Driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while impaired or driving while intoxicated (DWI), places firefighters at great risk. The following is a primer on the pitfalls of DUI/DWI arrests and related consequences for firefighters. This is based upon California law, but similar consequences occur in other states and parts of the world.
First of all, a firefighter needs a valid driver license with required endorsements as a condition of employment. That means all firefighters must protect their right to a valid driver’s license.
In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) immediately suspends the driving privileges of any driver who is stopped by a peace officer and is determined to have a higher blood alcohol concentration than allowed by law. This law also applies to the refusal to submit to a chemical test as directed by the police. Other states have similar laws in place.
The following are lessons learned from recent DUI/DWI cases involving Fire Department members and other fire department organizations throughout the United States. Again, the following is just an example with California Laws; as I mentioned, other states follow closely.
15 Reasons Why You Don’t Want To Get A DUI/DWI
1. The charge of driving under the influence is actually two charges:
(a) “driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (or both)” and,
(b) “driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher.”
The punishment is the same whether you plead to either offense.
2. If you are convicted of either charge, it counts as two points in California against your negligent operator count at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (The Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS) is based on negligent operator points and consists of a computer generated series of warning letters and progressive sanctions against the driving privilege.)
3. Conviction on either count is “priorable” for the next ten years. That means that if you pick up another DUI within that time, it will count as a second offense requiring mandatory jail time and a license suspension for one year.
4. Since what happens at the Court and what happens at the DMV are separate procedures, it is possible to be found guilty in the criminal case, but still win the DMV hearing.
5. On the other hand, you could actually be acquitted in Court of the “b” count, “driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher” and lose your DMV hearing and have your license suspended. Again, the criminal case and DMV suspension of your license in DUI cases are completely separate actions
6. Notwithstanding No. 5 (above), if you are accused of having refused to take the chemical test, even if you win at trial, the DMV may still suspend your license for one year for a first offense if they determine you refused to take a chemical test at the hearing.
7. If you are convicted of a DUI, you will be required, during the three years that you are on probation, to maintain proof of insurance on file with the DMV. If it should lapse during that time, the DMV will suspend your license.
8. If you are caught driving while your license is suspended for a DUI conviction, the mandatory minimum jail term is 10 days in California other states may vary more.
9. A first-time misdemeanor DUI, 23152 California Vehicle Code, carries jail time — a 48-hour minimum in some courts. A felony DUI can mean up to three years in state prison and an additional 3-5 years for an injury accident.
10. A DUI conviction can result in formal or informal probation. Mitigating circumstances and other factors may determine the amount of supervision and length of probation.
11. A misdemeanor or felony DUI conviction can mean mandatory attendance at drinking driver alcohol programs. The attendance — depending on circumstances and the alcohol level — can be required for 90 days, or six months, nine months, 18 months, or 30 months. You could be ordered to mandatory Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
12. You may be subject to thousands of dollars in penalties including significant fines, penalty assessments, and victim restitution fund payments.
13. If you refused a chemical test (breath or blood test), you could face additional penalties, even jail time. A first offense may result in a one-year license suspension. A second chemical test refusal offense within seven years will result in a two-year DMV license revocation. An additional offense in a seven-year period will result in a three-year license revocation.
14. Your vehicle can be impounded or even permanently forfeited and sold, leaving you with a car payment for a car you no longer own.
15. You could face significant auto insurance rate increases or even car insurance cancellations. Proof of insurance (form SR-22) in California must be filed with the DMV.
Typical Costs and Consequences of First Offense DUI
These would be without any aggravated circumstances, such as collision, injury, etc.
• Attorney Fees: $8,500.00
• Court fines/fees: $1,500.00
• Court mandated classes: $500.00
• Additional insurance of: $1200.00 (per year for three years)
• 6 months restricted license
• Time off work during DMV license suspension (typically 30 days)
• Attend eight classes at Alcohol Anonymous – 12 hours
• Attend ten classes for Alcohol Awareness – 30 hours
• Suspension or discharges from Fire Department or various lesser charges
The point is, if you want to be a firefighter (or remain a firefighter), don’t drink and drive. Actually, even if you don’t want to be a firefighter, you should not drink and drive.
Retired Captain Rafael Ortiz
Los Angeles County Fire Department