Penalties Of A DUI In California

The Penalties For A DUI In California

The penalties for a DUI in California are severe, especially for repeat offenders and drivers under 21.

The state of California has strict laws for drunk driving, especially for repeat offenders and drivers under 21 years of age.

Driving under the influence (DUI) in California doesn’t mean you have to be drunk to be arrested. Under California law, DUI means that you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or you are driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.8% or greater (.05% or greater for those under 21 and .04% or higher for commercial drivers).

Today, we’re taking a closer look at the penalties for drunk driving in California so you know what to expect if you’re convicted of a DUI in California.

Let’s get started …

Penalties Of A DUI In California

Driving Under the Influence In California

California has severe drunk driving laws, especially for those under 21 and repeat offenders. It has a “no tolerance” law for drivers under the age of 21. And it has laws for commercial drivers as well.

The penalties for DUI in California range from fines to jail time, treatment program attendance, loss of license, long-term driving restrictions, impounding of your vehicle, installation of an ignition disabling device on your vehicle, and continuing on-demand testing for alcohol levels.

The State of California says that the following driving actions are illegal:

  • Drivers under 21 may are not allowed to carry unsealed beer, wine or liquor in their vehicle while they are driving alone. Exceptions are allowed for work-related driving.
  • Drivers under 21 are not allowed to drive with a blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) of .01 or higher.
  • Drivers Under 21 are not allowed to consume alcohol in any form, including cough syrup, and prescription drugs.
  • Any driver is not allowed to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher.
  • The driver of any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license is not allowed to drive with a BAC of .04 percent or higher.
  • A driver under 18, is not allowed to drive with any measurable blood alcohol concentration.
  • Repeat offenders are not allowed to drive with a BAC of .01 or greater.

California law includes an “implied consent” provision that means if you refuse to submit to a chemical test (like a breathalyzer), you will be subject to a fine and automatic license suspension.

Penalties for A DUI Conviction

Penalties for being convicted of a DUI offense depend on the frequency and severity of the offense. There are various penalties assigned for first offenses which can then be escalated for repeat offenses.

Here are some of the more notable penalties for offenders.

First conviction: You will receive a jail sentence of no less than 96 hours and no more than 6 months. You will receive a fine of no less than $390 and no more than $1,000 plus penalties – which can push the total to around $1,800.

You will have your license suspended for six months, although you may be given a   temporarily restricted license. Your license will not be reinstated until you complete a DUI program approved by the state and prove that you have financial responsibility (insurance, etc.).

Arrested for DUI in California

Depending on the circumstances, you may also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)at your own expense. The (IID) is similar to a breathalyzer but is connected to the vehicle dashboard or other location inside the vehicle and requires you to breathe into the device prior to starting your vehicle. If the IID detects your blood alcohol level to be higher than the programmed limit in the IID, then your vehicle’s engine will not start.

Second conviction: You will receive jail time of no less than 90 days and no more than 1 year. The suspensions and fines are similar to those for a first offense but may be more severe for a second offense (possibly up to $3,000 total). The completion of a DUI program and proof of financial responsibility is also required. And the IID is possible.

Third conviction: You will get jail time for no less than 120 days and no more than 1 year. The suspensions, fines and other requirements are higher than earlier convictions, with fines that can total $18,000. You will also be considered by the state as a “habitual traffic offender” for three years following your conviction and will have your license suspended for three years.

Fourth conviction: You will receive jail, prison or both, for no less than 180 days and no more than 1 year. The fines can also range up to $18,000. As a habitual traffic offender, your license will be revoked for four years.

Judges usually apply a set of minimum and maximum guidelines to sentencing and consider the circumstances of each case, weighing mitigating or aggravating facts.

If someone is injured or killed while driving under the influence, and depending on the driver’s history of DUI and previous convictions, the judge may treat the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Penalties can range up to five years in prison.

Plea Bargaining

DUI Plea Bargaining in California Court

It is possible to plead a lesser charge than DUI in California. In some cases, a plea bargain of “wet reckless” can be entered and might be accepted by the prosecution in California. A wet reckless plea seeks to reduce a drunk driving charge to one of reckless driving involving alcohol. This plea is usually made when the amount of alcohol is borderline, the defendant has no prior record, and there was no accident involved. If you are ever in a situation where this plea might be advantageous, you should have an attorney representing you.

Conviction of reckless driving involving alcohol can require a court to order the defendant to participate in a licensed program consisting of specified activities, including education, group counseling, and individual interview sessions.


In California, if you are convicted of DUI, you may be required to obtain a California SR-22 insurance policy. If your insurance is canceled because of a DUI conviction, you will need a new insurance policy within 45 days or your vehicle registration will be suspended.

If your current policy falls under a “Good Driver Discount,” any DUI conviction will cancel that benefit, and this can lead to increased rates and possible loss of insurance.

There are many factors to consider by police and court officials when possible DUI is involved. Your best chance for a minimum sentence and minimum interruption to driving privileges (as well as keeping out of jail, minimizing fines, and keeping your insurance benefits) is to contact a qualified DUI attorney.

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