Penalties- Sentencing Alternatives


DUI sentencing alternatives always become issues to discuss with clients in serious or bad cases.  How do I stay out of jail is a common question from those who are charged with serious offenses.

There are a variety of DUI sentencing alternatives to actual jail time that may be available to you even if you are sentenced to jail by the judge.  Whether you are offered these options will depend on your criminal history, the gravity of the offense and the charges that you are facing.

Buy your way out.-  If you are facing weekend work release and you live outside the state, or have a compelling reason to avoid work release, you may be able to substitute it with a steep fine.  And it is steep.  One person in Palo Alto, California paid $3,500 to get out of five days of work release.

Sheriff work aka “weekend work”–  Weekend work is the best of the DUI sentencing alternatives.  The name weekend work is a misnomer but is in use in many counties.  It suggests that this is a program that can only be done on weekends.  Wrong.  You can do sheriff work any day of the week including holidays.  Absent unusual facts, for first and second offenses a typical offender will be offered the opportunity to do jail time in the weekend work program.  Take it.  The advantages to sheriff work are numerous:

  • First, you are usually allowed to pick the days that you will work.  If your sentence is more than a few days, many judges will require you to do at least two days each week.
  • Basically you spend the day picking up trash on the side of the freeway, watering plants or cleaning buildings.  You are outdoors keeping busy rather than killing time in a dorm with 30 other convicts.
  • You do eight hours of work and you go home.  You eat your own food, you sleep in your own beds and you visit your friends in the evenings.   Currently, if you do jail time, you get one-third “good time” credit.  So for each day of jail that you are sentenced to, you get a third of a day off.  A twelve day jail sentence can be served in 8 days provided you stay out of jail.  But with weekend work you do eight hours for a days credit-  that is 2/3 good-time equivalence!
  • While there is a cost, it is minimal.  Some counties charge you a small amount per day others a flat fee to participate in the program.
  • DON’T BE LATE-  If the Sheriff’s Office says you have to be there at 9 am, you will be bounced from the program is you are ONE MINUTE LATE. If something comes up, and you cannot go to the Sheriff work program–a relative has died, you are down with the flu–document it.  If you are sick get yourself to a doctor and get diagnosed.  Then have him give you a letter saying what the problem is..  You can use this if you make an appearance before a judge to get back into the program.

Community Service–  Another favorite of the DUI sentencing alternatives is “community service”.  Community service basically means volunteering time to a 501 (c) (3) social program.  Churches, blood banks, the Red Cross, and soup kitchens are obvious examples of these types of organizations.  I have seen judges refuse community service credit for organizations that appear political (Amnesty International) or religious (Scientology).  How they can give credit to St. Vincent De Paul- a Catholic charity- and not one to a Scientology charity poses an interesting constitutional question.  In any case, most of the judges we know will not allow community service if there is a weekend work alternative available.  But sometimes the rules have to be bent-  Here are some examples where defendants got community service.

  • Client lived in Britain.  There was no way he could participate in any kind of law enforcement work program, as the British didn’t have one that Americans could participate in.  Clients in India, Canada, Mexico and other countries have used this in our office.
  • Client lived out of state and the county of the state that client lived in, did not have a reciprical arrangement with the California county for work release.
  • Client had a medical condition.  A client suffered from cancer, another was morbidly obese and a third had lupus.  In each of these cases, we had the court order our client into a community service program and do the sentence on an hourly basis, not a daily basis.  In Santa Clara and most other counties, if you are sentenced to 5 days of work release, you will do five eight-hour days.
  • Client was a care provider for someone who was ill.

Residential Treatment Program aka “Rehab”:  If you are facing jail, and are not eligible for weekend work release or community service, then the easiest of the DUI sentencing alternatives to get court buy-in on is a residential treatment program (commonly called “rehab”.)  By residential treatment program, we mean a 24 hour lock-down situation.  You are in a facility and don’t leave unescorted for at least 30 days.  Residential allows you to get treatment for alcohol or drug abuse while staying out of jail for the time that you are in rehab.  The courts usually will give you day-for-day credit against any jail time.

  • Consider an early order to residential:  The best part of rehab is that under most circumstances you can lock the court into agreeing to give you day-for-day credit from jail-time for residential.  In order to do this, get the judge early in the case (the arraignment would be the best scenario) to order you into a residential treatment program.  Ask the Public Defender which programs are pre-approved by the Court.  If you use a program that the court doesn’t know, then a representative from the program with you.

Residence in a work-release, sober living environment:  Sometimes the court will allow you do live in a sober living environment (where you are allowed outside of the facility to go to work) and then return to the facility during the balance of the day.

Electronic Home Detention– commonly referred to as “EHD” in many counties.  You will wear a SCRAM unit on your ankle that monitors your movement and you consumption of alcohol.  The sheriff will often visit your home to guarantee that there is no contraband (alcohol, firearms, etc.) and otherwise check into you.  Contra Costa County has a program where a fourth offender can do a six month sentence (half in EHD and half in residential).

Incarceration in a private jail, such as the Hawthorne Jail.  You are in jail, but it is nicer, the food is better, you don’t have to fight over the television and you don’t have to share a room with anyone else while you sleep.  There are no private jails in Northern California as yet, but if you are willing to make a trip to Hollywoodland, then this could be a good solution.  Southern California also has a wide variety of residential treatment units. that you might check out.  All you need is money.