What Is the Minimum Sentence for a DUI in California?

Jan 12, Law Office of Conor Bell

Operating a motor vehicle anywhere in the U.S. comes with a lot of responsibility. We must keep the passengers in our vehicles safe while watching out for other drivers and pedestrians. However, when we make one poor decision to neglect the safety of others, it can lead to severe consequences for everyone involved.

Driving under the influence, also known as DUI, is described as being substantially affected by alcohol, drugs, or both while operating a motor vehicle. If you are arrested in California for a DUI, you could face serious consequences. Your penalties may be minimal, but a DUI conviction can affect the rest of your life.

How California Defines a DUI Conviction

If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is higher than the legal limit, you will be charged with a DUI. There are four BAC limits that can lead to a DUI charge in California:

  • .08% or higher for anyone aged 21 or older and holding a normal driver’s license with no other restrictions
  • .04% or higher for those holding a commercial driver’s license (CDL), no matter what vehicle they were operating
  • .04% or higher for those on DUI probation for a previous charge
  • .01% or higher for anyone under 21 years of age

In general, anyone with a BAC of over .08% can be charged with a DUI. Due to California’s “zero tolerance” law, anyone under 21 with a BAC of .01% will face a DUI charge.

Minimum Penalties for DUI

The number of penalties you can face for a DUI conviction depends on several different factors. The main factor to consider in these cases is how many prior convictions you have on your record. Your first, second, and third convictions are considered misdemeanors in California. The minimum sentence you can receive changes depending on how many convictions you have previously had.

Minimum Sentence for the First DUI Conviction

For your first DUI, you may have to pay a fine of at least $390. There are other “penalty assessments” that can increase the amount as well, but this depends on the specific case. You can also have your license suspended for six months. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can also impose a four-month administrative suspension if the driver’s BAC was .08% or higher. Both suspensions can overlap. Also, a first offender can apply for a restricted license for driving to specific places, such as work or school. When this happens, an ignition interlock device (IID) will be installed while you have the restricted license.

A first-time offender can also receive anywhere from two days to six months in jail. However, in most cases, a judge may order probation, which means you will not be assigned any jail time. This is common for first-time offenders, but not guaranteed.

Finally, a first-time offender must complete a three-month DUI school and a three-year term of informal probation.

Minimum Sentence for the Second DUI Conviction

If you are convicted a second time in California, you can receive more strict penalties compared to the first offense. Your fines remain the same, which are $390 at the lowest. However, if you were driving with a BAC of .08% or higher, your license could be suspended for two years. The administrative suspension goes up to 12 months but can still overlap with the license suspension. Second-time offenders can still apply for a restricted license with an IID installed in their vehicle.

The jail time also increases on a second conviction, and this can range anywhere from 96 hours to a full year. However, this time can also be served through jail-alternative work programs or house arrest. For your second offense, a judge can still order probation, reducing your jail time.

Second-time offenders also receive three years of informal probation. However, they must complete at least 18 months of DUI school.

Minimum Sentence for the Third DUI Conviction

For a third conviction, your fines are the same as the first two. However, your license suspension increases to a minimum of three years. The administrative suspension can still be applied, but this still lasts one year. Also, while the driver can apply for a restricted license, an IID must be installed for at least two years.

Drivers face 120 days in jail for a third offense. If the driver receives probation, this decreases to 30 days.

Informal probation jumps to five years, and DUI school lasts for at least 30 months.

What is the minimum sentence for a DUI in California?

Fourth Conviction or Felony

If you have been convicted a fourth time, or if other factors upgrade the DUI to a felony, the penalties become much more severe. While the fines can still be as low as $390, you could spend 16 months in jail for a fourth offense or if you caused injuries from your DUI. If your DUI led to a second-degree murder, your jail time could be at least 15 years.


Q: Is Jail Time Mandatory for DUI in California?

A: No, jail time is not mandatory for first-time offenders. However, you can still be sentenced anywhere from 48 hours to six months in jail if convicted. This depends on the specifics of your case, including your BAC level and whether you caused any injuries or accidents. You may also receive both probation and jail time, depending on your case.

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

A: When convicted of a DUI for the first time in California, you could pay fines of anywhere between $390 and $1,000. You may not need to serve jail time, but if you do, it can last at least 48 hours. You can also receive a four-month administrative suspension, and your driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

Q: How Long Do You Have to Sit in Jail for a DUI in California?

A: This depends on how many prior convictions you have on your record. If this is your first offense, you may not need to serve any jail time. For your second offense, your jail time can be anywhere from 96 hours to a full year. A third offense will result in at least 120 days, or 30 if approved for probation.

Q: Can a DUI Be Dismissed in California?

A: Yes, you can have your DUI case expunged in California after a minimum of 10 years. You must also complete any probation assigned to you. However, this is a complicated legal process that you should speak with your attorney about. They can help guide you through the process of removing the DUI from your record.

Contact the Law Office of Conor Bell

If you have been convicted of a DUI, it is crucial to speak with an attorney immediately. We have represented many clients over the years and know how to achieve the best results for your case. To schedule a consultation, contact the Law Office of Conor Bell today.