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What Is Neighborhood Court And How Is It Used In San Francisco County For DUI Cases?


Neighborhood Court is a new model that serves as an alternative to the criminal court process, and it’s used in very few places in the country. If you get arrested for DUI in San Francisco and you meet the qualifying standards (e.g. low blood alcohol level), then you might be given the option of Neighborhood Court. This means that you could avoid a conviction for a misdemeanor DUI or DUI Related charges. In essence, it’s sort of like a “freebie.” It will likely last for as long as the recently-elected DA, Chesa Boudin, remains in office. A lot of people are happy about the option of Neighborhood Court for cases and a lot of people are not.

Neighborhood Court does not involve the typical court process that most people think of, which includes motions and jury trial, negotiations with the district attorney on plea bargains, and all the consequences of a DUI conviction (e.g. unsupervised probation, fines, DUI school, high insurance rates). If the court refers your case to Neighborhood Court, then you would meet with a committee of three people who reside nearby the location of the offense in San Francisco. You would talk to them about what happened and what you have done to ensure that it won’t happen again, and the committee would decide on your punishment. Typically, the punishment includes completing a MADD victim impact panel and “thinking for a change” classes.

Neighborhood Court does not get rid of the administrative hearing, which is a civil hearing regarding DMV suspension of your driver’s license. This hearing must be requested within 10 days of your arrest; if you contact our office within those 10 days, we can almost always schedule it for you. These hearings are usually held a couple months after the arrest. If you win the administrative hearing, then your license will not be suspended. If you lose the hearing, then your license will probably be suspended for four months. Alternatively, you may be allowed to continue driving, but only on the condition that you have an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for four months. The third option is a one-month suspension followed by five months of restricted driving (i.e. driving only to designated locations during certain hours, such as your place of employment). Depending on the option that’s offered to or chosen by you, you may need to be enrolled in DUI school and have SR-22 insurance before driving. We walk our clients through all of the details of these options, provide referrals to places that can help them fulfill their obligations, and do everything we can to save them money along the way.

The fact that Neighborhood Court can help someone avoid a DUI conviction is hugely beneficial, especially for anyone who has a professional license that could be suspended as a result of such a conviction. Not everyone is eligible for Neighborhood Court; only a small fraction of those arrested for DUI in San Francisco fall under the district attorney’s guidelines for Neighborhood Court. However, it’s something you should talk to a lawyer about if you think you might qualify. Countless attorneys who either don’t handle many DUI cases or who aren’t in the San Francisco area have been contacting me to learn more about Neighborhood Court, and many people can’t even believe it’s an option.

What Is The Purpose Of Neighborhood Court In San Francisco?

The purpose of Neighborhood Court is to allow members from the community to handle all low-level misdemeanor cases that don’t involve injuries. This gives offenders the chance to explain what happened and why it won’t happen again, and avoid receiving convictions that could substantially impair their ability to maintain or gain employment, attend certain schools, qualify for loans, travel, buy or rent a house, earn a professional license, etc. There is a huge difference of opinion in San Francisco with regard to the way in which DUI cases should be handled. Many people think that since drunk driving can ruin lives, it’s not right to give offenders the option of Neighborhood Court. Other people believe that low-level offenders deserve a second chance.

If you have been arrested for DUI, it’s very important that you contact an attorney who has experience with DUI law. As a DUI attorney, it is my job and sworn duty to always do what is in the client’s best interest. Once you hire me, we will discuss your case in detail, review all of your options, and determine whether Neighborhood Court is an option. All of our discussions will be confidential. Even during COVID-19, I am happy to sit down with clients (respecting social distancing and mask guidelines). I am also available via Zoom. You deserve to find the best DUI attorney in the area, because there is just so much at stake in these cases.

When Dealing With A DUI, How Much Shorter Is The Process Of Neighborhood Court Compared To Traditional Court?

Depending on the complexity of the case, the traditional court process can take several months or even years. The Neighborhood Court process is so new that it’s hard to say how long it typically takes, but I would estimate between two and six months. Of course, the administrative hearing with the DMV will still be necessary, which can last for quite some time.

Who Qualifies For Neighborhood Court?

The eligibility guidelines for Neighborhood Court could change at any time, just like any other set of guidelines. Right now, people who have a first-offense DUI with a low alcohol level and no related accidents or injuries may be eligible for Neighborhood Court. However, this is a brand-new program, so new information comes out every day.

Will I Still Have To Pay Fines For My DUI If I Go Through Neighborhood Court In San Francisco?

Neighborhood Court is a very new process, but my current understanding is that instead of having to pay close to $1,000 for a reduced charge (e.g. wet reckless) or close to $1,800 for a regular DUI, you will only have to pay about $115 if you make over $54,000 per year. This is less than the fee for most traffic tickets.

If you think you might qualify for Neighborhood Court, you should hire an attorney to file the case and go to court with you. Neighborhood Court might be offered at the arraignment, but if there is something negative on your record or the blood alcohol level is near the cutoff for eligibility, then you will need an attorney to negotiate on your behalf. Similarly, you will want an attorney working on your behalf during the DMV administrative hearing. Consult with an experienced DUI lawyer in San Francisco before trying to take on any of this yourself.

How Does My Attorney Request Neighborhood Court For My DUI Case In San Francisco?

If I’m representing you, I will attend the arraignment in person in San Francisco (these arraignments are held just blocks away from one of my offices). In some cases, I will talk to the DA ahead of time, but if they are not willing to offer Neighborhood Court from the beginning, then I will request it so long as I believe that you are entitled to it. A series of negotiations may be necessary in order to have Neighborhood Court granted, and if we can get the DA to agree then typically it happens very early on in the process.

For more information on Neighborhood Courts for DUI Cases, a FREE case evaluation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (415) 523-7878 today.

Aaron Bortel

Get your questions answered - Call Us 24/7 For a FREE Case Evaluation (415) 523-7878

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