Wherever you are in the United States, getting caught drunk driving is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. After all, driving under the influence or DUI is a criminal offense in all states as well as the District of Columbia, and that means its consequences cannot be taken lightly. One of those consequences is jail time, which is something no person looks forward to serving.
All DUI offenses, whether it’s a first-time misdemeanor or a third DUI felony charge, are punishable with jail time of varying lengths. A first DUI conviction in California, for example, carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. A third DUI felony conviction, on the other hand, is punishable with mandatory jail time of up to five years.
However, it is still entirely possible to avoid jail in case you are convicted of a DUI. This is one of the many reasons to hire a DUI defense attorney to represent you in court - you stand a much better chance of staying out of a jail cell despite a conviction.
It’s all in the judge’s hands.
Whether or not a DUI convict—particularly a first-time offender—will spend some time in jail or not will largely depend on the judge handing down the sentence.
A good DUI lawyer can plead with the judge to spare the offender from jail and hand down an alternative sentence instead. The judge will hear your attorney’s presentation and will decide on it based on several factors.
The judge will take into account the type of DUI offense and how severe it is. Judges can be more lenient toward people who have committed a first-time DUI offense, which is typically charged as a misdemeanor. However, if that first-time offender hurt or killed someone, the likelihood of avoiding time in jail is significantly reduced. Judges will also weigh several other factors such as criminal history, if any, of the offender. Whether the DUI convict expresses any remorse will also be considered.
DUI sentencing alternatives
If the judge determines, among other things, that you are sorry for committing a DUI offense and that you are not a danger to the community, then you will likely end up serving probation instead of jail time.
Probation is better than jail, but it is no picnic for the offender either. You may no longer be under police custody and will have the freedom to move around, work, and contribute to society, but you will be supervised closely by a probation officer who will be assigned as soon as you receive your sentence.
If you’re serving probation, you will be required to follow specific rules throughout the probation period, like never driving without a valid license or with any amount of alcohol in your system, not committing any crime, or any other conditions the court may impose. On top of all this, you will also have to pay restitution, court costs, and probation supervision fees.
Violating or failing to complete the conditions of your probation will lead to its revocation, you will serve the maximum sentence that your original criminal DUI offense allows.
2. House arrest
The court that convicts you of a DUI offense can also require house arrest as an alternative to jail time. It also comes with certain inconveniences, but it does beat being in jail.
Then again, house arrest is, in a way, just like being in jail, but without the bars. You will have to confine yourself within your property and will be required to wear a monitoring device around your ankle, which will alert authorities if you leave your home. The monitoring device will most likely be a SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring) bracelet, which can detect alcohol in your sweat and measure your alcohol use.
3. Community service
Community service for a DUI offender can come in various forms. If you were convicted under California DUI laws and made to perform community service in lieu of jail, you would likely be made to work for the California Department of Transportation or Caltrans picking up trash on the freeway wearing those orange jumpsuits.
Other forms of community service include doing volunteer work for charities. In some cases, DUI offenders perform community service by speaking about the dangers of drunk driving in front of groups.
4. Alcohol or drug rehab
A DUI offender with an underlying alcohol or drug addiction may also be allowed by the court to spend time in a rehabilitation facility instead of a jail cell.
As mentioned above, you have to convince the court to hand down a sentence that doesn’t involve going behind bars. Only a skilled and experienced defense attorney can help you do that, make sure you hire one if you ever find yourself in DUI trouble.
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