California DUI Penalties

Home /  California DUI Penalties

DUI charges are taken very seriously in California. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, a DUI conviction can impact the rest of your life. You should know how penalties change depending on your age, whether you caused an accident, your blood alcohol content (BAC), and your DUI conviction history. Being arrested for a DUI is scary. Therefore, it is essential to know what potential penalties you are facing and how you can defend yourself. You may lose your license, have to pay excessive fines, or face jail time.

How California Law Defines a DUI

In California, driving under the influence occurs when the operator of a vehicle is somehow impaired while driving. This impairment makes them unable to drive safely. It may be caused by alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medications. If the substance or drug affects your ability to drive, it is illegal.

The most common reason for an alcohol-related DUI arrest is if their BAC is over the legal limit. The California legal limit is .08% or higher. If you are arrested while on DUI probation, your legal limit is .04% or higher.

California’s “per se” DUI law means that if your BAC is .08% or higher, you can be charged with a DUI even if you are not proven to be impaired or under the influence. If your BAC is below the legal limit, but your driving is still impaired by a substance, you can still be charged and convicted. When you are under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, your exact BAC is not a factor.

Commercial Driver DUIs

Individuals who operate commercial vehicles have stricter guidelines for driving while impaired. Commercial trucks and cars are often heavier and larger. They are therefore likely to cause greater harm if the driver causes an accident while impaired. Commercially licensed drivers have a higher standard of care, and their legal limit is a BAC of .04%. If a commercial driver is found to be under the influence while driving a non-commercial vehicle, their legal limit in California is .08%. Nevertheless, the same professional license suspension applies regardless of the vehicle.

Underage Driver DUIs

In the U.S., someone under the age of 21 is below the legal drinking age. If someone underage is pulled over while driving, and is found with a BAC of .01% or higher, they can be charged with a DUI. Reaching a .01% BAC is very easy. It can occur with only a few ounces of wine or beer. California has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers who drive under the influence.

Any amount of alcohol or intoxicating substance could lead to a DUI conviction. If you are convicted, you face the same penalties as someone of legal age does for a BAC of .08% for the circumstances of your arrest, as well as a 1-year license suspension. If you had alcohol in your car at the time of your arrest, you could face additional penalties. This includes a license suspension of 1 year, up to 6 months in jail, and fines of up to $1,000.

Working With a Skilled DUI Defense Attorney

You may be facing your first DUI charges, or you may have a DUI history that hangs over your charges. Even if you believe the penalties of a potential conviction are not serious, it is essential that you get the assistance of effective legal representation. Without a DUI defense, you could be facing all your charge’s penalties. This can impact your future more than you anticipate. Without legal advocacy, a DUI conviction could reduce your opportunities. It can also leave you with a permanent criminal record.

The Law Office of Daniel P. Flores can advocate for your rights and help you effectively navigate your DUI charges. We have worked for years in criminal law, defending thousands of individuals from their DUI charges. Being arrested for a DUI is not the end. We can help you determine your defense to limit penalties. There may even be a way to get the charges against you completely dropped. Working with an experienced attorney is your greatest chance at avoiding life-changing consequences.

What Can Influence the Severity of California DUI Charges?

Most DUI charges and convictions are based on BAC evidence from a chemical test and the testimony of police officers. A DUI charge and its penalties may be impacted by these main factors:

  • If you have prior DUI convictions on your record, and how many
  • If someone was injured because you were driving impaired
  • How high your BAC was at the time of your arrest

In California, a priorable DUI, or a DUI that can be counted as a prior conviction, occurs within a 10-year period. Penalties will be stricter if you have a prior DUI conviction. They will be even more severe if you have more than one in the last 10 years. Priorable offenses also include:

  • California “wet reckless” convictions, which are a form of lighter sentencing
  • Convictions in other states that would be considered a DUI under California laws

Chemical Tests in California and Implied Consent

Some individuals think that if they refuse the chemical test that will show their BAC, they can avoid charges and conviction for a DUI. This is not true, and it can lead to serious consequences for your DUI case. California operates under an implied consent law. Under this law, operating a vehicle in the state is a type of consent to chemical testing after arrest. A chemical test includes a breath test, blood test, or urine test.

A police officer has discretion on whether to request that you submit to a chemical test. You can request the type of test you prefer. However, you must still take a chemical test if your preferred type is not available.

If you refuse a chemical test after an arrest, the officer will tell you that it is punishable by a fine and imprisonment. Refusal to take a chemical test will also lead to a minimum of an extra year of license suspension. If you already have one prior offense on your record, your license is suspended for an extra two years. This suspension is added to any penalties incurred from a conviction.

Field sobriety tests are different. If you are over the age of 21, and are not on prior DUI probation, you do not legally have to submit to a field sobriety test. Implied consent only applies to chemical tests after you have been lawfully arrested.

How Can a DUI Attorney Help With My DUI Charges?

A DUI can have a serious effect on your future. The ideal way to mitigate this impact is to work with a DUI lawyer. You need to find an attorney who is experienced in DUI cases and whom you feel you can trust. An attorney can offer you advice and support. They can also help you determine the potential legal methods to handle your DUI charges. In some DUI cases, it is in your interests to work out a plea bargain. In others, you may be able to contest the charges and get them dropped. A DUI defense lawyer can also help you by:

  • Gathering Evidence: This includes contesting the evidence that you are being charged with. Your attorney may question if the officer who pulled you over had cause to do so. They may also be able to assert that the chemical test was faulty. There may not even be enough evidence to convict you. If there was a breach of your constitutional rights, your attorney can defend those rights.
  • Creating a Defense: Your DUI charges and situation are unique. An attorney must understand that and adapt their legal defense to your needs. Although public defenders are hardworking, they often have far too many cases. They cannot devote personal attention to your scenario and its specifics.
  • Representation in Hearings and Trials: An attorney can attend your DMV hearing. This is where they determine if your license will be suspended. If your case goes to court, they can represent you and advocate on your behalf. You want an attorney who is skilled in DUI law and understands the intricacies of criminal court.
  • Negotiating and Alternative Punishment: If there is no option for avoiding conviction, your attorney can argue on your behalf for a lesser or alternative sentence. A plea deal, in which you plead guilty to a lesser sentence, may allow you to stay out of jail.

An attorney fights for the ideal outcome to your case. They give you the greatest chance of limiting the effect these charges have on your future.

What Are the Penalties for Drunk Driving in California?

DUI charges vary in severity based on several factors. Most DUIs in California have penalties such as:

  • License suspension, both admin per se and as a criminal penalty
  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Probation
  • Mandatory DUI school or alcohol education programs
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)

There are also other penalties that you may not consider. These happen outside your legal case, such as increased insurance costs. When you understand the specifics pertaining to your case’s penalties, you are better equipped to make knowledgeable decisions.

What Are the Penalties for Your First DUI in California?

For a first-time DUI offense, the penalties include:

  • A suspended license for at least 4 months
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000, plus additional costs and fees
  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • 3 or 9 months of DUI school or an educational program
  • Summary or informal probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Potential installation of an IID on your car for up to 6 months

During the time your license is suspended, you can apply for a restricted license. This allows you to drive to school, work, DUI school, and for emergencies.

Is Jail Time Mandatory for Your First DUI in California?

There is no minimum requirement for jail time for a 1st offense DUI if there are no aggravating factors to the case. Aggravating factors include injuries caused by impaired driving or an excessively high BAC. If no aggravating factors exist, there is only a maximum jail time of 6 months. An attorney can help argue for a lesser sentence or an alternate sentence.

Will You Lose Your License for Your First DUI in California?

Your license can be suspended after your first DUI for 4 months up to a year. When you are arrested for a DUI offense, you have ten days from the date of arrest to request a DMV hearing. Failure to do so will result in an automatic suspension.

The hearing will prevent immediate suspension until it has been completed. At that time, the DMV will decide whether your license will be suspended. This is unrelated to the criminal charges you face. Even if your license is reinstated, you still face criminal charges.

In the ten days after your arrest, it is essential to contact a DUI attorney. If you hire one within that timeframe, they can both request the DMV hearing and represent you in it. This gives you a stronger chance of having your license reinstated.

What Are the Penalties for Your Second DUI in California?

If you are charged with a second DUI within 10 years of the first, you face the potential penalties of a second DUI. Conviction results in:

  • A suspended license for up to 2 years
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000, plus other costs that could total thousands
  • Up to 1 year in jail, with a minimum of 96 hours in jail
  • 18 or 30 months of DUI school or an educational program
  • Summary or informal probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Mandatory installation of an IID on your vehicle for 1 year

If you choose not to have an IID installed, your license is suspended for 2 years. You can apply for a restricted license after the first year. The court takes a second offense much more seriously. It is difficult to argue for lighter penalties without an exceptional attorney.

What Are the Penalties for Your Third DUI in California?

If you are arrested for a DUI with two prior convictions in the past ten years, you are charged with a third-time DUI offense. If you are convicted, the penalties include:

  • A suspended license for up to 3 years
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000, plus fees and penalty assessments that could total to several thousand dollars
  • Up to 1 year in jail and a minimum of 120 days in jail
  • 30 months in a DUI educational program
  • Summary probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Mandatory installation of an IID for 2 years

If you decide to forgo an IID installation, your license will be suspended for 3 years. You can only apply for a restricted license after 18 months. A third DUI has harsh punishments and little room for error or leniency. It is unlikely that the judge or prosecution will take a lenient stance for a third offense. You will need an experienced DUI attorney to lessen the impact of these charges.

Additional Penalties for Commercial Drivers

If you are a commercial driver who is arrested for a DUI, a conviction could end your career. In addition to the penalties that a non-commercial driver faces, you face a one-year suspension of your commercial driver’s license (CDL). This applies whether you were on-duty and driving a commercial vehicle or off-duty and driving a personal vehicle. If you receive a second DUI conviction in 10 years, your CDL will be permanently revoked.

Aggravating Factors in DUI Cases

Depending on the situation of your DUI charges, there may be more significant penalties. Aggravated factors are circumstances that increase the standard penalties you would be facing for a first or second DUI. They may result in more jail time, higher fines, and even incarceration in some circumstances. Common aggravating factors in DUI cases include:

  • Your impaired driving caused an accident.
  • Your BAC was exceptionally high—usually .15% or higher.
  • Someone died because of your impaired driving.
  • You were driving under the influence with a minor under the age of 14 in the car.
  • You are facing enhancements to your sentence, including for prior convictions, driving at excessive speeds, driving with an open container, or child endangerment.
  • You refused to submit to a chemical test.
  • You were under the age of 21 when you were arrested.
  • You have been convicted of three or more DUIs in the last 10 years.

When your DUI case has aggravating factors like an injury, it becomes a wobbler. This means that you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. This will depend on the specific circumstances of your arrest and your criminal history.

Aggravated DUI With Injury Misdemeanor

A conviction for a DUI where someone else was injured will result in penalties including:

  • License suspension for 1 year
  • Fines between $390 and $5,000, and additional costs of restitution to those injured
  • Up to 1 year in jail, with a minimum sentence of 5 days
  • 3, 18, or 30 months in a DUI educational program
  • Summary probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Mandatory IID installation for 6 months

Aggravated DUI With Injury Felony

If the aggravating factors surrounding your case are severe enough, or you have been convicted of four or more DUI charges in the last 10 years, you may be charged with a felony. Penalties for conviction of a DUI felony include:

  • License suspension for up to 4 years and the potential for permanent license revocation
  • Fines between $1,015 and $5,000, plus restitution for those injured, among additional fees
  • 16 months to 3 years in state prison
  • 18- or 30-month DUI educational program
  • DUI probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Mandatory IID installation for 2 to 3 years
  • A potential strike according to California’s Three Strikes Law
  • Designation as a habitual traffic offender (HTO) by the DMV
  • Designation as a convicted felon

A conviction for a fourth offense, or a severe aggravating circumstance, may bring all these penalties upon you. You need an attorney to fight for your rights and advocate for your interests. Otherwise, this conviction will affect your entire life.

Aggravated factors can not only lead to a felony DUI but also create additional charges. If you are charged with a DUI, and your impaired driving led to someone’s death, you may be charged with manslaughter or second-degree murder. Penalties will be extreme, including 15 years to life in prison.

California SR-22 License Reinstatement

For your license to be reinstated, you must fill out a California Proof of Insurance Certificate, or SR-22. This verifies that you have met the vehicle liability insurance requirements. This is necessary if you failed to request a DMV hearing, lost the hearing, or were convicted of DUI criminal charges. In each of these cases, your license is suspended. An SR-22 allows you to get a restricted license or a reinstatement of your full license. You also need an SR-22 if you are required to install an IID in your vehicle to drive.

An SR-22 is filed by your car insurance company with the DMV to show that you have the minimum insurance coverage. The minimum required coverage is:

  • $5,000 of property damage liability
  • $30,000 of bodily injury liability per accident
  • $15,000 of bodily injury liability per person

You are then required to maintain the SR-22 on file for three years, in most cases. Your insurance must cover all cars registered in your name and any cars you routinely drive.

Conditions of Probation in DUI Penalties

A California DUI conviction that includes probation as a penalty will have the following conditions:

  • You cannot drive with any measurable amount of drugs or alcohol.
  • You cannot refuse to submit to a chemical test if you are arrested for another DUI offense.
  • You cannot commit any other crimes.

Failure to adhere to the terms of your probation will result in significant penalties. Your probation may also have other conditions, depending on your situation, such as:

  • Restitution to parties who were injured by your impaired driving
  • Attendance at a victim impact program for drunk driving
  • Attendance at an alcoholic or substance-dependence peer rehab program like Alcoholics Anonymous

The Effects of a DUI Conviction on Your Life

For some, the criminal penalties for a DUI conviction do not seem that severe. It is important to understand, however, that a DUI conviction will be on your permanent criminal record and can affect your entire future. For example, even one DUI on your record can impact:

  • Job opportunities
  • Housing opportunities
  • Educational opportunities like college acceptance
  • Your ability to receive loans and financial aid
  • Your ability to get or maintain a professional license
  • Your immigration status, leading to deportation in some cases

The DUI will also be on your driving record for 10 years. For a first offense, this puts two points on your license. Your license will be automatically suspended if you receive a total of:

  • 4 points in one year
  • 6 points in two years
  • 8 points in three years

The only way to limit or avoid these penalties is to work with a qualified attorney. They can help you find alternative sentencing, obtain a plea bargain, or get the charges dismissed.

Alternative Sentencing Options for DUI Charges

If jail time or prison time are potential penalties in your case, alternative sentencing may be an option. To achieve alternate sentencing, you need a DUI defense attorney who has vast experience with DUI cases and alternate sentencing. For you to be assigned an alternate sentence, your attorney must convince the authorities that it is the better option for your circumstances. Potential alternative sentencing for a DUI case includes:

  • California Department of Transportation (Cal-Trans) service
  • Roadside work and clean-up
  • Community service
  • Electronic monitoring and house arrest
  • Alcohol or drug rehab
  • Sober living environment
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) panel

Alternate sentencing allows you to avoid harsh sentences, such as months to years in jail.

A “Wet Reckless” Plea Bargain

In some circumstances, there is strong evidence against you. If so, challenging the charges in court is not the ideal option. Instead, your attorney may recommend a plea bargain, such as a “wet reckless” plea bargain.

For this plea bargain, you will plead either guilt or no contest to a reckless driving charge. Reckless driving has less severe penalties than a DUI. It is called “wet reckless” to refer to the use of a substance while engaging in reckless driving. A “dry reckless” offense does not involve drugs or alcohol.

Although a wet reckless reduces the severity of penalties, it is still considered a prior DUI offense. It may be an aggravating factor if you are arrested for a subsequent DUI. It also puts two points on your driver’s license.

Potential DUI Defenses

A DUI defense attorney may be able to fight against the charges you are facing for reasons such as:

  • Faulty chemical tests
  • Rising blood alcohol
  • Incorrectly given field sobriety tests
  • Being pulled over without reasonable suspicion
  • Violation of constitutional rights

Speak with an attorney to determine what options are available to you.

Fighting DUI Charges With an Experienced Defense Attorney

DUI charges can harm your future. Therefore, it is crucial to find an effective legal defense. The Law Office of Daniel P. Flores can provide you with an adaptive and strong defense strategy. We can work to reduce or negate the charges and penalties against you. We understand how stressful facing a DUI charge is. Our firm can provide you with support and counsel to give you the greatest chance of success. Contact our firm today to start preparing your defense.


Request Your
Free Consultation

Fields Marked With An “ * ” Are Required

"*" indicates required fields

I Have Read The Disclaimer*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.