DUI Laws & Penalties FAQ

California DUI LAWS & PENALTIES

By law in California, DUI – Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense. It is more serious than most other traffic offenses. (See definition of “Under the Influence“)

By California DUI laws, it is illegal for any person to operate:

  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
  • Any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license (with or without a commercial driver license issued to the driver), with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, if the person is under age 21.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age if the person is on DUI probation.

Immediate license suspension
By the Admin Per Se law, the DMV is required to suspend your license if you are charged with one of the above offenses, or you have refused a chemical test. This license suspension by the DMV is called an “administrative action” and is independent of any court-imposed criminal penalties for conviction of the DUI offense.  Be aware that the DMV and the court are two separate institutions and have separate and independent powers over your license.

Get informed – browse our Frequently Asked Questions on DUI laws and penalties below.

DUI Penalties

Penalties – License Suspension

Penalties -License Suspension

If you lose your DMV Hearing and there was not a refusal, you face the following license suspensions:

First Time DUI

– the DMV will suspend your license for a minimum of one month. After this one month suspension of your license, if you:-

  1. Enroll in an alcohol class
  2. File proof of insurance (SR-22, proof of financial responsibility)
  3. And pay a DMV license reissue fee of $125

… then you are eligible to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) and obtain an IID-restricted driver license with unlimited driving privileges.  This applies to convictions in the four IID pilot counties of Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare which occurred on or after July 1, 2010.

In summary, on a first time DUI in Los Angeles County, you cannot drive for 30 days if you lose your DMV hearing but after 30 days you can get an IID-restricted license with unlimited driving privileges.

Second Time DUI within 10 years

– the DMV will suspend your license for two years if you lose your DMV hearing.  NO DRIVING AT ALL IS ALLOWED FOR THE FIRST 90 DAYS. YOU ARE NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO DRIVE TO WORK.

People cannot believe the DMV will not allow a restricted license during this 90-day period but the law is brutal and merciless on second DUIs and your license will be suspended for two years – WITH NO DRIVING ALLOWED AT ALL for 90 DAYS by the DMV for a second time DUI.

After 90 days of no driving at all and installation of an ignition interlock device, you might be eligible for an IID-restricted license which would allow you to drive for work-related reasons.  The DMV will notify you if and when you are eligible to apply for a restricted license.

Note: The 90-day no-driving period applies if you were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol only.  If you were convicted of driving under the influence of any drug or the combined influence of any drug and an alcoholic beverage, the period of no driving at all before you might be eligible for a restricted license is 12 months.

Third Time DUI within 10 years

– the DMV and the Court will attempt to revoke your license for three years so you cannot drive at all. After six months of no driving at all, you might be eligible for an IID-restricted license which would allow you to drive for work-related reasons, subject to certain conditions including, among other things:-

Note: The 6-month no-driving period applies if you were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol only.  If you were convicted of driving under the influence of any drug or the combined influence of any drug and an alcoholic beverage, the period of no driving at all before you might be eligible for a restricted license is 12 months.

The DMV will notify you if and when you are eligible to apply for an IID-restricted license.

How long will a DUI stay on my record in California?

10 YEARS

  • A misdemeanor DUI is on your criminal record and California DMV record for 10 years.
  • The ten year time period begins on your arrest date.
  • After 10 years, the courts and DMV cannot use that DUI against you.
  • A felony DUI is on your record for 10 years.

Warning

Presently a DUI conviction will be on your record for 10 years starting from your arrest date.

However, there are efforts in the California legislature to make a DUI stay on your record for a lifetime and to be used against you for your whole life. This means if you got a DUI 20 years ago and get arrested for another DUI it will be your second DUI and you will face additional punishment.

Expect the worse and expect the California DUI laws to change in the future and make your DUI stay on your record for 15 years or longer if not for a lifetime.

This is my second DUI

California is ridiculously tough on people who get a DUI within 10 years of another DUI.

You must realize that, on a second DUI, California Law wants to :-

  • Put you in jail for 96 hours
  • And SUSPEND your license for one year without driving at all; no driving, not even to work, on a second DUI.

See also DUI Penalties and Laws FAQ

Do I face jail time for DUI?

California DUI Laws

  1. On a first time DUI, you do not face any jail time unless there is an aggravating circumstance.
  2. On a second DUI, the law requires that you go to jail (local county jail) for a minimum of 96 hours.
  3. On a third DUI within 10 years, the law requires that you go jail for a minimum of 120 days.
  4. If you get a fourth DUI within 10 years, you face possible felony DUI charges and you can possibly be sentenced to state prison for a minimum of 16 months.

Our DUI law office has a very successful track record of obtaining alternatives to Los Angeles County Jail which allows people to keep working and stay out of jail.  Please call us immediately if you face any jail time in Los Angeles County for DUI, to discuss your alternatives on (310) 285-1516.

Read more about Jail Time for DUI

Ignition Interlock Device
ignition interlock device

Woman in car blowing into Ignition Interlock Device

What is an IID?

An Ignition Interlock Device or IID is similar to a breathalyzer that is wired to your vehicle’s ignition.  It requires you to provide a breath sample before the engine will start. If the device detects alcohol on your breath, the engine will not start. As you drive, the device will beep periodically to request additional breath samples to ensure continued absence of alcohol in your system.

The Ignition Interlock Device Pilot program has been effective in Los Angeles County since 1 July 2010. Under the requirements of the program, you are required to install an IID for a minimum period of 5 months if this is your first DUI in 10 years.

IID Restriction Terms

During your IID restriction period, you cannot drive vehicles that are not equipped with a functioning IID. The term of the IID restriction period is based on the initial DUI offense and the number of DUI related offenses you have within the prior 10 years, as specified below:

Number of
Offenses
Within 10 Years
IID Restriction Period
for Conviction of
VC 23152
IID Restriction Period for
Conviction of VC 23153 or
California Penal Code 191.5(b)
15 months12 months
212 months24 months
324 months36 months
4 or more36 months48 months

A senate bill was passed in September 2016 which will modify these restrictions (the 5 month restriction period will become 6 months), but the bill will not take effect until January 1, 2019.

Read more about Ignition Interlock Devices

Misdemeanors and Felony DUIs

Misdemeanor DUI

Most DUI’s are filed as misdemeanors.

How long is a Misdemeanor DUI on your record?

  • A misdemeanor DUI is on your criminal and DMV record for 10 years.
  • After 10 years, the courts and DMV cannot use that DUI against you.
  • The ten year time period begins on your arrest date.

Felony DUI

Penalties for Felony DUI

A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor and carries much higher penalties.  In California, if you have 4 DUI’s within 10 years or you are involved in a serious accident and someone is hurt seriously you face a Felony DUI charge. You can be charged with a felony DUI even if a passenger in your car is hurt seriously.

Do you face jail time in California for a Felony DUI? – Yes.  Felony DUIs are very serious because you face the following penalties:-

  • a minimum state prison sentence of 16 months
  • and parole after your sentence.

How long is a Felony DUI on your record?

  • A felony DUI is on your record for 10 years.

Warning Presently a DUI conviction will be on your record for 10 years starting from your arrest date. However, there are efforts in the California legislature to make a DUI stay on your record for a lifetime and to be used against you for your whole life. This means if you got a DUI 20 years ago and get arrested for another DUI it will be your second DUI and you will face additional punishment. Expect the worse and expect the California DUI laws to change in the future and make your DUI stay on your record for 15 years or longer if not for a lifetime.

This is my second DUI

California is ridiculously tough on people who get a DUI within 10 years of another DUI.

You must realize that, on a second DUI, California Law wants to :-

  • Put you in jail for 96 hours
  • And SUSPEND your license for one year without driving at all; no driving, not even to work, on a second DUI.
How much does a DUI Cost?

Fixed DUI Costs

  • Court Fine – minimum fine of approximately $2,000; If you want, the judge may allow you to do Cal Trans, Community Service, or Jail time instead of paying the fine.
  • 3 month Alcohol Class – minimum cost of approximately $600 (more expensive if you have to take 6, 9 or 18 month class –  See DUI Education).
  • Ignition Interlock devices cost about $60 to $80 per month, with an installation fee of $70 to $150.
  • DMV license Reissue Fee – approximately $180.

In all, a minimum of about $2,780 in Fixed DUI Costs.

Additional Potential DUI Costs

  • DUI Insurance Rates Increase – Your insurance premiums could go up over time.
  • DUI Attorney fees.
  • Accident fees if you are involved in an accident. You might have to pay for the damage you caused and also pay for ambulance, police or fireman services if emergency services are called to the accident scene. You face restitution payments to the victim and also a bill from the LAPD or the CHP for their time arresting you.
  • Other potential DUI costs can include fees for impoundment, and an ignition interlock device.
Points on my license

A DUI on your DMV driver’s record in California results in 2 points on your license.

If you get a total of:-

  • 4 points in a year
  • 6 points in 2 years
  • or 8 points in 3 years

– then the DMV will try to suspend your license for 6 months for being a negligent operator, a driver with too many points.

Learn more about DUI points on your license

DUI Refusal

dui refusal

 Refusal Alert!

If you refused to take a breath test or blood test at the police station when you were arrested for DUI, even if you tried blowing into the breath machine, you face a one-year suspension of your license with absolutely no chance of getting a restricted license to drive to work during this suspension. If you have prior DUIs then you face a longer suspension also with no chance of getting a restricted license:-

  • A 2-year revocation is imposed for a second offense (within 10 years)
  • A 3-year revocation is imposed for a third or subsequent offense (within 10 years).

You must win your DMV hearing in all refusal cases to get your license back and avoid this strict punishment. The courts have no power over your license in refusal cases which means even if you go to trial and win, it will not affect your license status. You must win your DMV hearing to get your license back.

Please note, a refusal to take a mandatory chemical test at the police station is different from a DUI checkpoint refusal to breathe into the handheld breathalyzer device at the roadside which is an optional field sobriety test. See breath machines FAQ.

Implied consent law

California law says that anyone with a California license driving in the state of California has given their implied consent to taking a chemical test if a police officer suspects they have been drinking and driving.  If a police officer requests that you take a breath or blood test at the police station to determine your blood alcohol level, then you must take a test.

This means that if you are pulled over by a police officer and he thinks you have been drinking alcohol you get to choose but you must either take a breath test at the police station or submit to a blood test and give a sample of your blood to determine how much alcohol is inside your body. If a breath or blood test is not available, you must provide a urine sample. By having a license you have already consented to take this chemical test. (Unfortunately, no one knows about or understands this implied consent law.  See California Veh Code 23612).

Consequences of a refusal

If a police officer pulls you over and suspects you have been drinking and driving, and he says you must take a breath or blood test and you refuse to take a breath or blood test you face some very serious punishment for refusing to take a chemical test. By refusing to take a test, you face:-

  • A one-year license suspension of your license with no chance for a restricted license to drive to work. That’s one year of no driving at all!
  • In court, you also face greater punishment such as a 9-month DUI class instead of a 3-month DUI class normally ordered for a first-time DUI
  • You possibly face 48 hours in jail for not taking a chemical test.

There have been cases where people have tried blowing into the breath machine and when no result is obtained, officers sometimes get impatient, accusing you of not blowing hard enough, and they say that you have refused to take a test without telling you that you face a 1-year license suspension and a minimum of 48 hours in jail from the court for refusing to take a test.

How to save your license

If the officer accuses you of refusing to take a test, the only way to save your license from being suspended for one year is to request a DMV hearing and to win this DMV hearing. You are entitled to a DMV hearing even if you refused to take a test. In a refusal case, the DMV has complete control of your license. This means even if you have a jury trial for your DUI and the jury finds you not guilty of the DUI it will not change the outcome of the DMV hearing concerning your refusal to take a test.

If you are being charged with a Refusal of a test by a police officer, you are facing a one-year suspension of your license and additional punishment in court.  It is imperative that you immediately request a DMV hearing to try and save your license from being suspended for one year.

Control of your license

The courts have no power over your license in refusal cases. The DMV hearing completely controls what happens to your license in a refusal case: if you win the DMV hearing your license will be returned and will not be suspended for one year. If you lose the hearing your license will be suspended for one year and you are not eligible for any restricted license that would allow you to drive to work. It is a one-year hard suspension allowing no driving at all not even to work.

So Refusal cases are very serious and you must get a DMV hearing to fight these allegations.

What is an Aggravated DUI

FAQ: What is an Aggravated DUI?

An Aggravated DUI is a DUI charge which involves:-

  • Another offense in addition to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Or another factor such as an extremely high level of blood alcohol.

Such circumstances surrounding your DUI are called “Aggravating Circumstances”.

A conviction for Aggravated DUI can result in far more serious penalties than a regular drunk driving charge.

Learn more about Aggravated DUI & Aggravating Circumstances

DUI Education Programs

When you are convicted of a DUI offense in Los Angeles County, the court may order you to complete an Alcohol and Drug Education and Counseling program provided by a state-licensed service provider.

To enroll in one of these programs, you must be referred, either by the court or the DMV.

Read more about DUI Drug and Alcohol Education Programs

California DUI Laws

Definition of Driving Under the Influence

The following is a definition of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs:-

A person is considered under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, drug, or combination of alcohol and drugs when his/her physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that he/she no longer has the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence, under the same or similar circumstances.

The legal limit of blood alcohol content when driving in California

By California DUI laws, it is illegal for any person to operate:

  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
  • Any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license (with or without a commercial driver license issued to the driver), with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, if the person is under age 21.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age if the person is on DUI probation.

Can I be under the limit and still get a DUI?

Yes, you can be under the legal limit for blood alcohol content and still get charged with a DUI if, in the opinion of the arresting officer, your driving ability was impaired by your consumption of alcohol or drugs.  This is an ‘opinion’ crime.  Read more about being under the limit and still getting a DUI.

See also:-

Admin Per Se

California immediate driver license suspension law

In 1990, California implemented an immediate driver license suspension law for alcohol-impaired drivers, also referred to as an “Administrative Per Se (APS)” or “on-the-spot” license suspension law.

If you have been arrested for one of the following offenses, or you have refused a chemical test, the California Admin Per Se law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend or revoke your license upon arrest.

By DUI laws in California, it is illegal for any person to operate:

  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
  • Any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license (with or without a commercial driver license issued to the driver), with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, if the person is under age 21.
  • A motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age if the person is on DUI probation for a prior DUI.

30-day Temporary License

After your arrest for DUI, your driver’s license is confiscated by the arresting officer, and you are issued with a 30-day temporary license.  This 30-day temporary license is intended to provide you with sufficient time to challenge the suspension through a DMV administrative review (DMV Hearing). You only have 10 days after your arrest to ask for a DMV Stay and Hearing to try to save your license.

Independent of the court

This suspension of your license by the DMV is called an “administrative action” and is independent of any court-imposed criminal penalties for conviction of your DUI offense.  Be aware that the DMV and the court are two separate institutions and have separate and independent powers over your license.

If your charges are dismissed by the court

APS Dismissal Hearing
If your charges are dismissed by the court for insufficient evidence or if you are, following arrest, never charged by the court for DUI, you may request an APS dismissal hearing to consider setting aside the associated APS suspension of your license.

See also:-

 

Can I be under the limit and still get a DUI?

Yes, your blood alcohol level may be under the .08 limit, but the police can still charge you with a DUI if the arresting police officer believed your driving was impaired due to your consumption of alcohol or drugs.  This is according to:-

California Vehicle Code VC 23152(a)

(a) It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.

The DUI law in California has 2 parts:-

VC 23152(b) Driving with a level of .08 or higher –
If you take a blood or breath test and your result is .08 or higher you will be charged with violating this DUI law.

VC 23152(a) This part of the DUI law in California states that you are not allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol or drug or both.

Under the limit DUI

This is an opinion crime which means if the officer thinks in his opinion that you are under the influence of alcohol or a drug he can arrest you for a DUI in accordance with VC 23152(a). This law gives the officer the power to arrest you even if you have a breath or blood result under .08. If the officer feels you have been drinking and driving and he believes you are under the influence he can arrest you for a DUI. The officer will usually consider the following to form his opinion:

  • Your driving
  • Your physical symptoms (speech, eyes, breath, etc.)
  • And your performance on the Field Sobriety tests

Definition of  Driving Under the Influence

A person is considered under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, drug, or combination of alcohol and drugs when his/her physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that he/she no longer has the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence, under the same or similar circumstances.

VC 23152(a)

If you blow a breath result under .08 you can still be charged with a DUI if the officer believes in his opinion you are under the influence of alcohol i.e. you are impaired by alcohol as this law allows people to be charged with a DUI even if they have a breath result under .08 such as .07 or .06.

If you refuse to take a breath or blood test you can still be charged with a DUI under this law (VC 23152(a)) if the officer believes in his opinion you are under the influence of alcohol and impaired.

If the officer suspects you have consumed a drug (the drug can be legal or illegal) and the drug has affected your ability to drive you can be charged with a DUI under this law (VC 23152(a)) if the officer believes in his opinion you are under the influence of a drug and impaired.

In summary, this law has given the police a lot of power as they can arrest and have someone charged with a DUI based simply on their opinion. If the officer thinks in his opinion you are under the influence of alcohol or a drug you can be charged with a DUI even if your breath or blood result is under .08 and you can be charged with a DUI even if you refused to take a breath or blood test.

Do I face jail time for DUI?

California DUI Laws

  1. On a first time DUI, you do not face any jail time unless there is an aggravating circumstance.
  2. On a second DUI, the law requires that you go to jail (local county jail) for a minimum of 96 hours.
  3. On a third DUI within 10 years, the law requires that you go jail for a minimum of 120 days.
  4. If you get a fourth DUI within 10 years, you face possible felony DUI charges and you can possibly be sentenced to state prison for a minimum of 16 months.

Our DUI law office has a very successful track record of obtaining alternatives to Los Angeles County Jail which allows people to keep working and stay out of jail.  Please call us immediately if you face any jail time in Los Angeles County for DUI, to discuss your alternatives on (310) 285-1516.

Read more about Jail Time for DUI

Criminal Record

By law in California, DUI – Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense. It is more serious than most other traffic offenses. A conviction for a DUI will result in a criminal record.

When is a DUI a Felony in California?

In California, if you have 4 DUI’s within 10 years or you are involved in a serious accident and someone is hurt seriously you face a Felony DUI charge.

Read more about Misdemeanors, Felonies and penalties for DUI Felonies.

What is a plea bargain?

A plea bargain is an agreement with the prosecutor in which you plead guilty or no contest to an agreed upon charge with an agreed upon punishment.

The prosecutor is the government lawyer who takes over your case from the police officer after you were arrested for DUI. The prosecutor determines the plea bargain offered to you.  Usually the offer is predictable if there are no aggravating circumstances.

Vehicle Code VC 23152

VC 23152(a)

(a) It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.

VC 23152(b)

(b) It is unlawful for any person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.

Note re VC 23152(a)

This law has given the police a lot of power as they can arrest and have someone charged with a DUI based simply on their opinion. If the officer thinks in his opinion you are under the influence of alcohol or a drug you can be charged with a DUI even if your breath or blood result is under .08 and you can be charged with a DUI even if you refused to take a breath or blood test.  See Can I be under the limit and still get a DUI? for more detail.

Vehicle Code VC 23140

Vehicle Code VC 23140

It is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has 0.05 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.  See UNDER 21 and arrested for drinking and driving.

Vehicle Code VC 23153

VC 23153(a)

(a) It is unlawful for any person, while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.

See Aggravated DUI for more about accident causing bodily injury.

VC 23153(b)

(b) It is unlawful for any person, while having 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.

See Aggravated DUI for more about accident causing bodily injury.

VC 14601.2 Driving on a suspended license due to a DUI

Did you get arrested for a DUI in California and then got caught driving on a suspended license and were issued a ticket for a violation of VC 14601.2 (driving on a suspended license due to a DUI)? This is a very serious charge as the California DUI law requires at a minimum:-

You must do everything you can to get your license reinstated and try to avoid this stiff punishment.  First, get informed, then call us (310) 285-1516 for help.

What is a Wet Reckless?

What is a Wet Reckless? A Wet Reckless is the nickname for the California Vehicle Code (VC) Section 23103 per VC 23013.5 charge of reckless driving involving alcohol.

If the prosecutor feels the DUI case against you has some weaknesses, for example:-

  • When your breath test or blood test result is close to .08
  • And if your driving and Field Sobriety Tests are not bad

… then the prosecutor might offer a plea bargain that is called a Wet Reckless.

A Wet Reckless is really a kinder, gentler DUI, a watered down DUI if you will.  It is a ‘prior’ on your record, which means if you get another DUI in the next 10 years it will be considered your second DUI because the Wet Reckless counts against you just like a first time DUI.

Read more about Wet Reckless and Dry Reckless and the differences between a Wet Reckless and DUI.

Under 21 DUI

Under 21 DUI California

When you are UNDER 21 and arrested for drinking and driving

California has zero tolerance laws for people who are under 21 and drive with any alcohol in their system.  If you took a breath test or blood test and your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was .01 or more you face a one year license suspension from the DMV.

The court and DMV will attempt to suspend your license for one year. Even when you are under 21 you are still allowed to have a DMV hearing and a stay so make sure you call the DMV within 10 days to request a Hearing and a Stay to fight your suspension.

Critical Need Restricted License

Under the Zero tolerance law, however you can still apply to the court and the DMV for a critical need restricted license which would allow you to drive to school and to work only. Your chances of getting a critical need license from the DMV usually depend on whether public transit is inadequate and if you are helping support your family with your job.

See also DMV Fact Sheet

DUI Probation Violation

hand cuffs iconIf you are on probation for a prior DUI and you get a new DUI arrest you possibly face what is called a probation violation hearing. This means you must go in front of a judge regarding your old case (usually the judge who sentenced you on the prior DUI) who has the power to send you to jail for violating the terms of your probation such as the condition not to drink and drive with any measurable amount of alcohol. In these situations, your luck depends on what court you are in and which judge you are in front of because you can face significant jail time for probation violations.

Please call us (310) 285-1516 if you have a probation violation in Los Angeles to discuss the courthouse you are in and what judge you have to go in front of, and how we can help avoid jail time. Under new laws you are not allowed to drive with any alcohol in your body while you are on probation and you could now face a one year license suspension if you drink and drive while on probation.

More FAQ (for DMV, License, Police and What to Do)

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