What Is the Average DUI Sentence in California?

What Is the Average DUI Sentence in California?

Being arrested for a DUI can be overwhelming, but it can feel even more intimidating to look at DUI sentences. There are understandable concerns about jail time, fines to pay, losing your license, and the overall consequences of having a DUI on your record. Many people may ask themselves, what is the average DUI sentence in California? Understanding California DUI penalties and the variables that go into a DUI sentence can help answer that question.

Types of DUI Penalties

There are a number of types of DUI penalties that a judge may choose from if you are convicted of a DUI offense, ranging from financial penalties to driving restrictions. Some of the common ones include:

  • Fines: Fines are financial penalties. These can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. There may be other financial consequences that are separate from fines as well, such as paying damages if you were the at-fault driver in an accident.
  • Jail Time: While it is possible for jail time to be commuted to probation time, it is typical to spend at least 48 hours in jail. If the DUI was a felony injury DUI, you may be looking at over a decade of incarceration.
  • Probation: Even for a first-time DUI, probation can last up to five years. During probation, you are not allowed to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system, you cannot refuse a chemical test, and you cannot commit additional crimes. You may also be required to attend a group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or meet other requirements as determined by the judge.
  • License Suspension/Revocation: It is typical for your license to be suspended for a minimum of four months after a DUI, although it may be suspended for longer. If you want a hearing from the DMV, you must request it in the first 10 days after you receive the notice of suspension.
  • DUI School: This is a mandatory alcohol education program that may last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.
  • Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs): Nowadays, it is common for an IID to be mandatorily installed in your vehicle after a DUI conviction. An IID is essentially a breathalyzer that will not allow you to drive your vehicle while intoxicated.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony DUIs

Misdemeanors are considered less serious than felonies. Felony DUIs, accordingly, will have harsher DUI sentences. As an example, a misdemeanor DUI with injury could result in up to one year in county jail, whereas a felony DUI with injury could result in as much as 10 years in state prison. A DUI will often be considered a felony if any of the following are true:

  1. Someone was injured.
  2. You were previously convicted of a felony DUI.
  3. You have had three or more DUI convictions in the last 10 years.
  4. You have had three or more wet and reckless convictions in the last 10 years.

Average DUI Sentence in California

Since DUI situations are all unique, there is no average DUI sentence for every case. Each successive DUI has higher possible sentences than the last, so a first-time DUI offense will likely have a lighter sentence than a second-time DUI.

At a minimum, the DMV is required to suspend your license, although you are allowed to request a hearing. It is common to have mandatory DUI school as well as some amount of fines and probation. It is also likely you will spend a couple of days in jail, but this could be commuted. Beyond whether this DUI is a first-time or repeat offense, there are other factors that may exacerbate a sentence.

Factors in Determining a DUI Sentence

Beyond the circumstances that help determine whether a DUI is a misdemeanor or a felony and what number of DUI it is, a judge will often look at:

  • The age of the driver, particularly if they are underage
  • Criminal history of the driver
  • Blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the arrest
  • Willingness to submit to a chemical test
  • Speeding while driving
  • Whether there were children under 14 in the car at the time
  • Treatment of and cooperation with officers

If, for example, the judge notes that the driver was unwilling to take a chemical test, disrespectful toward police officers, and speeding before the arrest, the sentence is likely to increase.


Q: What Is the Most Common Sentence for a DUI?

A: License suspension is one of the most common sentences for a DUI, with the length of time depending on whether it is a repeat offense and whether it is a misdemeanor or felony DUI. It is also common to have some amount of probation, a fine to pay, and/or mandatory DUI school. Many drivers must install an IID device in their vehicle. It may be possible to work with your lawyer and judge to find a way to minimize the severity of your sentence.

Q: Is Jail Time Mandatory for a DUI in California?

A: While the California Vehicle Code indicates that even a first-time DUI conviction will require a 96-hour minimum amount of jail time, there may be times when a judge can use their power and the flexibility within the laws to decrease the minimum or perhaps even allow someone to replace jail time with a different penalty. That being said, unless the judge makes an exception, there will be mandatory jail time for a DUI.

Q: What Is the Typical Sentence for a First-Time DUI in California?

A: There are a range of possible penalties for a first-time DUI, such as:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Up to five years of probation
  • A suspended license
  • Up to $1000 in fines
  • Mandated DUI school

It is fairly common to have some time amount of probation and at least four months of license suspension. The sentence may depend on whether anyone was injured, the degree of intoxication, the quality of legal representation, and other factors.

Q: Can You Drive After a DUI and Before Your Court Date in California?

A: After you are arrested for a DUI, you should be given an order of suspension or revocation. You have 30 days in which you are still allowed to drive before the suspension goes into effect. This initial suspension from the DMV is separate from any further suspension that may be necessary if you are convicted of a DUI. You may request a hearing from the DMV in the first 10 days after receiving the order of suspension. It is also possible to look into restricted license options.

Contact The Law Office of Daniel P. Flores

If you are facing a possible DUI conviction, regardless of the circumstances, partnering with a qualified lawyer can help set your mind at ease and support you in working toward as light a sentence as possible. Reach out to our team at The Law Office of Daniel P. Flores today.

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