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DUI Overview: Charges and Penalties

Local DUI Lawyer Serving Modesto, CA

Many people have their first run-in with the legal system on a DUI charge, either being pulled over while driving for a minor infraction and subsequently charged with DUI, at a roadside sobriety checkpoint, or after an accident. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, you need to understand the basics about the charges and penalties to that you can make an informed decision about what to do. Our DUI defense lawyer can offer you direction during a free consultation. 

Your arrest will be based upon the BAC (blood alcohol level) that was registered, usually in a breath test, less commonly with a blood test. The legal limit is 0.08 or above for most drivers, for those holding commercial driver's licenses, it is 0.04, and for underage drivers it is 0.01 or higher. The process of an arrest includes several steps, all of which should be fully evaluated by a Modesto DUI lawyer if you hope to avoid the penalties that could be imposed upon you if you plead guilty.

The Police Stop

The police stop is the first part of the process. Law enforcement operates under strict rules with regard to the ability to pull you over. There must be probable cause to believe you could be driving drunk, such as speeding, reckless driving, swerving, or other driving behavior that could be the result of intoxication. Some are pulled over due to an infraction such as burnt out tail light or any minor issue that allows the police to stop you. Others may have been waved over in a roadside checkpoint, but even these police stops are heavily restricted with regard to how the checkpoint is operated, and profiling is not allowed. The first issue to be evaluated in your DUI case is the police stop. Were you illegally pulled over? Our legal team at Scott Mitchell Law Incorporated should review this part of your case immediately. Any violations of rights in the stop could lead to a full case dismissal, as all of the evidence obtained could be suppressed.

Field Sobriety Tests

Once you have been stopped, officers usually administer field sobriety tests. You are not obligated to perform these tests legally. You are required to submit to a breath or blood test, also called a chemical test, or under California law which allows for a driver's license with "implied consent" to chemical testing, you will have your license suspended for 1 year. Field sobriety testing is to further establish that you are under the influence, and gain more probable cause. If you "fail" the tests, you will be taken to the police station for breath or blood testing. Field sobriety tests have a low level of accuracy, and there are many factors that could cause a person to fail, including balance problems, fear, stress, age, language problems and medical conditions. The field sobriety testing evidence, and exactly what happened to you should be analyzed at once as part of your defense.

BAC Testing

You will then be taken to the station for breath testing. Some people are asked to perform a preliminary breath test with a roadside unit - these testing units are notoriously inaccurate and you would be better served to go to the station for testing. The breath testing also must be administered exactly if the results are to be trusted. Get your case reviewed to find out if your test was administered correctly. As this is the critical piece of evidence, it is imperative that every detail of this process is evaluated carefully.

The Arrest

Following a reading above the legal limit, you will be arrested and booked. There is a short period of time in which to do anything about defending yourself. These cases move quickly through the system. It is advised that you contact our firm immediately after you have been booked, and prior to appearing before the court. Don't plead guilty without first speaking with one of our legal team. You may have been charged in error, or your case could have excellent defense options.

Criminal Charges and DMV Hearings

Your case involves two issues: the criminal charge and the suspension of your license through the DMV. Your license will be automatically suspended after 10 days unless you request a DMV hearing. Our firm can address both aspects of your case and represent you both in the DMV hearing and in court. This is an urgent issue that must be addressed immediately or you will face a long period of license suspension. You may be able retain your license if it is discovered that you have been illegally stopped by the police, or other error in your case.


The penalties for DUI in California are particularly harsh. A first time DUI can mean 4 day to 6 months in jail, fines and penalties from $1,400 - $2,600, and license suspension for 30 day to 10 months. A 2nd DUI carries penalties of jail time up to 1 year, fines as high as $2,800, and license suspension for 2 years, which in some cases can be reduced to 1 year. A 3rd DUI conviction could have jail time of 120 days to 1 year, fines from $1,800 - $18,000, license suspension for 3 years. There are other consequences including the requirement to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle (at your own cost) as well as increased insurance rates, court fees, and the personal damage to your reputation and criminal record.

If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, get help from the professionals at our firm. Our DUI defense lawyer should evaluate your case immediately after your arrest, and we can advise you about how to proceed. We are on your side.

Contact our firm for more information about DUI defense. We have an office in downtown Modesto.

Fees and Payments

Here at Scott Mitchell Law Incorporated, when it comes to fees and payments, we strive to be flexible with clients who are seeking legal representation. We offer payment arrangements, flat fee contracts, and traditional retainer agreements. We understand legal representation is necessary for all, and yet difficult for most to pay the fees all at once. Although we cannot guarantee that everyone will be able to hire us, we do promise to do what we can to make it possible for you to hire one of our attorneys to represent you.