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California DUI Laws: A Guide to Winning Your Case

Posted on Mar 11th, 2024 by Super User 135 Views

California's DUI laws can be challenging to maneuver, especially if you face a charge for a DUI offense. Also, you do not want to remain in detention until trial. You need a DUI lawyer who will help you understand your charges, potential penalties, and how to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Usually, you post bail and walk out of jail. But what if you cannot afford the set bail? You should find a reliable bail bonds service to help you secure your release. After you are released, you have the chance to fight your charges.

Below is the guide to fighting your DUI case in California.

The DUI Arrest

Being stopped and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in California marks the beginning of lengthy court procedures.

When Can Police Stop Drivers for DUI?

California law enforcement officers can legally stop vehicles if they have reasonable suspicion of DUI, such as erratic driving behaviors like weaving or swerving. DUI checkpoints are also legal in the state, allowing officers to screen all passing drivers for signs of impairment​​.

The Arrest and Booking Process

Once an arresting officer has probable cause, they will arrest you on suspicion of DUI. Following your arrest, you are taken to the police station for booking. This process includes recording your personal information, taking your fingerprints, and photographing you.

Field Sobriety and Chemical Tests

Standard field sobriety tests are often conducted before an arrest. These include walk-and-turn assessments, and one-leg stands, among others. You undergo these to evaluate your balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions. These tests are voluntary, and refusal to take them will likely lead to formal blood or breath tests​​.

After a DUI arrest, officers will administer a breathalyzer or blood test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Refusing these tests results in automatic penalties, including a one-year license suspension and potential fines​​.

Post-Arrest Procedures

Following your arrest, your vehicle may be impounded, and you will be processed before release or detention pending arraignment. This period is crucial for securing legal representation and preserving evidence​​.

Arraignment must occur within 48 hours of the arrest, excluding Sundays and holidays. During this hearing, you are formally charged and asked to enter a plea. It is vital to have legal representation during this phase, as DUI laws in California are harshly prosecuted​​​​.

What Happens to Your License?

In California, being charged with a DUI can lead to the suspension of your driver's license. The process of license suspension in California involves two distinct paths:

  1. The administrative suspension by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Post-arrest, you have ten days to request a DMV hearing. Failing to do so will result in an automatic suspension by the DMV within ten days of your arrest, known as an administrative suspension​​.
  2. The court-triggered license suspension follows a conviction or guilty plea. If convicted or pleading guilty to a DUI, the court will notify the DMV, leading to another suspension. This suspension is separate from the administrative one and is determined by the court based on the case specifics​​​​.

The suspension period for a first-time California DUI offense is generally six months. However, if you are eligible for a restricted driving license, you may still be able to drive under certain conditions during the suspension period. For example, a restricted driver’s license might allow travel for work or to participate in mandatory DUI programs​​​​.

California law may also require the installation of an IID for DUI offenders. This device needs you to provide a breath sample before you can start your car. For first-time offenders, this could mean a 12-month restricted driver’s license requiring an IID or a six-month IID requirement following license reinstatement​​.

The suspension process is time-sensitive, so quick action following a DUI arrest is essential. You want to consult with a legal professional specializing in DUI cases. Your lawyer should help you understand how the court system and the DMV interact in the suspension process and will help you take appropriate steps to safeguard your California driving privileges.

The DMV Process

After a DUI arrest in California, you will encounter the DMV hearing, a crucial step separate from the criminal court proceedings. This administrative procedure determines the fate of your driving privileges and is conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

A DMV hearing is an opportunity to contest the suspension of your driving license. This hearing does not determine guilt or innocence regarding the DUI charge but focuses on the circumstances of your arrest and your driving privileges​​​​.

You must request a DMV hearing within ten days of receiving the suspension notice. Failure to do so will result in an automatic suspension of your driver's license​​​​.

What Happens at the DMV Hearing?

The DMV hearing takes place in a DMV office or via telephone. It is led by a DMV employee known as a Driver Safety Hearing Officer rather than a judge​​​​.

The arresting officer's evidence, including the basis of the traffic stop, your interactions with the officer, field sobriety test results, and chemical test findings, will be reviewed. You can cross-examine the officer and any other witnesses​​​​.

You can challenge the evidence presented, call upon witnesses, and testify on your behalf. Defense strategies may include questioning the legality of the stop, the accuracy of chemical tests, and adherence to testing procedures​​​​.

The decision is based on a preponderance of evidence, a lesser standard than the criminal court's "beyond a reasonable doubt." If it seems more likely than not that you were under influence, the officer may rule against you​​.

Possible Outcomes of the DMV Hearing

If the DMV finds the arrest valid and that you drove under the influence, it may suspend your license. The length of the suspension depends on various factors, including any prior DUI history and the specifics of the current offense​​.

However, you may be eligible for a restricted license, allowing limited driving under specific conditions such as commuting to work or attending DUI programs​​.

No DMV Hearings for DUI of Drugs

When it comes to DUI offenses involving drugs in California, the process differs from alcohol-related DUIs, particularly regarding DMV hearings.

For DUIs involving alcohol, the DMV conducts an Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing, where you can contest the suspension of your driver’s license. However, for DUIs that involve drugs (including prescription medications and illegal drugs), the process can vary. Unlike alcohol-related DUIs, there may not be a standard DMV hearing specifically for drug-related DUI offenses.

Regardless of whether the DUI is for alcohol or drugs, you are required by law to submit to chemical testing to determine the content of alcohol and drugs in your blood. Refusal to take these tests results in automatic penalties, such as a one-year license suspension for a first DUI offense. The DMV's action is an immediate administrative response, independent of court-imposed penalties if found guilty of the DUI offense​​​​.

The criminal court process for a drug-related DUI will address the legality of the arrest, the presence of drugs in your system, and your fitness to drive. This process is separate from any DMV proceedings, which primarily focus on the suspension or revocation of driving privileges. A DUI arrest involving drugs will still trigger the DMV's automatic review process, which includes examining the officer’s report and any accompanying documents​​​​.

If Your License Gets Suspended

After a DUI arrest, the California DMV can impose an administrative suspension of your driver's license. This is independent of any criminal court proceedings.

A first-time DUI offense typically results in a six-month suspension period, but this can vary based on factors like prior offenses and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at the time of the arrest​​​​.

Administrative Per Se Hearing

You can request an Administrative Per Se Hearing within ten days of your arrest to contest the suspension. Failing to request this hearing leads to an automatic suspension of your license after 30 days​​.

Court-Triggered License Suspension

In addition to the administrative suspension, a court conviction for DUI also triggers a license suspension. However, if you are subject to both an administrative and a court-triggered license suspension, the total suspension period will not exceed the longest individual suspension​​​​.

Depending on the type of suspension, you may be eligible for a restricted driver’s license. This allows limited driving, such as commuting to work or attending DUI programs. For a DUI court-triggered license suspension, you could obtain a restricted license immediately, but for an administrative suspension, you wait 30 days from the beginning of the suspension​​​​.

Reinstating Your License

To reinstate your license after the suspension period, you must:

  1. Complete a DUI program.
  2. File an SR22 form with the DMV (proof of financial responsibility).
  3. Pay a reissue fee to the DMV.
  4. The Role of Legal Representation

DUI Court Proceedings

In California, if your BAC exceeds 0.08%, you could face misdemeanor charges, including driving with an excessive BAC (Vehicle Code 23152 b) and DUI (Vehicle Code 23152 a).

The Pretrial Process

The pretrial process in a California DUI case is a critical phase where crucial decisions are made and negotiations take place, often determining the course of the trial.

During this stage, the following happens:

  1. Discovery and Evidence Exchange. Discovery is the process of both sides—the defense and the prosecution—exchanging evidence they plan to use in the trial. This phase allows each party to see the type of evidence the other side will present, which can significantly influence the strategy for the trial​​.
  2. Pretrial Motions. These are requests made to the court to take certain actions, like excluding evidence. Common pre-trial motions include the following:
  • Probable cause motion. To contest the validity of an officer’s initial stop and arrest.
  • Motion to suppress evidence. To exclude any evidence obtained illegally or that could unjustly prejudice the case.
  • “Pitchess” motion. To access the arresting officer’s complaint history, potentially discrediting their report and testimony​​​​.
  1. Plea Bargaining. This is a critical aspect of the pretrial process, where the defense and prosecution negotiate to potentially reach an agreement or deal. For example, the defense might convince the prosecutor to charge a lesser offense like “wet reckless” or “dry reckless” instead of a full DUI charge​​​​.
  • Judges in Plea Bargains. Judges may intervene in plea bargain negotiations, especially if they find the parties are not being reasonable. They act as mediators, considering various factors before making an indicated sentence, which includes the behavior of the defendant and concerns for public safety​​.
  1. Preparing for Trial. If the plea bargain discussions do not lead to a resolution, the case advances to trial preparation. Both parties collect evidence, interview witnesses, and prepare their arguments​​.
  1. Court Appointed Lawyers. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can request the court for a court-appointed lawyer. The eligibility for a public defender is based on financial status and assets, and if qualified, an attorney is appointed within the hour​​.
  1. Bail Considerations. Bail in DUI cases is determined based on the individual's risk of fleeing and the threat to public safety. The judge may require posting bail, particularly in cases involving repeated DUI offenses or where additional factors like narcotics are involved​​​​.
  1. Conditions of Release. When released on your own recognizance (OR), you must adhere to specific conditions, such as not driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system and maintaining a valid driver's license and insurance​​.

Plea bargains v. trials

When facing DUI charges in California, you have to choose between accepting a plea bargain or going to trial. Understanding the pros and cons of each option is crucial for making an informed decision.

  1. Plea Bargains in DUI Cases


  • Reduced Charges and Penalties. Plea bargains can lead to lesser charges like "wet reckless" or "dry reckless," resulting in lower fines, shorter probation, and possibly no jail time​​​​.
  • Faster Resolution. Plea bargains typically resolve cases quicker than trials, which can be advantageous for those wanting to move on with their lives​​.
  • Avoiding Trial Uncertainty. Trials are unpredictable, and even with a strong case, there is a risk of an unfavorable jury verdict. Plea bargains provide a particular outcome​​.


  • Accepting a plea bargain means pleading guilty to a crime, which can have long-term impacts, such as a criminal record affecting employment and housing opportunities​​.
  • In a plea bargain, you have limited ability to negotiate the terms set by the prosecutor​​.
  • Even with a plea bargain, there can be long-term consequences, like increased insurance premiums and a damaged reputation​​.
  1. Going to Trial


  • Chance of Acquittal. At trial, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is weak, there's a possibility of acquittal​​.
  • Trials allow for cross-examination of witnesses, which can bring crucial evidence to light​​.
  • Jury Verdict Must Be Unanimous. For a conviction, all jurors must agree. Even one dissenting juror can result in a hung jury​​.


  • Trials are expensive and time-consuming​​.
  • The decision rests in the hands of jurors, who can be unpredictable​​.
  • If convicted, there’s a risk of facing the maximum penalties, including significant fines and jail time​​.

DUI Penalties

California DUI laws impose strict penalties that escalate with each subsequent offense.

First-Time DUI Offense

The penalties include:

  • 3 to 5 years of summary probation.
  • Attend a DUI school between 3 and 9 months, depending on your BAC level.
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000, plus penalty assessments.
  • License suspension for six months, with the possibility of a restricted license or an IID-restricted license.
  • Serving jail time for up to 6 months in some counties.
  • Mandatory installation for up to 6 months​​​​.

Second-Time DUI Offense

If found guilty, you are subject to:

  • Probation of 3 to 5 years.
  • A DUI school for an 18-month or 30-month course.
  • Fines between $390 and $1,000, plus penalty assessments.
  • A 2-year license suspension, with the possibility of a restricted license after installing an IID for one year.
  • Serving jail time for 96 hours to 1 year, with alternatives like house arrest or work programs available​​​​.

Third-Time DUI Offense

Your punishment could include:

  • Probation for 3 to 5 years.
  • Attending a 30-month course at an approved DUI school.
  • Fines range from $390 to $1,000, plus penalty assessments.
  • License suspension for three years, with a restricted license option after installing an IID for two years.
  • Serving jail time for 120 days to 1 year​​​​.

DUI with Injury

This offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with penalties including jail or prison time, fines, DUI school, IID installation, and restitution to injured parties​​.

Felony DUI

You face a felony DUI charge if you face four or more DUIs within ten years or for DUIs involving severe injuries or fatalities. Penalties can include prison time, fines, DUI school, probation, IID installation, and Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status​​​​.

Find a Bail Bonds Company Near Me

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a DUI in Los Angeles, securing a bail bond can be a crucial step in regaining freedom while awaiting trial. At Justice Bail Bonds, we offer reliable and prompt bail bond services.

You can rely on us because we have expertise in DUI cases, offer quick and confidential services, and have flexible payment plans. Contact us at 714-541-1155 for immediate assistance with securing your release.

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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.