Penalties for Driving Under the Influence (including Reese Witherspoon)

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Explore:  DUI Reese Witherspoon

The DUI case involving actor Reese Witherspoon and her husband illustrated some of the unfortunate results of a drunk driving arrest. When the two were stopped by police officers for driving the wrong way down a road in Atlanta, Witherspoon became verbally combative with law enforcement, objecting to her husband (the driver) being asked to take a field sobriety test and put in handcuffs. Even though she was only a passenger in the vehicle, the actress was charged with obstruction for failing to remain in the car.

While that was in Georgia, California’s DUI laws treat specific circumstances around arrests with particular types and degrees of punishment. Here are some examples:

DUI penalties – Under a first offense, a four-month license suspension commences after 30 days from the arrest date but can be delayed or stayed pending the outcome of the DMV Admin Per Se or "APS" hearing, which must be requested within 10 calendar days from the arrest date. (note that if you refuse a sobriety test, there will be an automatic one-year suspension of driving privileges). Fines can be as high as $1,000, which does not include license reissue fees ($125) and legal fees. You may also be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your car at your own expense and enter a DUI education program. Some first-time offenders are given up to six months in jail.

Subsequent convictions – All penalties increase for second and subsequent convictions for DUI within 10 years of the first conviction. License revocations and suspensions can last as long as three years.

Underage drivers – Youth is no excuse when found guilty of a DUI under the age of 21. An open container of alcohol can lead to a 30-day vehicle impoundment, fines up to $1,000 and a one-year license suspension. Any measurable amount of alcohol can result in a one-year license suspension, hundreds of dollars in fines and mandatory DUI school attendance. Therefore, a BAC level as low as 0.01 can subject a person under the age of 21 to sanctions.

Any incident can involve mitigating circumstances and a nuanced legal defense strategy (Witherspoon and her husband were able to reduce charges against them through no-contest and guilty pleas, plus minimal fines).