Have There Been Recent Changes In Misdemeanor DUI Laws In San Francisco?
Over the last couple of years, there have been a lot of changes that relate to DUI cases in San Francisco. Most DUI cases are misdemeanor cases. If a person who’s charged with a DUI did not cause an injury or serious injury, it is a misdemeanor DUI. A misdemeanor DUI is usually a first, second, or third DUI within the last 10 years. When talking about policy, mainly with first offense DUIs, that means that there are no prior DUI convictions or arrests that have led to a conviction within the last 10 years. San Francisco started adjusting what they were doing with DUIs back in early 2019. Then, with the recent new DA coming into San Francisco toward the end of 2019 and into 2020, there have been some drastic changes. There are a couple of things that can be found on my website that relate to DUI arrests that can be diversionary, which are under the Caretaker Diversion Statute and the Neighborhood Court.
Those are for specific situations, which you can find on my website. You can also feel free to contact me any time through my website or telephone. I’m always happy to talk to people at length to answer all of their questions. I don’t charge anything for that.
In regard to changes for normal DUI situations in which someone’s between a 0.10% and a 0.11% to a 0.15% and 0.16%, I’ve seen the district attorney’s office willing to reduce charges or allow a plea if the case doesn’t go to trial. In these cases, a DUI could be reduced to a wet reckless. Before, you would have to have been close to the legal limit to even be able to negotiate for a wet reckless.
These numbers have changed a lot over the years in San Francisco. Currently, I’ve had cases where my client had a 0.15% or 0.16% blood alcohol level, and the DA said that if my client was willing to do a number of things ahead of time, the charges could get reduced to a wet reckless. In turn, my client would have to participate in a DUI school, do a MADD Victim Impact Panel, and some community service through the Sheriff’s Alternative Work Program (SWAP) instead of jail. For SWAP, I would negotiate a certain number of hours with the prosecutor. So, instead of having an offer for a first offense DUI, which carries three-year unsupervised probation with a fine of about $1,700 or $1,800, we could get the charges reduced to a wet reckless. A wet reckless typically carries 18-month unsupervised probation. That’s important because that’s the amount of time in which you cannot have any alcohol in your system while driving a motorized vehicle.
A wet reckless also results in a lower fine. The fine is closer to $800. It’s a little less than half the fine you would have for a regular DUI. If we can win a DMV hearing with a wet reckless, then you’d only have to do a 12-hour DUI school instead of a three-month DUI school. Moreover, DUI schools are now being offered through Zoom or online through California providers since none of them are doing in-person schools right now.
For the prosecution, they are now seeing that the most important thing about a DUI is whether it’s priorable. A wet reckless is priorable, whether it’s a wet reckless or a first offense. That means that if you get another one within 10 years, it would count as a second offense. They know that if you plead to a wet reckless, you still have that hanging over your head, and they are not as concerned for the fine amount. They want you to do the DUI school, and they’ve added the Victim Impact Panel. Those two things are the most important things with DUIs to prevent recidivism. If you are not able to win the hearing with the DMV, one of the options – if you don’t have a work-only restricted license for a long period of time – you can get an ignition interlock on your car. An ignition interlock device requires you to blow into it to be able to start the car. The car will not start if there is a certain amount of alcohol in your system.
That’s a California law that has helped with recidivism. I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why the San Francisco DA has changed the penalties. They are penalizing enough in the DUI situation where someone has not been injured, it’s a first offense, and the person doesn’t have a checkered history. Instead, the DA wants to educate them, hit them with a fine, and let the DMV handle their license.
DUIs are very damaging to someone’s record, credit, and travel circumstances. You can’t get global entry with those records. There are a lot of things that happen that aren’t part of the plea bargain. They just happen to someone when they receive a drunk driving conviction. The DA’s office, the people in charge there understand that.
If you get a DUI in San Francisco, this is what we are looking at for a first offense. There are a lot more details that I could go under and a lot of other situations that can happen. But typically, the education portion of the conviction is what they want to focus on. In years past, they didn’t have the Victim Impact Panel as part of the penalties. So, they’ve added more education, and the Victim Impact Panel, the MADD Program, is very effective and intense. I’ve had a number of clients who have done it come back and say, “Wow! I think that alone has changed me.” Thus, it is having an effect. The last thing we want is people getting in trouble and doing it again when it’s happened once.
It would be nice for society if it never happened at all, but we live in a society where there’s a restaurant or bar on every corner. You have liquor stores, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Safeway, and other stores. The alcohol is everywhere. Everywhere you turn, there is alcohol, and it’s pushed on the people. It’s such an acceptable part of our society, not just in the San Francisco Bay Area, but all over our country. As long as there is going to be that much alcohol out there, and people with addiction and those who once they have a drink or two let their guard down, we are going to have DUIs. It’s just going to happen. When alcohol is legal, you are going to have DUIs. It’s a part of our society, and in order to get people to not repeat their mistakes, we need education.
Education is the answer to almost every problem where the law comes into play, where arrests happen, where convictions happen, and where lives are being ruined. Education is the answer, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s office is working towards that as their way to address these issues. A lot of people say that the answer is to make the laws so strict that no one will ever do it like in some parts of Europe and around the world. But, that’s not happening in our state or country. Until it does, education is always going to be the best answer.
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