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What can happen if I’m arrested for DUI a second time?

Everyone makes mistakes, and most people agree that an error someone made years ago should not continue following them around. Especially if the person has already taken his legal punishment. Bringing back an old criminal conviction to tack on further penalties can seem gratuitous and unjust.

But that is what California does as part of having some of the most stringent DUI laws in the country. In this state, you can go nearly ten years with a clean driving record, but if the police accuse you of drinking and driving, a long-ago offense can come back to haunt you — with real consequences for your freedom.

State laws generally provide that someone convicted of DUI is subject to harsher penalties if they were previously convicted of the same crime within the past ten years. This is known as a “lookback period.” Different states have different lookback periods. For example, Arizona and Nevada use a lookback period of seven years for DUIs.

If you are not proactive and decisive about how you respond to charges, you will be facing the prospect of jail.

California is no exception to this.

“If a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 and the offense occurred within 10 years of a separate violation of Section 23103, as specified in Section 23103.5, 23152, or 23153, that resulted in a conviction, that person shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 90 days nor more than one year and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000). The person’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle shall be suspended by the department pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 13352. The court shall require the person to surrender the driver’s license to the court in accordance with Section 13550.”

Without a prior conviction within the lookback period, you may be eligible to get your license back for specific purposes, like driving to work or school. But getting a restricted license can be tougher if this is your second DUI within 10 years. As the statute says:

Whenever, when considering the circumstances taken as a whole, the court determines that the person punished under this section would present a traffic safety or public safety risk if authorized to operate a motor vehicle during the period of suspension imposed under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 13352, the court may disallow the issuance of a restricted driver’s license required under Section 13352.5.

“The circumstances taken as a whole” is a vague term that gives the judge huge power to take away your driving privileges for a long time. Here in San Diego, most of us need to drive to keep our jobs and raise our kids. Imagine losing your driver’s license and your independence due to a judge’s subjective whims.

The law’s intent may be to target frequent offenders and try to take them off the road. But it applies to you even if your last brush with the law was years and years ago. This makes it critical that you get experienced legal representation if you have a DUI on your record and you have been arrested on a separate charge.

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