According to reports, the increasingly crowded conditions of California's jail and prison system has led to those convicted of more minor offenses, such as DUI, serving little time as a result. Because the system wants to reserve beds for those charged with more serious crimes such as rape or other felonies, DUI offenders are increasingly receiving more minimal sentences.
California law allows courts to assess jail sentences of up to six months for a first DUI offense. The overcrowded conditions in the jails mean that if a person receives such a DUI sentence, they may be released in as little as a day.
In order to ensure longer supervision periods for those people who are convicted of drunken driving, courts are increasingly turning to alternatives including work release. Under work release sentences, offenders serve time completing certain required work tasks in the community, such as cleaning sidewalks, picking up litter and cleaning graffiti. The sentences allow the people who are convicted to give back to the community while serving their sentences while also freeing up beds for those who are charged with more serious offenses.
People who are facing drunk driving charges face potentially long jail sentences if they are convicted. The practical matter, however, is that they more than likely will not be required to serve a large portion of any jail sentence they receive. Additionally, a criminal defense attorney may have a good chance of negotiating a plea to an incarceration alternative sentence, such as work release or probation for his or her clients. People who are charged with driving under the influence may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney concerning the facts and circumstances of their cases. Upon a careful review, an attorney may be able to provide advice regarding the charges.
Source: abc 23, "Punishments for DUI offenders remain low due to California legislation, jail overcrowding", Lesley Marin, December 11, 2014