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Can I Avoid Jail Time on a First DUI?

5 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

In most states, you can avoid jail time if the DUI (driving under the influence) is your first offense. But it depends on the circumstances under which the DUI occurred.

The two main considerations whether you will need to spend time in jail when convicted of a DUI are your number of previous similar offenses, and the circumstances of your current DUI.

In most states, jail time for a DUI conviction is not mandatory if no injuries occurred. And even in states where jail time for a DUI is an option, you can often avoid it with house arrest or community service. It’s a good idea to consult a DUI lawyer who can plead with the judge or prosecutor on your behalf and get you a lighter sentence. 

What Affects DUI Sentences?

The judge will consider many factors in a DUI case. 

One of the main factors is whether this is your first such offense. Usually, the judge will be more understanding if you don’t have prior DUI convictions. Here, your chances of avoiding jail time are very high. If you have a prior DUI conviction, avoiding jail time may be harder.

Besides prior convictions, other factors may increase the probability of jail time for a DUI.

If anyone sustained injuries or was killed as a result of your accident, it’s likely you will be charged with a felony and have to do jail time. This considers third-party participants of your traffic accident and the passengers in your vehicle.

Having children in your vehicle at the time of the offense will also aggravate the situation and, most likely, lead to harsher punishment. If you had your child or children in the car with you at the time of the accident, it will also affect your current child custody and visitation arrangements, if such are in place.

Causing substantial property damage is another factor that will influence the judge’s decision. They will also consider your criminal record, whether you are expressing remorse, your conduct during the arrest (for instance, the refusal to take a breathalyzer test), and more.

In some states, the level of alcohol in your blood will also be a factor affecting the judge’s decision. So, a blood alcohol level that is higher than the impairment standard of 0.8% will lead to a stricter sentence for your DUI. 

DUI Sentencing Alternatives

Instead of a jail sentence, you may receive a penalty such as:

  • Probation – This is definitely a better option than jail time, as they will release you from police custody and you may return to your normal life. However, they will assign a probation officer who will closely monitor your behavior. During the probation period, any offense your commit will have serious consequences and may even result in a new jail sentence. 
  • House arrest – Judges sometimes impose house arrest as an alternative to a jail sentence. During the house arrest period, you can’t leave your property and must wear a monitoring device around your ankle. This device alerts the authorities if you leave your home. The device may also come with Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) that will detect and measure the alcohol content in your sweat. This means you will need to watch your alcohol use during the time of your house arrest. Failure to observe the required rules may put the jail sentence back on the table. 
  • Community service – This may involve several activities such as picking up trash on the side of the road, collecting food for a local food bank, or volunteering for charities. Court-ordered community service can include up to 500 hours of work. The type of work you will do depends on the availability of work in your community. The type of work they will assign you to do depends on your abilities and your life situation. The only requirement is that the work you do must benefit the community.
  • Alcohol rehabilitation center – If you have a history of alcohol abuse, the judge may assign you to undergo alcohol rehabilitation. Here, you will need to spend a specific amount of time in a designated rehabilitation facility instead of spending time in jail. The intent is to battle your alcohol dependency and ensure that you won’t become a repeat offender.
  • Attending a DUI school – In some states (for instance, California), the court may also assign you to attend a DUI school. A DUI school is a court-approved program on alcohol awareness. There are different ‌DUI courses available, and how long you will need to attend one depends on the severity of your offense. Sobriety is generally required while you attend the program.

Getting a Lawyer to Help Avoid DUI Jail Time

Usually, it is best to have a lawyer guide you through the legal proceedings of your DUI. A professional attorney will give you a realistic evaluation of your case and help you negotiate a lighter sentence. There are many factors considered during your DUI sentencing, and you may not be aware of some of the attenuating circumstances that might help your case.

Different jurisdictions have different laws and sentencing practices for DUI cases—a lawyer will help you understand the legal framework of your case and will advise you on your best options.

Before you go further, speak with a local DUI attorney. It generally costs between $1,500 and $2,500 if you retain a DUI lawyer after a free consultation to discuss your case.

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