What Happens When You Get a DUI in California?

There are severe penalties for driving under the influence.

In some cases, a DUI can result in life in prison. Win bottle and wine glass There were 160,388 DUI arrests in California in 2013. Driving under the influence of any substance that impairs your vision, motor-functions, and ability to react quickly is dangerous. You’re probably already aware there are some pretty serious penalties for driving under the influence, but you may not know exactly what happens after. Today, we’re taking a closer look at what happens when you get a DUI in California.

What Happens When You Get A DUI In California.

If you are pulled over arrested for DUI under California Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC (driving under the influence), there are a number of steps that will follow, beginning with a breath test to measure your blood alcohol level. You can agree to a breathalyzer test on the scene of your arrest, or an officer will take you to the police station, jail, or a hospital for the breath or blood test. Refusing to take a chemical test, either breath or blood, will result in arrest, and you will have an additional “refusal” allegation added to the charges. This will result in a one-year suspension of your license and other penalties that will include spending a mandatory two days in jail. If you are given a breath test, the results will be immediate. If you are given a blood test, the results won’t be available for a few days. Further reading: California Breathalyzer Laws

Authorities Will Test Your Breath, Blood, or Urine for Substances

If a test shows you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, you will also be charged with California Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC (driving with a BAC of .08 or higher). If a breath test is lower than .08 for BAC, you may still be suspected of driving under the influence of some other drug and be asked to take a blood or urine test, under Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC (driving under the influence of drugs). Once your test results have been seen (or you have refused to take them), you will be booked and released. Depending on your criminal history, if any, and the specific facts of this case, you may have to put up bail before being released. You may have to spend some time in jail before being released. The officer will complete his or her report about the arrest and submit it to a local prosecutor who will review the facts as reported and either decline to file charges or formally charge you with a California DUI.

The Hearing Process

After arresting you, the officer will inform you that your driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days. The officer will confiscate your license and give you a temporary one that is valid until your suspension begins. The officer sends your confiscated license to the California DMV and they suspend your license starting after the expiration of the temporary license – unless you request a DMV hearing. You have 10 days after your arrest to make that request. Requesting a DMV hearing will delay the suspension of your license until the outcome of the hearing is known. The California DMV hearing officer will ask some questions before making a decision whether or not to suspend your license. The first question asks if the officer reasonably believed you were DUI. The second question asks if you were lawfully arrested. And the third question asks if your BAC was .08% or higher. This DMV hearing is independent of the DUI court case and can be conducted in-person over the phone. You have the right to be represented by a DUI attorney, even at the DMV hearing. This can help you prepare for your court case. Your attorney can subpoena the arresting officer and cross-examine him or her about everything that happened at the scene of your arrest. There are many defenses possible, and a qualified DUI attorney will be aware of them and make the ones appropriate in your case. The transcripts of the officer’s statements can be helpful in court. If you win the DMV hearing, your license will not be suspended, at least until you go to court. It can still be suspended if you get convicted of the DUI charge. If you lose the DMV hearing, your license will be suspended. It will last from four months to three years, depending on whether you took the chemical test or refused it, and depending on the number of prior DUIs, if any, you have.

The Court Process

Your court proceeding begins with an arraignment on DUI charges. The prosecutor will make a first “offer” which is the sentence that the prosecutor is recommending if you plead guilty to the charge. You can plead guilty, not guilty, or “no contest.” If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced and the case will be closed – except for having to fulfill any terms of probation. If you plead guilty, you or your attorney will be entitled to review and challenge any of the prosecutor’s evidence including the police report and records of any chemical tests along with the test instruments used and methods of storage and maintenance of the samples. The defenses possible include a wide range of issues including flawed or illegal police investigations, faulty test equipment and processes, and inaccurate calculations. And there are many more. There is a pretrial period that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months when you or your attorney can examine all the evidence against you. A qualified DUI attorney knows several options that can be used including several pretrial motions. A “probable cause” motion would contest the validity of the officer’s stopping you. A “motion to suppress” would ask the court to suppress any evidence obtained illegally or with prejudice. And there is plea bargaining as another option. After your attorney has gone through the case and identified weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, it will be a good time to try to negotiate a lesser offense. If there is no resolution at this point, your case will go to trial. The trial involves several steps including jury selection, opening statements, the prosecutor’s case, the defense’s case, closing statements, the verdict, and sentencing. If you are found guilty, you will face consequences that could include fines, jail time, prison time, DUI school, longer suspension of your license, plus any restitution for damages or injuries caused. You do have the right to represent yourself through all this, but since there are many possible defense arguments to consider as well as many legal options during the pretrial and trial phases, it is wise to consider a highly qualified DUI attorney to represent you.


If you are arrested for driving under the influence, you should consider hiring an experienced DUI attorney as fast as possible. Your attorney will assess the evidence and help reduce the consequences to the best of his or her ability. Need help finding an attorney? Tell us about your legal situation and we’ll connect you with the best DUI attorney in your area.
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