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What are the Penalties for a DUI in California?

Posted on Oct 18th, 2023 by Super User 2148 Views

When facing DUI charges in California, the potential consequences can be as severe as incarceration. Other repercussions could damage your professional life and driving privileges.

If you are a DUI repeat offender, odds are your penalties will become stiffer. You will need to secure your freedom and build a strong defense outside jail. Many people cannot afford the bail amount for DUI charges. You could work with a reputable bail bond company and walk out of jail pending trial.

First Offense Misdemeanor California DUI Punishment

Upon conviction, sentencing could include:

  • Informal or summary probation between three and five years.
  • Serving time in jail for not over six months.
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installation and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) fees.
  • Completing an alcohol education program that a California court approves. Also known as the AB541 class, DUI programs run for three or nine months.
  • A six-month IID installation to drive with no restrictions. You could face a driver's license suspension for six to ten months if you fail to have the IID installed.

In California, you are allowed up to ten days to request a DMV/"admin per se" hearing after being arrested for any drunk driving offense. The DMV will then postpone your license suspension until the resolution of the administrative per se hearing, which could lead to your suspension being set aside.

Second Offense Misdemeanor California DUI Penalties

A second-offense DUI conviction within ten years after the first carries more severe penalties, including:

  • Summary probation for three to five years. Probation terms could include periodic check-ins with a probation officer to ensure compliance with the court's orders.
  • A minimum jail sentence of 96 hours. The term could extend up to one year.
  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000.
  • Additional expenses related to the case amounting to several thousand dollars.
  • Undergoing an 18- or 30-month DUI school that a California court approves, depending on the court's discretion.
  • IID installation for one year. During this period, you can drive without restrictions. Failure to comply with this requirement can result in a two-year license suspension.

Third Offense Misdemeanor California DUI Sentencing

A third DUI offense conviction within ten years after the second one can lead to significant penalties, including:

  • Informal probation for a period ranging from three to five years.
  • A 120-day minimum jail sentence, which could extend up to one year.
  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000. The total financial burden, encompassing other costs involving the case, adding to several thousand dollars.
  • Undergoing a DUI education program for 30 months in a court-approved institution.
  • Mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for two years. During this period, you can drive without restrictions. Failure to comply with this requirement can result in a three-year license suspension. You can have the license converted to a restricted one after 18 months.
  • A "habitual traffic offender" (HTO) designation by the DM.

DUI With Injury Sentencing and Punishment

A Vehicle Code 23153 violation is considered a "wobbler." This means that you could face a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. Below are the potential consequences:

Misdemeanor DUI with Injury

  • Summary probation with conditions such as regular check-ins with a probation officer for three to five years.
  • A minimum jail sentence of five days. This jail term could extend up to one year in a county jail.
  • Fines ranging from $390 to $5,000.
  • Undergoing an alcohol program for three, 18, or 30 months.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for six months, allowing you to drive without restrictions during this period. Failure to comply results in a one-year driver's license suspension.
  • Restitution to all injured parties for their losses.

Felony DUI with Injury

  • Serving a prison sentence of sixteen months to ten years. An additional and consecutive one to six-year prison sentence, depending on factors such as the number of people injured and the extent of their injuries.
  • A potential "strike" on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes Law.
  • Fines between $1,015 and $5,000.
  • Enrollment in an 18 to 30-month alcohol/drug program.
  • Designation as a "habitual traffic offender" (HTO) for three years.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for two to three years, allowing you to drive anywhere during this period. Failure to comply results in a license suspension.
  • Restitution to all injured parties for their losses.

California Felony DUI Sentencing

In California, you face felony DUI charges if you accumulate four or more DUI convictions within ten years. The criminal court penalties for a felony DUI conviction may include:

  • Sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison.
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000.
  • Case-related costs exceeding $10,000.
  • Enrollment in a 30-month DUI school.
  • Probation for three to five years.
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for at least one year. Failure to comply results in driving privileges being suspended for up to four years and, in some cases, permanent suspension.
  • Designation as an "HTO" (habitual traffic offender) by the DMV.
  • Designation as a convicted felon.

Penalties for California DUIs resulting in death are sentenced differently and can lead to life imprisonment and a "strike" on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes law.

Additional Conditions Of Probation

Various conditions are included when the court imposes a DUI probation sentence. These conditions ensure compliance with the court's orders and promote responsible behavior. Below are some of the key probation conditions:

  1. No driving with any measurable alcohol in your blood.
  2. No refusal to submit to chemical testing.
  3. No committing of additional crimes.

Depending on the specific circumstances of your DUI case, the court may impose additional probation conditions. These can include:

  • Attendance in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Meetings. These meetings aim to address substance abuse issues.
  • Undergoing the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Program. This program provides insights into the consequences of drunk driving on victims and their families.
  • Restitution.

Violating these probation conditions can result in potential jail time and extended probation.

Alternative Sentencing Options For A California DUI

In many California DUI cases, prosecutors and judges may consider other sentencing options as an alternative to jail or prison sentences.

These alternatives aim to address the underlying issues related to DUI offenses and can be more rehabilitative. They include:

  1. Cal-Trans Roadside Work. Instead of jail time, the court may allow you to participate in Cal-Trans roadside work programs. This involves community service related to highway maintenance.
  2. Community Service. Some DUI offenders may be eligible for community service instead of jail time. Community service involves performing designated tasks to benefit the community.
  3. Electronic Monitoring or House Arrest. In some instances, individuals may be placed under electronic monitoring or house arrest instead of serving time in jail. This allows for stricter supervision while maintaining a degree of freedom.
  4. Residence in a Sober-Living Environment. A sober environment may be an option for individuals struggling with substance abuse issues. This setting provides a supportive and drug-free living environment.

Eligibility for these alternative sentencing options depends on various factors, including the specific circumstances of your DUI case, your criminal history, and the court's discretion.

Fighting your DUI Charges

The Police Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Stop or Arrest You

Law enforcement officers must have "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" to initiate a traffic stop. This means they must have specific and articulable facts that lead them to believe a crime is occurring or has occurred. In DUI cases, reasonable suspicion might include observations of erratic driving, speeding, running red lights, or other behaviors associated with impaired driving.

Probable cause means there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed and that the person to be arrested is responsible for that crime. In DUI cases, probable cause may involve the results of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer readings, or other objective evidence of impairment.

If the police lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest you, your defense attorney can scrutinize the evidence presented by the prosecution. This may involve questioning the accuracy or reliability of field sobriety tests, the maintenance of breathalyzer equipment, or the qualifications of the arresting officer. If there are inconsistencies or flaws in the evidence, it can weaken the case against you.

Impact on Your Defense:

If it can be established that the stop or arrest was unlawful due to a lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause, it can lead to the suppression of evidence. This means that any evidence obtained due to the unlawful stop or arrest may be inadmissible in court.

Incorrect Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are a common tool used by traffic officers to assess a driver's level of impairment during a DUI stop. These tests are designed to evaluate a person's balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions. However, the accuracy of FSTs can be influenced by several factors, including the manner in which they are administered and scored.

One key element in challenging the results of FSTs is examining whether the police officer provided accurate and clear instructions before administering the tests. If the instructions are vague, confusing, or incorrect, it can lead to inaccurate test results.

For example, an officer might fail to explain the specific sequence of steps for a test like the Walk and Turn or the One-Leg Stand. This can confuse the driver and potentially lead to misinterpretations of their performance.

Errors in scoring can occur for various reasons. An officer may misinterpret a driver's actions, misunderstand the test criteria, or make subjective judgments. These errors can result in false indications of impairment.

Your DUI defense attorney will closely examine the scoring process, looking for inconsistencies or discrepancies in evaluating the tests. If you could prove that the scoring was incorrect or subjective, it can be used as a defense strategy to challenge the validity of the FST results.

You Had A Medical Episode or Condition That Mimicked Intoxication

In DUI cases, it is crucial to consider medical conditions or episodes that may mimic the symptoms of intoxication. Two common scenarios involve medical episodes like seizures and conditions like Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). These can lead to elevated mouth alcohol levels.

Seizures are neurological events that can result in altered consciousness, muscle spasms, and disorientation. During a seizure, you may exhibit behaviors that resemble intoxication, such as slurred speech, unsteady movements, and confusion. If you experience a seizure while driving or during a DUI stop, it can be mistaken for alcohol or drug impairment.

If you have a history of seizures or if a seizure occurred during your DUI stop, your defense attorney can present medical records and expert testimony to establish that your behavior resulted from a seizure rather than intoxication.

GERD is a chronic condition characterized by the regurgitation of stomach acid into the esophagus. This reflux can introduce alcohol vapors from the stomach into the mouth, potentially leading to falsely elevated breathalyzer readings. GERD can also cause symptoms such as heartburn, which might be misinterpreted as signs of impairment.

If you have GERD, your attorney can present medical evidence to show that your breathalyzer reading may have been influenced by the presence of alcohol vapors from your stomach rather than actual alcohol consumption.

The Breath Testing Machine Was Defective, Or The Blood Samples Were Contaminated

Breathalyzer machines must undergo regular maintenance and calibration to ensure accurate readings. If your lawyer could prove that the machine used to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was defective or not properly calibrated, the results may be challenged.

Your defense attorney may request maintenance and calibration records, as well as the machine's history of reliability. If any irregularities or issues with the breath testing equipment are discovered, it can cast doubt on the accuracy of your BAC reading.

Blood tests are considered one of the most reliable methods for measuring BAC. However, the process of collecting and handling blood samples must be precise to prevent contamination.

If there are concerns about the handling or storage of your blood sample, it can be argued that the sample was contaminated, leading to inaccurate results. Your attorney may investigate the chain of custody of the blood sample and use any discrepancies in the testing process to argue for the suppression of these results in court.

A Plea Bargain To “Wet Reckless” Or “Dry Reckless”

Plea bargaining in DUI cases can lead to lower charges, including "wet reckless" or "dry reckless" offenses.

"Wet reckless" is a reduced charge compared to a standard DUI. It typically involves a conviction for reckless driving involving alcohol. While it still carries penalties and may involve alcohol education programs, it is considered less severe than a DUI.

"Dry reckless" is an even less severe charge and does not involve alcohol-related reckless driving. It is a charge for reckless driving without any alcohol or drugs involved. Penalties for dry reckless are typically lighter than those for wet reckless or DUI.

In some DUI cases, defendants and their attorneys may explore the possibility of plea bargaining to secure a wet reckless or dry reckless conviction instead of facing the full DUI consequences.

Whether you can plea bargain a wet reckless or dry reckless charge largely depends on the prosecutor's discretion. Prosecutors may be more inclined to offer these deals in cases with weaker evidence or first-time DUI offenders.

Factors that could affect your plea bargain are:

  • BAC Levels. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) plays a role in plea bargaining. If your BAC was close to the legal limit, it may be more feasible to negotiate for a wet reckless charge.
  • Criminal Record. Your prior criminal record, especially related to DUI or reckless driving offenses, can impact plea bargaining options. A clean record may improve your chances of securing a reduced charge.
  • Evidence and Witnesses. Strong evidence or witnesses supporting your case can strengthen your bargaining position. Conversely, weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence can be used to your advantage.
  • Local Policies. Plea bargaining policies can vary by jurisdiction. Some counties or states may be more lenient with plea deals, while others may be stricter.

Having Your Driving Privileges Reinstated

Reinstating your license involves a series of steps and requirements. The process involves the following:

  1. Serving the Suspension Period. First and foremost, you must complete the mandatory suspension period imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the court. The length of this period varies depending on your DUI conviction.
  2. Fulfilling Probation Conditions. If your DUI sentence includes probation, you must fulfill all probationary conditions imposed by the court. This may include attending alcohol education programs, completing community service, or meeting other requirements.
  3. Obtaining SR-22 Insurance. In most cases, individuals with DUI convictions must obtain SR-22 insurance, also known as a Certificate of Financial Responsibility. This form proves that you have the required minimum auto insurance coverage.
  4. Paying Reinstatement Fees. The DMV typically requires payment of reinstatement fees to regain your driving privileges. These fees vary, so checking with the DMV for the exact amount is essential.
  5. Attending DUI School. Depending on the specifics of your DUI conviction, you may be required to attend DUI school or alcohol education programs. Completion of these programs is often a prerequisite for reinstating your license.
  6. Scheduling and Attending a DMV Hearing. In some cases, you may need to schedule and attend a DMV hearing to discuss the reinstatement of your license. This is particularly important if you wish to contest any aspects of your suspension.
  7. Applying for License Reinstatement. Once you've met all the requirements, you can apply for license reinstatement with the DMV. This may involve submitting proof of completion for probationary conditions, DUI school, and SR-22 insurance.

Find a Bail Bond Service Near Me

After a DUI arrest, it is advisable to contact a reliable bondsman. Enlisting the assistance of a seasoned bail bond agent to secure your release can offer a much-needed sanctuary for your peace of mind.

Once free, you can collaborate with a DUI defense attorney to build a solid defense strategy that could lead to the dismissal of your charges.

For a first-time DUI offense, the court might release you on your own recognizance (OR). However, for repeat DUI offenses, bail becomes a non-negotiable step. This is where we, Justice Bail Bonds, enter the stage. Our bail bondsmen ensure your swift accessibility to bail bond services. In Temecula and need a bail bond, contact us at 714-541-1155.

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For faster service please call 951-445-4155 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you or a loved one has been arrested and need to be bailed out quickly and confidentially or if you simply have questions regarding bail, an arrest, or inmate information please do not hesitate to call or fill out our contact us form. We are available 24/7 for all of your bail needs. 


For faster service please call 951-445-4155 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you or a loved one has been arrested and need to be bailed out quickly and confidentially or if you simply have questions regarding bail, an arrest, or inmate information please do not hesitate to call or fill out our contact us form. We are available 24/7 for all of your bail needs.