What are the DUI Consequences in California?

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When it comes to driving under the influence, there’s a simple rule of thumb to follow: don’t do it under any circumstances. Beyond the DUI consequences you’ll face, you’ll also be putting your life as well as those of others at danger. The legal consequences of being arrested for DUI in California range from serious to completely life-altering. With its huge number of vehicles and expansive road system, California is especially motivated to deter drivers from driving under the influence. In fact, there is currently legislation being considered that will make California one of the toughest states on drunk driving in the country. For now, it’s important to know what the current DUI laws are as well as the penalties.

Walk the line

What Qualifies as DUI in California?

While police officers will still use their powers of observation and perform “road tests” (“walk in a straight line, touch your nose”), this is no longer the main method of determining impairment. Any driver suspected of driving under the influence will be given a breathalyzer test, blowing into a device that measures their blood alcohol level. In California, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more immediately dictates you will be charged with DUI. This is called a “per se” DUI – regardless of whether you look or feel impaired, exceeding this limit results in being charged.

A popular claim is that this limit is equal to having more than two drinks. In this case, a “drink” is defined as 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 12 ounces of beer, or five ounces of wine. This generalization has resulted in many a driver being charged with DUI, much to their surprise. The fact is, how much alcohol results in a 0.08 BAC varies from person to person. How alcohol is processed depends on many factors, including weight, sex, metabolism, age, and more. Even using rough estimates, many charts show that slender men and women are likely to have a BAC of over 0.08 after consuming two drinks. After just one drink, a 100-pound woman is estimated to have a BAC of 0.07%. In short, one should be wary of drinking at all and driving.

It’s imperative to note that in certain circumstances, the BAC limit for DUI is lower than 0.08%. If you drive a commercial vehicle (defined by the vehicle code section as a vehicle used “for the transportation of persons…or property for hire”), the BAC limit is 0.04%. This would include trucks, pickups, buses, and the like. If you are underage (under 21), the limit goes all the way down to 0.02%. Put simply, this means you cannot have any alcohol and drive if you are underage.

Penalties for DUI Convictions in California

Now that you know how seriously California takes DUIs, it will be no surprise that the penalties can be quite serious. California uses a tiered system based on the number of DUI offenses you have. What this means is that the more DUI convictions you have, the more serious the consequences. If there are no injuries or fatalities, they will be misdemeanor charges.

Importantly, DUI convictions count as a previous conviction for ten years. This means if a driver was convicted of simple DUI 12 years ago, a DUI charge today will count in the eyes of the law as a first conviction. However, certain related charges (e.g., reckless driving while under the influence, boating under the influence, etc.) may be considered when a DUI driver is being sentenced.

First DUI Offence

Even for a first offense, a motorist convicted of DUI faces several different penalties.


The baseline fine for a first DUI offense is between $390 and $1,000. However, the penalty is typically this baseline fine pluspenalty assessments. These 12 additional fees mean that even if you are given the minimum $390 fine, your final tally can be close to $2,000. And since many of these fees are percentages of your baseline fine, they increase exponentially with an increase in that baseline.


Though less common for a first offense without mitigating circumstances, the court does have the option of including jail time in a first time DUI sentence. This can be between 48 hours and six months of jail time. For a first offense, offenders will rarely see more than 48 hours – and often, the judge will prefer to order probation in lieu of jail time.

drunk while driving

Suspension of License

On a first offense, there will typically be a mandatory six-month suspension. While the DMV may also impose a four-month “administrative suspension” on per se convictions (0.08 BAC or more), these will usually run concurrently (at the same time) – so effectively, it’s still a six-month suspension.

The convicted driver can also apply for a “critical use” restricted license that will allow them to drive to places such as work, school, medical appointments, and other such places. This requires the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). This is the device you will have seen which requires you blow into it before being able to start your car. Previously, a motorist would have to wait 30 days to apply for this restricted license, but as of January 1, 2019, this waiting period can be avoided by fulfilling certain criteria. Those who do not apply for a restricted license will usually be required to have an IID in their vehicle for six months after their license is reinstated.


The regular probation term for first-time DUI offenders is three years. In some cases, however, a judge may go as high as five. Three months of DUI school (equaling 30 hours of classes) is a prerequisite for this probation. Aggravating circumstances (which we will discuss later) can increase the length of classes required.

Second DUI Offence

On your second DUI offense in ten years, the penalties become more serious.


Just like a first offense, the baseline fine is between $390 and $1,000. However, with the increased assessment penalties here, you are now likely looking at a total fine of thousands of dollars.


Second-time offenders face jail time ranging from 96 hours to 12 months. However, judges may sometimes choose house arrest, a curfew, or a work/community service program instead of jail time.

Suspension of License

For second DUI convictions, the license suspension period increases considerably to two years. There is also a 12-month administrative suspension levied by the DMV for per se convictions, but again, this will usually run concurrently to the 2-year suspension. Motorists can apply for a restricted license as they can with their first conviction. However, if the driver was proven to be under the influence of drugs, they cannot apply for the “critical use’” license until 12 months of the suspension has been served. After being allowed behind the wheel again, the motorist must have an IID installed for a year.


Like first offenders, second offenders receive three to five years of probation. However, the DUI classes ordered are more intensive. Classes will last either 18 or 30 months.

Third DUI Offence

On your third DUI offense, the penalties are considerably harsher.


Once again, the baseline fine here is $390 to $1,000. With the likelihood of receiving a larger baseline fine alongside the increased assessment penalties, total fines for a third offense can be as high as $18,000.


When convicted of a third offense, the likelihood of spending actual jail time is increased. The law allows for a sentence of 120 days to a year to be imposed. This can be greatly reduced with the right defense, however. Additional DUI education and probation stipulations may be required.

Suspension of license

After a third conviction, the court can impose a license suspension of three years. A one-year administrative suspension for any per se conviction can also be handed down that will most likely run concurrently to the court-ordered suspension. Like second suspensions, there is a one-year wait period before a convicted motorist can apply for a restricted license. The IID requirement is increased as well – it must be installed on the offender’s vehicle for two years.

Dui aftermath


Probation terms for a third offense usually tend to the upper end of those for a second offense – that is, five years and DUI school lasting 30 months.

Aggravating Factors

The above penalties apply when there are no injuries, fatalities, or other aggravating factors involved. When aggravating factors are present, penalties are increased – and can even change the class of crime you are charged with.

DUIs Resulting In Injury Or Death

This type of infraction results in some of the most severe penalties on conviction. First of all, prosecutors can choose to charge the motorist with a felony rather than a misdemeanor. This results in both stiffer fines and longer jail sentences. Baseline fines can be as high as $5,000, while jail sentences can be as long as four years.

When a DUI results in the death of another person, the at-fault motorist will now face extremely serious felony charges. In order of severity, one can be charged with negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or second-degree murder.

Negligent vehicular manslaughter can conceivably be charged as a misdemeanor, in which case a year in jail and fines is a common sentence. Gross vehicular manslaughter, which is levied when factors like excessive speed or intoxication are in play, is charged as a felony. Convicted drivers will often receive a sentence between four and ten years. Second-degree murder, meanwhile, can result in sentences of 15 years to life.

Nothing can bring a loved one killed in a car accident back. However, our wrongful death lawyers can ensure your family is financially cared for, while deterring motorists from driving under the influence. Knowing that the result can be not only a lifetime of guilt but financial ruin, individuals will hopefully think twice before getting behind the wheel while under the influence.

Multiple Misdemeanor DUIs or One Prior Felony DUI

If you have been convicted of three misdemeanor DUIs in the past ten years and are charged with another, the fourth will most likely be entered as a felony. If you have been convicted of a felony DUI in the past, any subsequent DUI (including those that would usually be a misdemeanor) will be charged as a felony.

Having a Passenger 14 or Younger

This is considered “DUI with a child passenger.” This enhances the penalties – increased fines and jail times are usually imposed here. The prosecution may even choose to charge the motorist with child endangerment – either as an alternative or along with DUI.

Speeding or Reckless Driving

Traveling or more over the speed limit or driving dangerously will also increase penalties.

0.16% or Higher BAC

Above this level, penalties will increase. Above 0.20%, judges will often refuse to any manner of penalty reduction.

Refusal To Submit To Blood Alcohol Testing

This in itself is an additional offense. Penalties include increased jail time and a longer suspension period. However, there are also other considerations. Someone who has refused blood alcohol testing and is subsequently convicted of DUI loses the option to apply for certain considerations, including waived wait times and “critical use” restricted licenses.

San Diego’s Best Personal Injury Lawyers

At Batta Fulkerson, we offer our clients a highly skilled and experienced team of attorneys, paralegals, law clerks, and legal assistants, Having tried thousands of cases and accrued tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, our ability to get our clients the compensation they deserve is proven.

Our knowledge of California DUI laws means we know what to look for, even when the at-fault party has not been convicted of drunk driving. By exposing their negligence, we can often get a better settlement for you. If we don’t get you a settlement, you pay nothing! If you’ve been injured in an accident, whether the other party was under the influence or not, contact us today to book your free consultation.