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"Speed Contest" as a Plea Bargain in DUI Cases

It is illegal in California to participate in a drag race or other exhibition of speed.  So why would you ever want to plead guilty to it if you didn't do it?

The short answer is that by accepting a "speed contest" plea bargain in a DUI case, you avoid the worse penalties that come with a California DUI.  The prosecutor knows that driving too fast wasn't your problem.  But when there are weaknesses in the prosecution's case, they may be willing to let you plead to a speed contest in lieu of a DUI.  The prosecutor doesn't have to risk an acquittal.  And you escape without running the risk of a DUI on your record.

1. What is a California “speed contest”?

California Vehicle Code 23109 VC prohibits drivers from doing any of the following on a public road:

  • racing against another vehicle,
  • racing against a clock or other timing device, or
  • intentionally driving at an unsafe speed.

A VC 23109 violation is referred to variously as a:

  • speed contest,
  • exhibition of speed,
  • speed ex, or simply
  • “9.”

2. Advantages of a California DUI “speed contest” plea bargain

Even though it might not reflect your actual conduct, it can be advantageous to plead to a speed contest rather than to face charges for DUI.

Like the common DUI (DUI without causing injury), a violation of Vehicle Code 23109 is a misdemeanor. But  compared to a California DUI, a speed contest results in:

  • lower fines,
  • a shorter jail sentence,
  • a shorter period of probation,
  • no requirement to attend DUI alcohol classes, and
  • no priorability.

3. Penalties For a California Speed Contest

Fines

Speed ex carries a maximum fine of $500.  The fine for a California DUI can be up to $1,000 – more by the time county penalty assessments are added in.

County jail sentence

The maximum sentence for California exhibition of speed is 90 days in county jail.  DUI carries a sentence of up to six months (or more for a second or subsequent offense).

Probation

Probation for a California speed contest lasts from one to two years.  The probation period for a DUI is typically three to five years -- more than twice as long.

Points on DMV driver record

Pleading guilty to a speed contest will add 2 points to your California DMV driving record.  If you accumulate enough points, the DMV will declare you a negligent operator and suspend your license. If you are convicted of a DUI, however, the court can suspend your license right away -- for a period ranging from 90 days to six months.

4.  No "Priorability" for a California Exhibition of Speed

Speed contest plea bargains do not count as DUI “priors.”  A DUI (or even a "wet reckless"), on the other hand, is a priorable offense. If you are convicted of DUI, and are later arrested for another DUI within ten years, you will face substantially higher penalties for the subsequent DUI.

A speed ex, however, is not a priorable offense for purposes of calculating DUI penalties.  If you accept a speed contest plea bargain, it will not count as a prior DUI offense if you are later arrested for another DUI.

Just as importantly, if you already have a prior DUI offense, a "speed contest" does not trigger the increased penalties you would face for conviction on another DUI.

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