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DUI Penalties Vary by Courthouse

Are Some Cities & Courthouses Harsher on DUI Offenders than Others?

Yes. Absolutely. While judges and prosecutors everywhere are under pressure to crack down on DUI offenders, some locations are much harsher than others. The simple fact is that where you got your DUI greatly affects your chances of beating the case, working out a sweet charge reduction or staying out of jail.

Which Southern California DUI Courts are Strict,

Let's go down the list, from most strict to most lenient.

Ventura & Riverside County DUI Cases

The worst places to get a DUI arrest are Riverside County and Ventura County. Both of these counties have a policy of imposing jail time even in a first offense DUI (though this can usually be served as part of a work release program).

The Riverside County D.A. agrees to reduce a DUI charge (such as down to a reckless driving) only in rare and exceptional circumstances—such as a case with a very low BAC or very weak evidence. The Ventura D.A. has a policy of not engaging in plea bargains at all in DUI cases. Ventura will simply dismiss the DUI case altogether if the evidence is sufficiently weak, but will not reduce the charge to a lesser offense.

Orange County DUI Cases

Orange County is known as a bastion of conservatism, and this political climate certainly extends to DUI policy. The prosecutors here are reluctant to reduce DUI charges, especially to a dry reckless or exhibition of speed. But they will do so in appropriate cases. Experienced Orange County DUI lawyers who work these courts know how to get good deals.

The toughest Orange County DUI court tends to be the Fullerton North Justice Center, followed by the Harbor Justice Center of Newport Beach and Laguna Nigel. The Westminster West Justice Center and the Santa Ana Central Justice Center are better. The absolute worse place in Orange County to get a DUI is Anaheim. These cases are handled by the Anaheim City Attorney's Office, which tends to be the most difficult in terms of securing favorable plea settlements.

San Bernardino County DUI Cases

When you cross into San Bernardino County, the climate becomes better for defending DUI cases. While San Bernardino County D.A. Michael Ramos has pledged to come down hard on drunk drivers, the reality is the court system here is jammed with more criminal cases than it can handle. Moreover, juries here tend to be critical of the police, especially in the Eastern parts of the county. As a result, insightful San Bernardino County DUI lawyers can work the system to get good deals for their clients.

The toughest court for DUI defendants in San Bernardino County is Rancho Cucamonga, followed by Chino. The DUI courts in San Bernardino, Fontana, Victorville and Barstow tend to be better for the accused. This largely has to do with the demography of the background communities and jury pools.

Los Angeles County DUI Cases

Of the Southern California Counties, Los Angeles tends to be the most favorable for those fighting DUI cases. The court system is overwhelmed with cases, and DUI jury trials yield a good number of acquittals. Consequently, experienced Los Angeles County DUI attorneys can often get excellent deals for their clients.

Within Los Angeles County, however, geography remains a significant factor. The harder places to fight DUI cases tend to be Long Beach, Pomona and the San Fernando Valley. The best places are the more urban courthouses, such as the Metropolitan Courthouse on Hill Street, the East L.A. Courthouse and the Compton Courthouse.

What Makes Some Cities & Courthouses Tougher on DUI Cases Than Others?

The biggest factor is the demography of the local community—the sorts of people who would be sitting on the jury if the DUI goes to trial. Some communities are mostly white, middle-class, conservative people who trust the police and tend to side with the prosecution in criminal cases. Good examples are Simi Valley or Newport Beach. Other communities are more urban, more diverse, less affluent, and tend to be more suspicious of the police. Good examples would be Bellflower or the city of San Bernardino.

The backdrop of DUI plea negotiations is the likelihood of conviction or acquittal if the case were to go to jury trial. The more confident the prosecutor is of securing a conviction, the less willing he will be to offer a good deal; the less confident he is, the more willing he will be. And of course, a primary factor affecting the likely outcome of a jury trial is the composition of the jury pool.

Another important factor is the number of prosecutors and courtrooms available for trial in relation to the number of criminal cases being set for trial. It's simple supply and demand. Some locations have plenty of judges, courtrooms and prosecutors to accommodate cases set for trial. Other locations are jammed with more trials than they can handle. The latter locations are forced by necessity to lower the “market value” of DUI cases—i.e., to offer better deals—so that more cases will resolve rather than go to trial.

No matter how touch or strict a particular court or D.A.'s Office is, however, a top Southern California DUI attorney can often help you to prevent a DUI conviction and to keep your drivers license. But it's not enough that the lawyer excel at DUI defense tactics. The lawyer must also know the unique system, officials and politics of the local court where your DUI case is being litigated.

Southern California DUI Defense


DUI cases are rarely hopeless. DUI convictions are almost never inevitable. Clients retain our California DUI defense attorneys for one reason: they want to fight the case. And win.

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The police arrested you for DUI. You gave a blood or a breath sample. The DUI officer confiscated you drivers license. The police released you with a notice to appear in court in a few weeks. Where do you go from here? Our lawyers are here to guide you step by step.