California's DUI Laws and Penalties

PenaltiesIn most cases, the criminal charges will consist of two offenses: 1) driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) or driving under the influence of marijuana or drugs, and 2) driving with .08% or higher blood-alcohol concentration (the so-called "per se" offense). You can be convicted of both offenses, but only punished for one; the penalties are identical. If you refused to submit to chemical testing, you will be charged only with the DUI. Separate from the criminal charges, an administrative license suspension for either having .08% or refusing is administered by the DMV.

Under current California DUI law, a first offense is punishable by incarceration in county jail for up to 6 months with summary (informal) probation for 3 to 5 years; if no probation is imposed, the jail sentence is a minimum of 96 hours up to 6 months. There is also a fine which, along with mandatory assessments and depending upon the jurisdiction, generally amounts to between $1800 and $2000. A license suspension of 6 months will be imposed (a restricted license is possible after the first 30 days): in the event of a refusal to submit to breath/blood testing, the suspension will be for one year. If there are prior convictions within 10 years, the license suspension will be longer. In addition, attendance at a state-approved DUI school will be required for 3 to 18 months, depending upon the circumstances of the case. Judges may also require community service, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) and/or attendance at "victim's panels" or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The usual period of probation (informal in most cases) is three years but may be as long as five years.

If so-called "enhancements" are proven or admitted in a California drunk driving case, the law requires more severe minimum penalties. These involve, for example, having a child under 14 in the car, speeding in excess of 20 mph on surface streets or 30 mph on highways, refusing to submit to chemical testing, or having one or more prior convictions within the previous ten years. The speed enhancement carries a minimum 60-day jail sentence. If the case involves a refusal to submit to chemical testing for blood-alcohol, the driver's license suspension is for one year and there is no possibility of obtaining a work-restricted license. One or two prior convictions carry increased jail sentences and longer license supensions; three or more "priors" changes the offense to a felony, punishable by commitment to state prison.

A license suspension of 4 months is also imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, although this may be reduced to 30 days followed by five months of work-restriction if you submit proof of 1) insurance and 2) enrollment in an approved DUI school; the court may also impose a suspension. (See our section entitled License Suspension.)

For a discussion of procedures after a conviction for setting aside a plea of guilty or a verdict of guilty and obtaining a dismissal, visit the Records Clearing page of the Criminal Law Observer. For a helpful resource for estimating the penalties if you are arrested and convicted of drunk driving charge in another state, see New Jersey attorney Ivan Levow’s Out-of-State DWI/DUI Penalties Tool. For further information generally, see information on driving records on this website.

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