A Bad Track Record
California courts take DUI cases seriously. The court imposes mandatory minimum penalties and rarely exercises leniency when it comes to sentencing defendants. And if there are any aggravating factors, those penalties increase even more. One such factor that can influence the outcome of a DUI case is the defendant's driving record. The extent to which a driving record will affect your DUI case depends—in part—on your violations and when they occurred.
Generally speaking, a prior criminal history can affect the sentencing of many crimes. For DUIs in particular, a poor driving record can also affect sentencing. Prior DUI and wet reckless convictions will be held against you and result in steeper penalties. For example, a first DUI conviction can result in up to six months in a county jail. A second DUI conviction within ten years will result in up to one year in a county jail. Even prior traffic violations like speeding can make it more difficult to get a plea bargain or any easy sentence. While traffic violations won't be counted against you as a DUI or wet reckless conviction would, it can inform the judge that your prior punishments were not enough to incentivize good driving.
But the court-imposed penalties aren't the only thing to worry about when facing a DUI with prior traffic violations. If you have a bad driving record and get a DUI, the DMV can take further action against your license, above and beyond what it would for the DUI. The California DMV operates a point system. When people commit traffic code violation or serious driving crimes, the DMV assigns points on their driving record. Points do not do anything on their own. But when those points add up—which they quickly do with a DUI—the DMV can give the driver a negligent operator status. This status results in probation and a license suspension.
Similarly, if you already have negligent operator status and are arrested for a DUI, don't expect the judge—or the DMV—to understand. If you get a DUI while you are on probation under the negligent operator system, your license will be suspended for six months, and your probation period will be extended one year. This only raises the stakes if you commit another violation. The judge will also consider your negligent operator status when sentencing you. For example, if you already have negligent operator status, it is less likely the judge will let you walk away with a reduced sentence or a plea bargain.
The take away here is California punishes bad drivers. And when bad drivers continue to rack up violations, those punishments become more severe. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the State of California benefits financially from handing down increasingly harsh punishments for bad drivers. Every ticket, impoundment and fine is revenue for local government and the towing industry. Second, increasingly harsh punishments are meant to act as a deterrent to bad driving. The logic is if someone received an appropriate punishment, he or she would be reformed into becoming a better driver. Of course, people make mistakes even if they mean to be careful. For those with poor driving records, however, a simple mistake can land them in a world of trouble.
You should never face DUI or driving crime charges in California alone, especially if you already have a bad driving record. A non-moving or non-dangerous violation in the past might not affect your current DUI case, but if you have more recent violations for speeding, causing accidents, or prior DUIs, the prosecutor nor the judge will not go easy on you. Speak with an experienced California DUI defense attorney if you've been arrested for a DUI. Don't wait until you are in court to ask about your legal rights. Working with an attorney from the start of your case will maximize your chance of a favorable outcome.
Being arrested for a DUI is stressful, but experienced Visalia area DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you face your charges. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you navigate the DMV process and advise you on what you can do to save your license. Attorney Martens has practiced criminal defense for over ten years and knows how to defend your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.