The Importance of Alcohol Education Classes

Are you sick of Paris Hilton’s DUI yet? I’m sure she is. A small but significant part of her problems was her failure to sign up for alcohol education classes, which are required after a conviction for every type of DUI in California. Not signing up will almost certainly make you look bad to a judge, but more importantly, it opens you up to all kinds of consequences that you’d probably rather avoid - including jail.
There are actually three types of alcohol classes in California, which are unhelpfully called by the names of the state laws that created them. The kind Hilton got are called SB 1176 classes, and they’re for people who weren’t technically convicted of driving under the influence - Hilton got her charge reduced to reckless alcohol-related driving (also called “wet reckless”). You can generally plead to this in cases like hers where you have no prior convictions, nobody was hurt and your BAC wasn’t outrageously high. It’s not a DUI conviction, but it counts as a prior DUI conviction if you’re ever stopped for a DUI again. Because Hilton got probation, she also had to sign up for the SB 1176 classes within 22 days. SB 1176 classes take 12 hours to complete and they’re usually broken up over several days. You have to pay for them yourself, at a cost of $200 to $300.
If a first-time offender isn’t able to plead to recklessness and gets a first DUI conviction instead, he or she will be sentenced to AB 541 classes (among other things). The judge has discretion as to whether you get three, six or nine months. Again, you’re required to pay for it yourself, at a cost of around $400 to around $1000, depending on the program and how long you have to be in it. Private providers approved by the state run the classes, so how they break down depends on where you are, but you can expect alcohol education as well as group and individual counseling.
People who have been convicted of more than one DUI within seven years get SB 38 classes, which take one to two and a half years to complete, and cost at least a thousand dollars. Even if a judge doesn’t sentence you to SB 38 classes, you will still have to complete them to reinstate your license (a license suspension of two to five years is mandatory for a multiple DUI offender). Again, you get group counseling, individual counseling and alcohol education; you might be strongly encouraged to attend 12-step program meetings as well.
These classes are not fun - or for that matter, cheap. In fact, if you look at all the costs of a DUI -- fines, court costs, car insurance rate hikes, finding alternate transportation if your license is suspended, and possible loss of your job - they’re actually more expensive in many cases than the cost of hiring a lawyer. A good DUI lawyer isn’t cheap either, but he or she can get the charge reduced or dismissed altogether, and significantly decrease some of the penalties associated with a DUI, including non-financial penalties like losing your license.

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