California DUI Penalties

Feb 05, Law Office of Conor Bell

Facing a DUI (driving under the influence) charge can be overwhelming, and the penalties can be staggering. In California, a DUI can be punished via fines, jailtime, community service, and more. In any DUI case, it is important to have an experienced lawyer by your side. In doing so, you may be able to lessen your penalties. It is also crucial to know what penalties you can receive for drunk driving.

Most DUI charges are considered misdemeanor offenses, but these can still include harsh penalties. However, if any additional factors are present, the offense can be upgraded to a felony. Regardless of your DUI conviction, it is highly recommended that you hire a DUI defense lawyer. They can evaluate your case and fight to lessen your penalties.

At the Law Office of Conor Bell, we work diligently with our clients who have been charged with DUI at any level. We use our knowledge of California law and experience to tackle DUI cases and achieve the best results possible. Should you have any questions or concerns about a DUI charge, we are here to help.

What Is Considered a DUI in California?

DUI cases involve operating a motor vehicle after you have consumed alcohol. There are certain blood alcohol concentration levels that, when exceeded, can result in an arrest. The qualifications for DUI in California include:

  • BAC of 0.08% or higher for those 21 years of age or older.
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher for those under 21 years old.
  • BAC of 0.01 or higher at any age if you are currently on DUI probation.
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher if you are operating a vehicle that requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

If you are pulled over by the police, they are allowed to give you a breath, urine, or blood test if you are suspected of DUI. If the police suspect you of DUI, they have the legal authority to administer these tests. If you refuse to take them, your license may be revoked.

The Different Types of Penalties for DUI

There are several punishments you could face if you are convicted of DUI, and they vary in severity and length. The penalties are designed to fit your specific case. They may be lighter depending on how many prior convictions you have.

The three most common types of penalties people receive for DUIs are jail time, fines, and mandatory drunk driving education programs. You must pay the court a specific fine when charged with DUI, which is determined by the number of prior DUI offenses on your record. The fine is typically a few hundred dollars for first-time offenders.

Jail time is another very common penalty for offenders. While there is a chance a judge may not require jail time for first offenders, they can still receive it depending on their case. Jail time can range from 48 hours for a first offense to at least ten years for a felony offense.

In almost all DUI cases, the individual charged must attend a drunk driving educational program, which can last anywhere from one month to 30 months. These programs are designed to reduce the number of DUI instances. They also provide individuals with alternate options for managing their alcohol and drug problems. Commonly, these programs help individuals consider their behavior and attitudes and attempt to change them to more positive ones. Programs can also include both individual and group counseling. This allows people to freely discuss their experiences with alcohol and find new ways of managing their misuse.

Community service may also be a penalty for DUI offenses. This can sometimes be included with the mandatory education program. This penalty can last up to 300 hours in total, depending on the case. Community service may also be built into probation requirements.

While on probation, you will be required to abide by certain rules. During this time, you must pay fines, attend any mandatory drunk driving programs, and avoid committing criminal offenses. If you were to violate any of these regulations, you could receive increased penalties, including significant jail time.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you may be forced to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle. This device prevents you from driving your vehicle after consuming alcohol. Most devices contain a breathalyzer, and if you pass the test, you can enter your vehicle and begin driving. At certain intervals, you will need to take another breath test to ensure that you are still legally operating your vehicle. If at any point you fail the breath test, your vehicle will not start, preventing you from driving.

Finally, another penalty you may receive will be the suspension of your driver’s license. When this occurs, you may be allowed to obtain a restricted license, which prevents you from driving freely. You may be allowed to only drive to and from work or school, for instance. There is no guarantee that you will receive a restricted license, and you will need to speak with your judge about this.

There are other, less common, penalties you could receive for a DUI conviction. You may be labeled a habitual traffic offender or lose your car insurance. The penalties are determined with each new case that arises, and the penalties you could face depend on the number of DUI offenses you have.

DUI Penalties for the First Offense

Even the lowest level of California DUI penalties can affect you for the rest of your life. With your first DUI conviction, you can receive the following punishments:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Up to four months of license suspension
  • Forced installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Mandatory substance abuse program lasting up to nine months
  • Fines of up to $1,000

This conviction goes on your record. It can become difficult to find a job or housing in the future if your record shows that you have a DUI.

It is also worth mentioning that your suspended license can be converted to a restricted license. This allows you to drive to work or school, for instance. However, you may have to complete a drug and alcohol education program to qualify.

Judges typically do not order probation for first-time misdemeanors. However, you can still be placed on probation for your first offense. This can last anywhere from three to five years.

DUI Penalties for the Second Offense

If you are convicted a second time for DUI, your penalties can include:

  • Jail time for up to a full year
  • License suspension for up to two years
  • Completion of an education program lasting anywhere from 18 to 30 months

However, you will still be required to pay up to $1,000 in fines. You may also be required to have an ignition interlock device installed for up to three years.

DUI Penalties for the Third Offense

When convicted of a third DUI misdemeanor, you may be considered a “habitual traffic offender.” Your penalties will increase even further. A third offense can result in:

  • At least five years of probation
  • At least a $1,000 fine
  • 120 days to a full year in jail
  • A mandatory drunk driving program lasting at least 30 months
  • Suspended driver’s license for three years

After 18 months, you may be able to obtain a restricted driver’s license, but this is not guaranteed. A third offense is still considered a misdemeanor in most cases. However, it can result in strict punishments that can completely alter your life.

Other Misdemeanor Convictions

If you are convicted once again of a misdemeanor after three offenses, your penalties will increase to the highest possible level for a misdemeanor offense. You can even be charged with penalties that are primarily given to those convicted of felonies. You may be required to attend rehabilitation as well as spend up to three years in jail. You may also be required to pay thousands in fines, as well as have your license revoked for at least four years.

The penalties for a misdemeanor can be immense, regardless of how many times you have been charged with DUI. However, there are even stricter penalties you could face if your DUI case results in an injury.

DUI With Injury

There are specific DUI laws in place for cases that result in injury. DUI with injury can be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony. However, it depends on certain factors, such as how many people were involved in the situation.

If you are charged with misdemeanor DUI with injury, your penalties are like those of a third offense, but with a couple of differences. You may be required to pay at least $5,000 in fines as well as restitution to everyone who was injured in the accident. However, your jailtime, license suspension, and mandatory education program will be the same or similar to those given to a third-time offender.

Depending on certain factors, your DUI with injury conviction can upgrade to a felony. A felony sentence is the highest level of offense for DUI in California. If you are convicted of felony DUI with bodily harm, you may face the following penalties:

  • At least ten years in jail
  • At least $5,000 in fines
  • Restitution to all injured parties
  • Mandatory drunk driving program lasting anywhere from 18 to 30 months
  • If anyone suffered serious injuries, or if multiple people were injured, an additional one to six years in jail

DUI felonies do not have to involve an injured party. There are other factors involved in classifying your case as either a misdemeanor or felony.

How a Felony DUI Is Classified

Many DUI offenses get charged as misdemeanors, regardless of how many prior convictions someone has. However, there are certain factors, known as “aggravating factors,” that can upgrade the misdemeanor to a felony. These aggravating factors include:

  • Causing an injury or death due to an accident
  • Drunk driving with a minor in the vehicle
  • Refusing a breathalyzer test and becoming combative toward police
  • Serving probation for a prior conviction
  • Very high BAC level, such as 0.15%

Should any of these factors be present in your case, your charges can quickly increase and result in the harshest punishments possible. Also, your case can be upgraded to a felony regardless of how many previous offenses you have. If you have one misdemeanor conviction in the past and receive another, but they learn that a minor was in the vehicle with you, you could then face felony charges.

Felony convictions can be overwhelming, and you may feel as if you have no options available. However, if you are charged with a felony, an experienced felony lawyer can defend you in court and potentially lessen the charges.

What to Do If You Are Charged With a DUI

Receiving a DUI charge at any level can be daunting. You can receive hefty fines and be forced to attend an education program. You may also struggle to recover from your conviction. However, just because you are arrested for DUI does not mean you will be convicted. No matter how severe your case is, it is crucial that you hire a lawyer who can represent you in court.

Everyone across the nation has the right to an attorney. This is what we highly recommend you do should you be charged with DUI. DUI cases can be very complex, with many details that are easy to overlook. An experienced lawyer can:

  • Examine your case.
  • Gather all the evidence necessary.
  • Look for weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case.

This way, you may have your charges lessened.

Many believe that they can navigate the legal system on their own, but this is risky to pull off. Many also question whether hiring a lawyer is worth it, and our answer is yes. Rather than attempting to reduce your own charges, you can make a short-term investment in legal representation. This will give you a much better chance of reducing your charges. Should your charges be lessened, this will have more long-term benefits compared to the short-term expense of legal assistance. Do not wait to hire legal representation. Contact a lawyer immediately after an arrest for DUI.


Q: What Are the Penalties for a First-Time DUI in California?

A: A first-time offense in California typically results in a fine of up to $1,000, a license suspension of up to ten months, and mandatory jailtime of at least 48 hours. Your judge may or may not impose certain other punishments, depending on your circumstances. Also, you may be required to attend a drunk driving education program for at least a month, as well as be placed on probation for up to five years.

Q: Is Jail Time Mandatory for the First DUI in California?

A: Jail time is not mandatory for your first DUI offense in California. Your judge may place you on probation rather than send you to jail. This is all dependent on your situation, and there are certain factors that can result in jailtime regardless. If you refuse to take a breathalyzer test from the police, you may be required to go to jail for a short time.

Q: What Are the Penalties for Drunk Driving in California?

A: There are a wide array of penalties you could face for drunk driving. Each can be minor or very severe, depending on your conviction. For drunk driving, you could face, among others:

  • Jail time
  • Large fines
  • Mandatory education programs
  • Ignition interlock device requirements
  • Probation
  • License suspension

These penalties can be lessened if you have a lawyer who can fight against your charges.

Q: Do You Lose Your License for Your First DUI in California?

A: You can have your license suspended for at least a few months because of your offense. However, you may qualify for a restricted driver’s license while your primary one is suspended. With a restricted license, you will only be eligible to drive to certain places, such as work or school. Once the suspension period is over, you will be able to reclaim your driver’s license.

Your California DUI Defense Lawyer

A DUI can be a complicated and stressful matter. You may worry about the penalties you could face and how these could impact your future. While you may think you have no options left, the truth is that legal representation can help you with this process.

An experienced and knowledgeable DUI lawyer knows what to look for when defending clients in court. They have the experience needed to represent you and fight for the best results possible. Also, the type of defense lawyer you hire can influence what penalties you will receive. If you live in California and need a DUI defense lawyer, do not hesitate to contact our team.

At the Law Office of Conor Bell, we can help you navigate the complex legal system and work to lessen any charges against you. Our goal is to get you back to enjoying your regular routine again. Our firm can fight as long and as hard as needed.

For more information about DUIs, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today.