Drivers in California who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be charged under California Vehicle Code § 23152(a) VC (driving while under the influence of alcohol), violating California Vehicle Code § 23152(b) VC (driving with a BAC of .08 or higher), and California Vehicle Code § 23152(f) VC (driving under the influence of drugs). How the court determines a sentence for a motorist convicted of DUI may take into account various factors. Thus, there is a range of penalties that a judge may impose for a DUI conviction.
Generally, California law provides sentencing guidelines for drivers convicted of a DUI. The allowable range is determined by a variety of circumstances, including the defendant’s record and the particular facts of the current offense. Within the applicable range, judges use “mitigating” and “aggravating” factors to determine an appropriate sentence. Aggravating and mitigating circumstances can also come into play when plea bargaining with prosecutors.
Mitigating factors are those facts or circumstances that reduce or “mitigate” a defendant’s culpability and warrant a more lenient sentence for the defendant. For example, if a motorist was barely over the legal limit, impaired because of a lawfully prescribed medication, or completes voluntary substance abuse treatment after the arrest, the judge and prosecutor may tend to impose a sentence at the lower end of the range suggested by the sentencing guidelines. The fact that a defendant may be gainfully employed or enrolled in school and excelling in his or her studies may also make a difference when the court decides on an appropriate sentence.
Aggravating factors, in contrast, are facts or circumstances that increase the severity of the defendant’s criminal act and culpability, thus warranting a harsher sentence. Common aggravating factors for DUI offenses include prior convictions, excessive speeding, refusing to submit to a chemical test, high BACs, reckless driving, having a child in the vehicle at the time of the offense, causing physical injury or property damage, and driving with a suspended license.
These aggravating circumstances will increase a driver’s penalties, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a first, second, third, or subsequent DUI charge. Those defendants who have no prior DUIs but an extensive criminal record for other offenses may also have their sentences increased.
Assessing how the circumstances of a DUI case will mitigate or aggravate a potential sentence is a complex task. John Patrick Dolan has represented California motorists charged with DUI for over 40 years. He is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a true courtroom veteran of DUI cases. Call the Dolan Law Offices today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.