sort of fighting it. If you haven’t felt like you’re being ground up by the gears of big machine before this, you’re certainly feeling it now.

I was a little hesitant to go to discovery, but, in the spirit of wanting to fight, my belief that I was wrongfully pulled over (so naive!) I went for it. Fortunately, my plea didn’t change. I’m told that when they do, it’s either because there was some huge other factor that makes the crime even worse (I have no idea what this could be) or that it’s only slightly modified (think a day or two of community service).

If you decide to plead out you save the court some money, fill out some forms, and become a convicted criminal. It speeds the process up and most likely you’ll have sentencing on the lighter side of things. Your lawyer should be fighting back-and-forth if you have harsher or unreasonable punishments. They should also know the district you’re in and the punishments they typically give. Some are worse than others (don’t drive and drive in Van Nuys).

If you go with discovery, you’ll not hear from your lawyer for a little bit of time, and then get called in to look at the video, and look at the other documents. Your lawyer will look over these documents very carefully, hoping for an error, typo, anything - sometimes there will be tiny mistakes that cause the charge to be invalid, and can be grounds for a dismissal. Before you get your hopes up, remember that cops know about this, and they’re going to be really diligent about making sure that info is correct. Getting off on a typo is about as rare as being struck by lightning.

Then you get to watch the video of you getting arrested. It’s not fun, I was dreading it in the days leading up to it, but it’s not that bad. Most of it, like the field sobriety tests, take place out of view of the camera. You’ll watch it, your lawyer will watch it, and mostly conclude that everything that took place was legal. At this point your lawyer will advise you what to do, and you’ll most likely take the plea.

However, it’s incredibly important to remember that
your lawyer cannot make your decisions for you. They are your defender and advisor. If you don’t want to take a plea, they cannot make you. If, for some reason, they want to fight it more and you want to plead out, they cannot make you fight any longer. They work for you. They can give opinions, and should, but they cannot and should not make any beg decisions for you, no matter how much in your best interest it may be.

You should probably listen to your lawyer, but if you want to do something else - that’s your call.

Once you plead, as I did, they take you through what exactly you’re admitting to, what you’re not, etc. Then they slip back into filing paperwork mode for you.

As you can see, it’s a far cry from the ads saying they’re going to work miracles for you. They sell you false hope. That said, they still serve a very important purpose.

Again, my best advice - talk to
many lawyers, visit at least two, overeducate yourself, trust your gut, and pick one that best fits you.

It’s not easy, I know. But you can do this.

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