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Survive A DUI

How to get through getting a DUI - both mentally, and legally.

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New Year, New Laws - 2021

(Hey there, everyone - I first sent this post out via my newsletter - feel free to sign up for more updates like this. - Tom)

Hello, Happy New Year! Hope this one is treating you well.

2020 was a rough one for sure. What's nice about it is, when things hit the bottom, the only place they can go is up. That was my experience getting a DUI, and that's the attitude I'm taking with me into 2021. We'll see how long it lasts.

Changing Laws

The first day of January usually involves a lot of changing laws, more often than not bringing the hammer down on DUI offenders harder, but that wasn't the case this year. As legislatures were unable to meet or otherwise occupied by the pandemic, DUI offenders weren't in the crosshairs for once. A nice feeling.

Instead the theme of this year's new laws: Justice Reform.

After the George Floyd incident and protests the tide shifted in this country, whether you agree with those sentiments towards police or not, and legislators acted in response (it was an election year, after all).

(Again standard legal disclaimer here: I'm not a lawyer, and I'm definitely not your lawyer, any analysis of this is me just trying to piece things together from the news/bills and I don't know the full ins-and-outs of how all this goes down. I'm giving you my best idea, however)

Arizona

Legalized recreational marijuana - can still get a DUI-Drugs.

California

AB 3234 - Allows misdemeanor DUIs to become eligible for diversion. Once diversion is completed, the crime doesn't stick to your record.

I haven't gotten into the nuts-and-bolts of this one (these types of programs aren't laid out beforehand), but I'm guessing it's a lot like other programs - fines, probation, meetings - a lot of what you already do when convicted - and they seal your record automatically once it's done. No longer does a non-expunged DUI hang over your head for ten years. I'm guessing it'll still be prior-able since they love to be able to still stick it to you when they have a chance, and it'll stay on your DMV record so you're not getting a break on insurance.

That said - it's a great step forward. A DUI doesn't need to ruin somebody's life, it needs to teach them a lesson. Most of us have learned ours from the feeling of seeing police lights in the rearview.

The big caveat of this: It won't apply to a DUI you already have. If you've been convicted you'll still have to apply for an expungement the old fashioned way.

AB 1076 - Under this law, the state will automatically clear records for arrests that did not result in conviction after the statute of limitations has passed, and those around probation and jail once the sentence is completed.

This goes hand-in-hand nicely with the other law - if you don't receive diversion (it's up to the judge) and get convicted as you would have prior, your records will be sealed as if you got an expungement. This saves you the time and money of the process (which was difficult for me, and I plan to write about soon).

It's also nice to see a clearing of the arrest that doesn't lead to convictions - a lot of people think that if they get off then everything is fine, but an arrest still shows up on your record. That will no longer be the case.

However, like before, this only applies to arrests/and convictions after Jan 1, 2021.

Prop 17 - If your previous DUI was a felony, you may be eligible to regain your right to vote (it's insane that we take away voting rights like this in the first place).

Montana

Legalized recreational marijuana - can still get a DUI-Drugs.

New Hampshire

Commercial truck drivers - or anyone driving a vehicle weighting 10,001 lbs or more, will automatically have their DWI upgraded to an Aggravated DWI, which carries a larger fine (up to $750 from $500, but don't think that's what you'll be paying) and a mandatory minimum of 17 days in jail (12 days will be suspended if the driver submits to a substance use disorder evaluation). Additionally, those commercial drivers who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer will have their commercial license suspended immediately instead of having that little bit of wiggle time before it was suspended.

Harsh. Commercial drivers used to be subject to the same laws as ordinary drivers, but no longer.

New Jersey

Legalized recreational marijuana - can still get a DUI-Drugs.

Pennsylvania

A "Move Over" law was enacted - if an emergency vehicle is at the side of the road, you need to move over a lane away from them or slow down to 20 MPH under the speed limit. Give them some space or police will have a reasonable cause to pull you over.

South Dakota

Legalized recreational marijuana - can still get a DUI-Drugs.

Virginia

As of 1/1/21 - You can't drive while holding a cell phone. Only related to DUIs because it gives a reasonable cause to pull somebody over.

Traveling

Tangentially related to DUI issues is the Real ID card - it was supposed to be required to fly this previous years, but in interest of keeping DMVs less crowded and/or closed, they delayed it until October. You'll need a Real ID compliant license to step on an airplane. So, if your license was suspended you'll either need to use a Passport, or get a Real ID state ID card to get on board. If you are getting a new license after suspension, be sure to get a Real ID compliant license. If you've just gotten one, then you either need a passport or have to go through the renewal process/fee again.


These are all the ones related/semi-related to drinking and driving that I could find. Has your state issued one I missed? Let me know!

Tom.

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: 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.