Updated: Feb 19
What does “AB541” mean in California DUI law?
The term “AB541” is a reference to California Assembly Bill Number 541, which was adopted as California law in January of 1982 under Title 9 of the California Code of Regulations. Among other provisions, AB541 allowed for the creation of mandatory alcohol awareness classes for persons convicted of the crime of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) in California.
Note: While AB541 is a reference to all the provisions that were provided for in the original assembly bill, most DUI defendants and DUI lawyers refer to AB541 only as it relates to the bill’s provision that created mandatory alcohol awareness classes after a first offense DUI criminal conviction and/or after a finding of first offense DUI by the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMW) (See DMV APS Hearings).
What DUI Crimes are Included: AB541 DUI class requirements apply to all DUI and DUI related crimes, including a misdemeanor or felony conviction of VC 23152(a), VC 23152(b), VC 23153(a), VC 23153(b), VC 23152(c), VC 23152(d), VC 23152(e), VC 23152(f), Wet & Reckless Driving, Underage Drunk Driving (VC 23140), Boating Under the Influence (HN 655), and more.
When Does AB541 Apply?
According to AB541, persons cited or arrested for certain first-offense California DUI crimes must attend and complete alcohol awareness classes before the driver’s license privilege is unsuspended (Other penalties also apply, see Misdemeanor DUI Penalties). AB541 applies when a person is cited or arrested for a first offense DUI and his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below 0.15% by body weight.
Note: For purposes of AB541, a “first offense DUI means that the driver has not been cited or arrest for any DUI-related offense within the prior ten (10) years of the date of the current offense. For example, if a driver is convicted in 2017 of the DUI-related offense of wet and reckless driving, and thereafter, he receives a DUI conviction in 2022, then his 2022 DUI is considered a second DUI within ten (10) years of his first DUI-related wet and reckless driving conviction. Under this scenario, the driver will not be allowed to enter into the AB541 DUI classes in order to maintain his driving privilege; however, there are other DUI classes that he may take for a second offense DUI within ten (10) years of a first offense DUI (See SB38 DUI Classes).
What if my BAC is high or this is not my first offense?
When a driver is found to have a high BAC while driving (0.15% or higher), then that person might be entitled to take a DUI program that is longer than the provisions called for in AB541 (see above).
Also, if the defendant has suffered more than one DUI conviction within ten (10) years prior to his or her current DUI conviction, then there is a DUI program available for most defendant’s called the SB38 Multi-Offender DUI Program (See SB38 Classes).
How many DUI classes for AB541?
After a first offense DUI conviction, where the driver’s BAC is low, the driver must attend and complete at least ninety (90) days of outpatient alcohol awareness classes (30 hours). This “three month DUI program” applies to most California counties, including San Bernardino County; however, in some counties, such as Riverside County, AB541 is referred to as a four (4) month program because Riverside County requires more than the minimum requirements of AB541.
The DUI classes themselves are usually 1-2 hours in length for fifteen (15) weeks. The law requires at least thirty (30) hours of class time to be completed. The program participant is not allowed to “speed up” the time by taking more than one class a week; however, in some situations the program director may allow a person to take three (3) classes over a two (2) week period. In other words, you can not complete the DUI program early by attending more classes in a given week.
Note: There is an abbreviated DUI program for persons convicted of the crime of wet and reckless driving. For persons convicted of wet and reckless driving, the DUI program requirements are usually limited to the “education portion” of the program (12 hours over the course of six (6) weeks).
Note: As stated, AB541 is a minimum three month DUI program that is ordered in most first offense DUI cases where the defendant’s BAC is lower than 0.15%; however, where the defendant’s BAC is 0.15% or higher, the court has other options for longer first offense DUI programs (i.e. six month first offender program for BAC levels between 0.15% and 0.20% [AB 541], nine month first offender program for BAC levels of 0.20% of higher [AB1353], etc.)
What happens at the AB541 DUI classes?
The DUI classes focus on creating awareness of alcohol and drug abuse, such as discovering the physical and mental signs of alcoholism and how to overcome addiction, the negative physical, emotional, and mental signs of alcoholism, and more. The classes are intended to help the individual address his or her addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and to help reduce the number of repeat offenders. The DUI classes meet in both group sessions and in private one-on-one counselor meeting.
How Much Do AB541 Classes Cost?
Different DUI program providers charges different amounts. The average amount in 2022 is about thirty dollars ($30) a class. However, every DUI program is required by law to accommodate low income participants with proof of inability to pay. In reality, the threshold of inability to pay is so low that most persons would not likely qualify for a waiver of the DUI class fees.
Can I Take AB541 Classes Online?
Today, most DUI program providers provide online classes that may be attended by Zoom, or Zoom-style video communication. This includes the orientation and exit interviews for the DUI classes. Keep in mind that the DUI classes must be taken in the county where the DUI conviction occurred unless the participant (defendant) receives permission from the court to attend those classes in a different county. The reason for this is that some counties have a high participation requirement than other counties and the courts do not want defendants “shopping counties for the least amount of DUI class participation needed to complete the class in that county.” For a list of San Bernardino County DUI program providers, see List of DUI Classes in San Bernardino.
What happens if I don’t attend AB541 classes?
AB541 DUI classes are usually ordered by a criminal court judge as part of a “condition of probation.” Therefore, if the defendant does not attend and complete the DUI classes as ordered, then he or she could be in violation of his or her criminal court probation (See Violation of Probation). In addition, neither the criminal court, nor the DMV, will reinstate the driver’s driving privilege until the defendant attends and completes the ordered AB541 classes.
Also, if the defendant needs more time to enroll in the DUI classes, and the enrollment date has not yet arrived, then many criminal court judges will grant an extension of that probation condition in order to accommodate the defendant, so long as there is a good reason for the need to extend the enrollment date. If you need to extend your enrollment date, or if you have missed your DUI program enrollment date, contact a DUI lawyer without delay.
Finally, if the participant misses a DUI class, the program director does not usually drop the participant from the program. Each program allows a certain number of absences from the class without causing a violation of probation or a dismissal from the class (whether or not those absence(s) are excused or unexcused). It is important to keep in contact with the DUI program director about any absence so that the director does not mistake a series of absences as an intent to drop from the classes.
Note: The AB541 classes may sometimes be waived as a condition of probation from a criminal court judge if the defendant declares that he or she is not going to drive any vehicle in California. This waiver of the condition of probation is itself conditioned upon the driver attending and completing an approved drunk driver program before he or she drives a vehicle.
What if I start, but not finish, the AB 541 classes?
Sometimes a defendant will start the AB541 classes, but for some reason, the defendant does not finish those DUI classes. This situation could lead to several outcomes: 1) the defendant may be allowed to be reinstated into his or her DUI classes without court approval and without penalty, subject to the length of time that the defendant was absent from the DUI classes and other factors, 2) the defendant may be allowed to be reinstated into his or her DUI classes with court approval and with, or without, penalty, or 3) the defendant may be dropped from the DUI classes and the defendant may thereafter face a violation of his or her criminal court probation (See Violation of Probation).
Note: If you have been dropped from an AB541 DUI classes because of lack of attendance or failure to cooperate or participate with the class, contact a DUI lawyer without delay. A failure to cooperate of participate with the class, includes, but is not limited to, the following: showing up intoxicated to class, disruptive behavior, failure to submit to a breathalyzer if requested to do so by class administrators, and more.
Important: Reinstatement into a DUI class, when possible, is more likely to result in no additional penalties or punishment if the reinstatement request is made immediately upon dismissal of the class and there is good cause to allow reinstatement; however, every case is different and no request to reinstate into a DUI program should be made without first consulting a DUI lawyer.
How do I notify the court of my attendance?
Per AB541, the DUI program facilitators are required to keep a liaison with the court (and the probation department, the DMV, the criminal court clerk, the district attorney, and more). This means that the driver proof of attendance of DUI classes, and his or her proof of completion of DUI classes, is usually handled through the DUI program facilitator. However, keep in mind that sometimes these documents are not timely recorded with the court’s clerk; therefore, it is important for the program participants to keep copies of all of his or her certificates.
Note: Enrollment is mandatory in AB541 classes. At enrollment, the participant should take his or her court and/or DMV paperwork, if any, with him or her for the program director’s file (not the police report). Sometimes, a person will want to start the AB541 classes before the criminal court hearing or the DMV hearing has even begun. In this case, the participant will not have any court or DMV paperwork available for the DUI Program director. Before starting a DUI program without court or DMV paperwork, the prospective participant should discuss his or her goals with a DUI criminal defense lawyer.
In some cases, it is a good idea to start a DUI program before court has ordered the program (especially in some professional licensure consequences cases), but keep in mind that the program may never be needed if the participant is successful at the criminal court case and the DMV APS Hearing (See DMV APS Hearing for DUI). Also, keep in mind that some DUI program will not even let you start taking classes unless you have a court order from the DMV or criminal court to do so.
For more information on AB541 DUI classes, or to talk to a criminal defense attorneys about your DUI related arrest, including an arrest for a misdemeanor or felony violation of VC 23152 or VC 23153, contact our DUI criminal defense lawyers today. Our lawyers have successfully handled hundreds of DUI cases in every Inland Empire Court, including Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Redlands, San Bernardino, Victorville, and more. We offer no-cost consultations for first-time, in-office meetings and we can even travel to some local jails for consults for a small fee (West Valley Detention Center, CDC, and Adelanto Jail). Our attorney are available every day of the week to assist you. Call today!
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