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Driving drunk could result in fatalities, fees and jail

DUI tragedies change lives of those involved, officer says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Ever wonder what happens to a first-time DUI offender? Irresponsible celebrating can lead to large fees and jail this holiday season. According to the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, in 2009, 950 people were killed and 25,914 more injured in California DUI-related accidents. Thirty-one percent of traffic fatalities in the state are alcohol DUI related. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn said, from a law enforcement perspective, there is no typical group that tends to make up first-time DUI offenders. “I don’t think you can put a label on it,” Ruffcorn said. First-time offenders can crop up at any time of the year, Ruffcorn said. “I don’t think first-time offenders happen more in December than they do in July,” he said. “A lot of time during the holiday drunk driving in general goes up, but I don’t know if you can put a first-time label on that.” Signs of impaired driving According to Auburn Police Traffic Officer Chris Forman, drunk drivers may show several signs of their impairment on the road including swerving in and out of lanes, weaving within a lane, driving much faster or slower than the speed limit, driving without headlights at night, driving with high beams on and aggressive driving. “When we observe a vehicle code violation and make a traffic stop, the purpose of the traffic stop is to resolve the traffic issue,” Forman said Monday. “During that contact, if we observe signs of impairment, we will assess the driver for driving while impaired.” Forman said it’s not just alcohol or illegal drugs that could potentially impair a driver. “A lot of people are prescribed medication and ignore the warning on the bottle not to operate a motor vehicle,” he said. “You have to be cognizant of the effects of the prescribed medication.” What happens after a DUI arrest? Ruffcorn said after a DUI arrest is made in Auburn, the driver might be taken straight to Placer County Jail or to the Auburn Police Department. “Sometimes they are brought here,” he said. “Sometimes we do our blood draws from here or urine collection, and then they are eventually taken out to Placer County Jail.” To find out whether or not someone is driving under the influence of drugs, the police department’s drug recognition experts are trained to monitor things such as pupil dilation and pupil bouncing. Once in jail, the presumptive bail amount for a first-time DUI offender is $2,500, according to Jeff Moore, an attorney with the Placer County District Attorney’s Office. “That doesn’t mean that is what it will be every time,” Moore said. “There are many factors that could go into the (decision). The two factors the court will consider when setting bail are the danger or risk to the community and the risk of (the person) not coming back to court.” A previous criminal record and the seriousness of the DUI incident could also raise the presumptive bail, Moore said. The defendant has the right to be arraigned in front of a judge within 48 hours, but if he or she is able to immediately post bail, arraignments can be moved back 30 days, Moore said. If the defendant injured someone while driving, the presumptive bail jumps to $25,000, Moore said. The court process Moore described the court process a first-time DUI offender who didn’t cause death or injury might experience. According to Moore, the defendant can enter a plea at an arraignment. If a not guilty plea is entered the defendant’s case moves on to an early settlement conference where prosecutors and defendants try to come up with a resolution. At that point a defendant can either change his or her plea or move on to a jury trial. “The majority of cases, we are talking high 90 percent, there will be a change of plea before going to trial,” Moore said. First-time DUI sentences vary depending on the situation and whether or not the person receives probation, Moore said. If probation isn’t granted, a judge can sentence a first-time offender to a minimum of two days and a maximum of six months in jail, Moore said. A base fine of $450 for a first-time DUI driver usually turns into just under $2,000 after all associated court, state and county fees are added together, Moore said. Three years is usually the probation granted to a first-time DUI driver, and this includes several conditions like the same $2,000 fee, a three-month state-mandated DUI school that could turn into nine months if their blood alcohol level were over .2 percent and attendance at a one-night Victim Impact Panel, Moore said. Moore said a first-time offender with a very high blood alcohol level could also be subject to search and seizure, restricted from going into bars and liquor stores and prohibited from drinking any alcohol at all. A first-time DUI offender granted probation could serve anywhere from two to 30 days in jail, Moore said. There are several other fees associated with the DUI process such as a vehicle tow charge, booking charge, attorney fees, DUI school and insurance rate increase. Think before you drink Criminal Defense Attorney David Cohen, of Auburn, said those arrested for DUIs should know there are attorneys to help with the court process, so they don’t have to go through it alone. Cohen said he always encourages drivers to act responsibly before they start drinking. “They may not recognize they are in a situation where they are impaired (after they drink), so I always caution people to have a designated driver to recognize that their coworkers and friends, who may be leaving an event, might be better off getting a ride and getting a cab,” he said. Forman said DUI-related fatalities have huge impacts on everyone involved. “When we respond to those scenes knowing it’s a preventable circumstance, it weighs heavily on the officers who have to investigate it,” he said. “It’s hard on the families who are involved … and it’s frequently a life changing event that didn’t have to occur.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------- Options for avoiding drunk driving -For those who need to get back home after traveling outside of Auburn to the Folsom, Roseville and Sacramento area, Last Call Sacramento offers volunteer designated drivers. These drivers will take a person and his or her vehicle home. For information, call (916) 933-7483. -Local taxi companies: Foothill Flyer in Meadow Vista (530) 878-0808, Sierra Cab in Auburn (530) 885-2227 -AAA Tipsy Tow: From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve AAA will take drivers and their cars home. Call (800) 222-4357. ------------------------------------------------------ What to do if you see a potential impaired driver Call 911 with a description of the vehicle including make, model, color and license plate number. Give the location of the car and what direction it is heading in. Do not try to stop the driver. Source: California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency