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: Getting Home Safely

Dale Vernor reached out to me via my contact page, and asked to share his thoughts on alternatives to driving drunk. He emphasized that due to the time of year, this information needs to be out there as much as possible, and I agreed. Dale is a writer and researcher in the fields of mental health and substance abuse. He enjoys discussions on politics. - Tom

It’s 2 a.m. The bartender has announced last call and you know you have to get home, but you’ve been drinking pretty steadily all night. Or, your friend’s party could be ending and you’re feeling a little buzzed.

In either case, driving home isn’t worth it. If you try driving home, you could get into an accident that hurts you or others or does serious property damage. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid an accident, you could be charged
with a DUI or face other legal trouble.

December holidays and New Year’s celebrations can be particularly dangerous. Many people drink during these celebrations and might get behind the wheel when its dark, the weather can be bad, and roads can be icy. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation noted, “Nationally, over the past five years, an
average of 300 people died in drunk driving crashes the week between Christmas and New Year.”

So what can you do during the holiday season or any other time when you are out drinking to avoid getting a DUI?

  • Call a friend or family member. You would be surprised how many friends and family members would hop out of bed during a dead sleep to come and pick you up. Sure, it might feel a little embarrassing at first. Sure, you might feel guilty for waking them up late at night. But, a little initial embarrassment and guilt is far better than the pain and trouble you could experience if you cause a deadly accident or receive a DUI.

  • Assign a Designated Driver. If you have a group of friends that go out a lot for drinks, rotating the DD is the most fair way to go about this. Taking the time to call a friend, call a cab service or ride sharing company, or getting a designated driver could save you court costs, jail time or even court ordered alcohol rehab.

  • Call a taxi or ride sharing service. Yes, this cost money but compared to court costs a taxi or an Uber is way less expensive. Yes, it is inconvenient to have to go back and get your car the next day, but driving drunk and risking a DUI and staying the night in jail, if not longer is far more inconvenient than getting your car the next day.

You’re not the first person who has had too much to drink and needs a ride home. You won’t be the last. Drunk driving is not worth the risk, the consequences of accidents and DUIs are long-term. Don’t let feelings of bothering someone for a ride, or the cost of a taxi deter you from getting home safe.


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.

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