What You Need to Know About First Offense DWI in California
California aggressively enforces DWI laws throughout the state. The penalties for a DWI conviction can be severe. If this is your first offense DWI in California, you need to know some very important details about drunk driving charges.
A First Offense DWI Can Result in Severe Penalties
Many people assume that if this is their first drunk driving charge, they may only face a fine and a few days in jail. However, that is not the case. If you are convicted of first offense DWI in California not involving injury, the potential penalties include:
- Fines and assessment of $1,500 to $2,000
- Three to five years of informal probation
- Up to six months in jail unless probation is granted
- Up to nine months of DWI school
- Mandatory attendance at a MADD victim impact panel
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device
- Suspension of driver’s license
A first offense DWI is a misdemeanor charge, not a felony DWI. Then penalties for a felony DWI or DWI involving injury increase substantially.
In addition to the criminal penalties for a DWI conviction, you could also face other consequences. Your insurance rates could increase substantially if you have a DWI conviction. If you are required to drive for your employment, you could lose your job if your driver’s license is suspended.
Other consequences of a DWI conviction may include ineligibility for some state welfare programs, negative impact on child custody rights, and inability to work in specific fields.
DMV License Suspension Hearing
When you are arrested for DWI in California, there are two separate legal proceedings. You have your case heard in criminal court, but you also have an optional DMV Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing.
When a police officer arrests you for drunk driving, the officer takes your driver’s license. Your driver’s license is returned to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You are given a temporary driver’s license that is valid for 30 days.
You have just 10 days from your arrest to request a DMV APS hearing. The request must be submitted to the DMV Driver Safety Office near you. If you do not request a hearing, your driver’s license is suspended 30 days from the date of your DWI arrest.
The DMV hearing is not something to be taken lightly. These cases are challenging to win. Your best chance of retaining your license is to hire a DMV hearing lawyer as quickly as possible to represent you at the DMV APS hearing.
A DMV hearing officer conducts the hearing. Even though the officer is not a judge, his role in the hearing is judge and jury. You can present testimony, legal arguments, witnesses, objections, and evidence at the hearing.
At the end of the hearing, the DMV officer decides whether to suspend your driver’s license for DWI. The maximum suspension period for a first offense DWI is four months. However, you may receive a restricted driving permit for work or school after 30 to 60 days.
The DMV hearing does not have an impact on your criminal case. However, if the DWI charges are dropped, the DMV should revoke the suspension and reinstate your driver’s license.
Defenses to DWI Charges
Several defenses could apply in your drunk driving case. An attorney assesses the facts of the case, investigates the arrest, and develops a defense strategy that gives you the best chance of beating the DWI charges.
Some of the defenses that could apply in your DWI case include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of probable cause to make a traffic stop
- Illegal search and seizure
- Violations of constitutional rights
- Improperly performed field sobriety tests
- Inaccuracies or problems with chemical tests for blood alcohol levels
- You were not under the influence of alcohol at the time of your arrest
- The chain of custody was not maintained for biological specimens
In some cases, you might be able to have the DWI charges reduced to a wet reckless charge. A wet reckless charge states that you were driving recklessly and alcohol was involved, but it is not a DWI charge.
Wet reckless charges do not automatically result in a driver’s license suspension. However, you must still request a DMV APS hearing because the initial DUI arrest triggers the DMV proceedings.
Fighting DWI Charges in California
You are innocent until the state proves you are guilty. However, do not assume you do not need to do anything because you believe the state’s case is weak. Aggressively fighting DUI charges is the best way to protect yourself.
You cannot beat the charges if you do not fight the charges. If you do not understand the law or the judicial process, it can be difficult to fight DWI charges. Getting help from an experienced DWI defense lawyer might be the best option you have for getting out of a DWI charge.