DUI Penalties

Arrested for DUI? Our team of DUI / DWI defense lawyers specializes in handling DUI/DWI cases. Below are detailed DUI Penalties & getting DUI Dismissed.

DUI Penalties​

Arrested for DUI? Our team of DUI / DWI defense lawyers specializes in handling DUI/DWI cases. Below are detailed DUI Penalties.

California DUI Laws

People arrested for DUI get charged with both these crimes:

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC – driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC – driving with a BAC of .08% or greater

Driving with a BAC of .04% or higher is illegal if you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) or if you are on DUI probation. If you are under 21, driving with any BAC is illegal.

It is also unlawful to drive under the influence of drugs in violation of Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC, be they prescription drugs, over-the-counter meds, or illegal narcotics.

Most DUIs are misdemeanors, they become felonies if:

  • Someone was injured,
  • You have a prior felony DUI conviction, or
  • you have three (3) or more prior DUI or wet reckless convictions within the previous 10 years.

This chart provides a basic summary of DUI penalties in California:

Type of California DUIJail/Prison SentenceFineIgnition interlock device (IID) periodDUI School
1st offense misdemeanor DUIUp to 6 months in county jail$390-10006 months (the IID is usually not mandatory for a first-time DUI, but with no IID the DMV would suspend your license for 4 months; after 30 days, you could get a restricted license allowing you to drive to and from work for 5 months)3 or 9 months
2nd offense misdemeanor DUI96 hours to 1 year in county jail$390-10001 year (if you choose not to get an IID, the license suspension period is 2 years; after 1 year, you can get a restricted license allowing you to drive to and from work for 1 year)18 or 30 months (SB 38)
3rd offense misdemeanor DUI120 days to 1 year in county jail$390-10002 years (if you choose not to get an IID, the license suspension period will be 3 years)30 months
DUI with injury (misdemeanor)5 days to 1 year in county jail$390-5000, plus restitution to injured parties6 months (if you choose not to get an IID, the license suspension period will be 1 year)3, 18 or 30 months
1st offense DUI with injury (felony)16 months to 16 years in state prison$1015-5000, plus restitution to injured parties1 year18 or 30 months
Felony DUI16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison$390-1000up to 5 years of driver’s license suspension18 or 30 months


Your insurance rates will also increase substantially.

Based on the chart above, consequences and penalties of a DUI conviction get more serious with each successive DUI conviction that takes place within a ten-year period.

This ten-year timeframe is otherwise known as a “washout” or “lookback” period and also includes:

  • California “wet reckless” convictions, and
  • out-of-state convictions that, if committed in California, would constitute a DUI.

We will provide a comprehensive guide to the various laws, penalties, and sentences that may be imposed in connection with DUI offenses by addressing the following:

First-Time DUI Offense

When you are convicted of DUI in California for the first time, the potential penalties for a first-offense DUI are as follows:

  • Informal (otherwise known as “summary”) probation for three to five years,
  • Up to six months in county jail,
  • Between $390-$1,000 in fines (though total costs including IID expenses, DMV fees, etc. may add up to several thousands of dollars),
  • A three- or nine-month court-approved alcohol and/or drug education program called an AB541 class (you can find approved programs at this DUI Program Directory of Service Providers);
  • The judge may order that you install an IID in your car for six months in order to be able to continue to drive without restrictions. Otherwise, you will have a six- to ten-month driver’s license suspension that generally may be converted to a “restricted license”. A restricted license (also called a hardship license) should enable you to drive during the course of your employment, and to and from work, school, and/or California DUI school.

Please note that once you are arrested for any California drunk driving offense, you only have ten days to request a DMV hearing “admin per se” hearing from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.  This request postpones your license suspension until the resolution of the administrative per se hearing and may even result in your license suspension being set aside.

If you hire a California attorney within that ten-day period, they can

  • request the hearing for you and
  • represent you at the hearing.

Second-Time DUI Offense

The consequences of a second California DUI conviction within ten years include:

  • Three to five years of summary probation,
  • A minimum of 96 hours to a maximum of one year in county jail,
  • Between $390-$1,000 in fines (not including all the other case-related expenses, which can be thousands),
  • Completion of an 18-month or 30-month court-approved California DUI school, and
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for one year, during which time you can drive anywhere; otherwise, the DMV will suspend your license for two years (it may be converted to a restricted license after one year).

Third-Time DUI Offense

California’s punishment for a third drunk driving conviction within ten years can include:

  • A minimum of 120 days to a maximum of one year in county jail,
  • Between $390-$1,000 in fines (plus all other case-related expenses, which can amount to several thousands of dollars),
  • Completion of a 30-month court-approved DUI education program,
  • Mandatory IID installation for two years, during which time you can drive anywhere; otherwise, the DMV will suspend your license for three years (it can be converted to a restricted license after 18 months), and
  • Between three to five years of informal probation,
  • Designation as a “habitual traffic offender” (HTO) by the DMV.

DUI With Injury

Drunk driving causing injury under Vehicle Code 23153 VC is a “wobbler,” which means that it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on

  1. the circumstances of your arrest, and
  2. your criminal history.

If you are convicted of drunk driving where a person other than yourself suffered an injury, you are subject to the following under California law:

Misdemeanor driving under the influence with injury

  • Three to five years of summary probation,
  • Five days to one year in county jail,
  • $390-$5,000 in fines,
  • A three, 18, or 30-month alcohol program,
  • Mandatory IID for six months in order to be able to continue to drive without restrictions; otherwise, you will have a one-year driver’s license suspension,
  • Restitution to all injured parties.

Felony driving under the influence with injury

  • Sixteen months to ten years in the California State Prison and an additional and consecutive one to the six-year prison sentence, depending on (1) how many people you injured, and (2) the extent of their injuries,
  • A possible “strike” on your record pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law,
  • Between $1,015-$5,000 in fines,
  • An 18 to 30-month alcohol/drug program,
  • Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for three years,
  • Mandatory IID installation for two to three years for you to continue driving anywhere (otherwise, the license will be suspended), and
  • Restitution to all injured parties.

Felony DUI

California felony DUI is typically charged if you acquire four or more DUI convictions within a ten-year period. The criminal court penalties for felony DUI may include:

  • 16 months, or 2 – 3 years in the California State Prison,
  • Between $390 – $1,000 in fines (though total costs associated with the case can be more than $10,000),
  • DUI School for 30 months,
  • Three to five years of probation,
  • Mandatory IID installation for at least one year (otherwise, driving privileges will be suspended for up to four years or sometimes permanently),
  • Designation as an “HTO” by the DMV, and
  • Designation as a convicted felon.

California DUIs that result in death are sentenced very differently. Penalties for these offenses may lead to

  • life imprisonment and
  • a “strike” on your record pursuant to California’s Three Strikes law.

(Note that Los Angeles County prosecutors are no longer increasing sentences based on prior strikes.

Ride-Share Drivers

Ride-sharing drivers can be convicted of DUI for driving with a BAC of only 0.04% or higher whenever you are transporting a passenger. It does not matter if you are being safe and feel unimpaired.

If there is no “passenger for hire” in your car, then the standard 0.08% BAC limit applies.

Sleeping DUI

If you are found asleep in the driver’s seat with the car on, police will certainly arrest you for DUI if they believe you are under the influence or have an illegal BAC.

If you are found asleep in the driver’s seat with the car off – or you are found asleep in the backseat with the car on – some police will arrest you on the theory that you were still “operating the vehicle.”

If you are found asleep in the backseat with the car off, you have the best chances of escaping DUI charges unless there is evidence you were driving drunk prior to parking, and that you fell asleep to “sober up.”

DUI Laws for Bicycles, E-Scooters, & Boats

Motorized or electric bikes

In California, the same DUI laws that govern cars and motorcycles also apply to most motorized or electric bikes. Therefore, drunk e-biking is punished the same as drunk driving an automobile.

Pedal bikes

For non-motorized/non-electric bikes, drunk biking is a California misdemeanor carrying up to $250 in fines and no jail. Cycling under the influence will not cause your driver’s license to get suspended unless you are under 21 years old.

You do not have to consent to a breath or blood test, and biking with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is not per se illegal.

Motorized scooters

E-scooting under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a California misdemeanor carrying up to $250 in fines, no jail, and no driver’s license suspension. You do not have to consent to a breath or blood test, and e-scooting with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is not per se illegal.


It is a California crime to boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. As a misdemeanor, BUI carries up to $1,000 in fines and/or six months in jail. It should not affect your driver’s license.

Additional conditions of probation

When California courts impose a DUI sentence that includes probation, the following conditions are always included in addition to the criminal penalties described above:

  • You cannot drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood.
  • You cannot refuse to submit to a chemical test (a.k.a. evidentiary test) of your blood, breath, or, in rare cases, urine if you are arrested for a subsequent DUI.
  • You cannot commit any additional crimes.

Depending on the circumstances, the following conditions of DUI probation may be imposed:

  • Attendance in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings,
  • Participation in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Program, and/or
  • Restitution (in the event that you caused an accident while driving under the influence)

Violation of these terms can result in the consequences associated with a DUI probation violation.

Getting a DUI while on DUI probation

If you are on probation for a DUI and get arrested for a new one, the criminal court judge may revoke your probation and remand you to jail to serve your suspended jail sentence. However, you are entitled to a probation revocation hearing where you can argue that you deserve a second chance or did not commit another DUI.

Meanwhile, the DMV will suspend your license if you commit a DUI while on probation for a prior DUI:

APS action violationLength of suspension by the DMV
Your BAC is at least 0.01% according to a PAS or chemical test1 year
You refused to take a PAS or chemical test2 years
You refused a PAS or chemical test, plus you have two or more prior DUI convictions3 years

If you committed more than one APS action, the suspensions will run concurrently.

Aggravating factors that increase your sentence

There are aggravating factors that, if present at the time you are arrested for driving under the influence, will increase your county jail or state prison sentence. The most common of these include:

  • Having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% or higher (less in some counties)
  • Refusing to submit to a chemical test (which carries an extra one-year license suspension for a first refusal, two years for a second refusal, and three years for a third)
  • Causing an accident
  • Driving at excessive speeds
  • DUI with a child under the age of 14 in the car (which can also lead to an additional charge of Penal Code 273a child endangerment)
  • Being under 21 at the time of your DUI offense in violation of California’s Zero Tolerance laws, which prohibit underage driving with any alcohol or intoxicants in their system. This carries at least a one-year license suspension in addition to standard DUI penalties
  • Driving with an open container
  • Acting belligerently towards the officers

What type of enhanced penalty you receive for any of these aggravating factors will depend on:

  1. the exact circumstances of your California DUI arrest, and
  2. your criminal history (with emphasis on your prior DUI history).

Note that if you are a commercial driver, a first-time DUI will trigger a one-year CDL suspension. A subsequent DUI in 10 years will trigger a permanent revocation. These harsh penalties reflect the importance of commercial drivers being safe since they carry large loads, and any accident could be fatal.

Pleading to Wet Reckless or Dry Reckless

In many cases, we can convince prosecutors to reduce your DUI charge down to one of the following reckless driving charges:

  • Wet Reckless – A wet and reckless charge is a charge for reckless driving that involves drugs or alcohol. DUI charges generally have more serious consequences than reckless driving charges. As a result, in some cases, prosecutors will allow you to plea bargain down to a wet and reckless charge to avoid a full criminal trial.

  • Dry Reckless is simply a regular “reckless driving” conviction. The word “dry” is used to distinguish this from a “wet reckless” in that a “dry reckless” is a non-alcohol-related reckless driving charge.

Note that if you plead to a wet reckless and pick up a new DUI later on, the wet reckless would be considered an “aggravating factor” and increase your DUI penalties.

What happens during a DUI stop

In California, DUI stops occur when police observe you driving erratically, show up at the scene of an accident, or stop you at a checkpoint. The encounter usually proceeds as follows:

  1. The police study you for signs of intoxication, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol or marijuana. They also observe whether you have trouble answering questions or taking out your license, insurance, and registration information.
  2. You may then be asked to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS test), also called a roadside breathalyzer test. This is optional for you to do.
  3. You may also be asked to perform three standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), which include the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand). These are also optional for you to do.
  4. If you fail the PAS and/or the SFSTs, the police will likely believe they have “probable cause” to arrest you.

The breath or blood test

Once you are arrested for DUI, you are presumed to have given your “implied consent” to an evidentiary breath test or blood test. Though if the officers suspect you of DUI of drugs, you have to take the blood test since the breath test detects only alcohol.

If you refuse to take a breath or blood test, the police officer will inform you that:

  • They will get a warrant and physically restrain you to get a blood draw;
  • Your refusal can be used as evidence against you in court; and
  • If you get convicted of DUI, the refusal will trigger mandatory jail.

Refusing a breath or blood test also triggers a license suspension, the length of which turns on whether you have any prior DUIs in the last 10 years:

  • No DUIs in last 10 years: 1-year suspension.
  • 1 DUI in last 10 years: 2-year suspension.
  • 2 or more DUIs in last 10 years: 3-year suspension.

If you are under 21 and refuse to take a PAS test, these same suspension periods apply.

Note that you can take a urine test instead of a blood test if you have hemophilia or are on anticoagulant medication from a coronary condition. Or in the event no breath- or blood tests are available, you would have to take a urine test.

Confiscation of your license

After your arrest, the officer will take your license and give you a “notice of suspension or revocation” form notifying you that you have only 10 days to request a DMV hearing by contacting your local Driver Safety Office. The officer will also give you a temporary license valid for 30 days; though if you request a DMV hearing in time, the temporary license remains valid pending the hearing results.

Meanwhile, the officer sends a copy of your “notice of suspension or revocation” form – as well as your license and a sworn police report – to the DMV for them to investigate your case.

There is a chance that the DMV’s initial review of your case will show that there is no basis to suspend your license, at which point they will notify you in writing that your case is set aside and that you can reclaim your license at a DMV field office. Though in most cases, the DMV will find that there was sufficient evidence that you were DUI and should have your license suspended.

Due process requires that you have the opportunity to attend a DMV hearing to contest your license suspension. If you waive your right to a hearing or end up losing the hearing, the DMV will impose the suspension.

How to fight DUI charges

Depending on the facts of your case, there are many possible ways to attack drunk/drugged driving charges in California. Potential defenses and mitigating factors include:

  1. The police lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place, and/or they lacked probable cause to arrest you.
  2. The police gave you incorrect instructions for the field sobriety tests, and/or they scored you wrong.
  3. The breath testing machine was defective, and/or the blood samples were contaminated.
  4. You had a medical episode that mimicked intoxication (such as a seizure), and/or you had a medical condition such as GERD that caused excess mouth alcohol.
  5. Your high BAC result was due to rising blood alcohol, and your BAC was legal when you were actually driving.

Typical evidence in these cases includes eyewitnesses, expert forensic witnesses, split blood testing, accident reconstruction experts, and video surveillance.

Note that it is not a defense that you had no intention of driving drunk. This is because DUI is a “general intent” crime rather than a “specific intent” crime.

How an attorney can help

The long-term fallout of having a DUI extends far beyond any criminal penalties. Having a DUI on your record could keep you from getting

  • work,
  • housing,
  • loans,
  • acceptance to a college,
  • financial aid, or
  • a professional license.

In some circumstances, a DUI can even cause immigrants to be deported – especially if there were drugs involved or child passengers.

Furthermore, a DUI remains on your driving record for a decade. Plus it puts two points on your license: That means your license will get suspended if you pick up only two more points in one year. (Learn more about negligent operator points and habitual traffic offenders.)

When facing a DUI charge, hiring an experienced DUI attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Here are some reasons why it is beneficial to have legal representation:

  1. Expertise and Knowledge: DUI attorneys specialize in handling cases related to drunk driving offenses. They understand the complexities of DUI laws and can navigate through the legal system effectively.
  2. DMV Hearing Representation: A DUI lawyer can represent you at your DMV hearing, which is separate from your criminal court case. They can present evidence and arguments to help protect your driving privileges.
  3. Legal Defense Strategy: DUI attorneys have the skills and expertise to develop a strong defense strategy tailored to your specific case. They will analyze the evidence, challenge any inconsistencies or inaccuracies, and work towards obtaining the best possible outcome for you.
  4. Negotiating Plea Deals: If the evidence against you is strong, a DUI attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to obtain a favorable plea deal. This may result in reduced charges or penalties, helping you avoid severe consequences.
  5. Minimizing Penalties: In the event of a conviction, a DUI attorney can advocate for leniency and work towards minimizing the penalties imposed. They may be able to secure alternative sentencing options, such as probation or rehabilitation programs, rather than jail time.
  6. Protecting Your Rights: An experienced DUI attorney will ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. They will closely examine the actions of law enforcement officers to ensure there were no violations of your constitutional rights.
  7. Access to Resources: DUI attorneys have access to a network of resources and experts that can strengthen your defense. They may consult with forensic experts, toxicologists, or accident reconstruction specialists who can provide valuable insights to support your case.
  8. Peace of Mind: Hiring a DUI attorney provides peace of mind, knowing that you have a skilled professional advocating for your best interests. They will handle the legal complexities, paperwork, and court appearances, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your life.

If you are facing a DUI charge, it is essential to consult with an experienced DUI attorney who can provide personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances.

How to reinstate your license

After your California driver’s license suspension has expired, you can apply for reinstatement at a local DMV office or online.

In addition to paying the applicable fees, you also have to purchase a Form SR-22 from your insurance company. A Form SR-22 serves as your “proof of financial responsibility” that you carry at least the minimum required auto insurance:

  • $15,000 bodily injury liability per person,
  • $30,000 bodily injury liability per accident, and
  • $5,000 for property damage liability.

Note that you must maintain your SR-22 for at least three years.

The reissue fee is normally $125. However, if you were under 21 and prosecuted under California’s Zero Tolerance law, the reissue fee is $100.

Learn more in our article: DMV Suspended License Reinstatement – How to do it.

Restricted licenses

For detailed instructions on your restricted license options if your license gets suspended, refer to the official DMV information fliers:

Note that second-time DUI offenders have to show proof that they enrolled in a DUI treatment program, obtain FR-44 insurance, and pay a $100 reissue fee one year into the suspension. Meanwhile, third-time (or subsequent) DUI offenders are not eligible for a restricted license.

If you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license), you have to downgrade to a Class C noncommercial DL to get a restricted license. However, if you were not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the DUI and you pay a reissue fee of $125, you can get a restricted license to drive for work after a 30-day suspension.

Alternative sentencing options

“Alternative” sentencing options are alternatives to a county jail or California State Prison sentence for a drunk driving conviction. When imposed in connection with California DUI penalties, these sentencing alternatives may include:

  • Cal-Trans roadside work,
  • Community service,
  • Electronic monitoring or house arrest,
  • Residence in a sober living environment,
  • Incarceration in a private or city jail, such as the Hawthorne Jail.

Lawyers who do not specialize in drunk driving defense may not even know that these sentencing alternatives exist–and if they do, they may not know the most effective ways to convince the prosecutor and/or judge to agree to them.

This is just one reason why it is so important to hire specifically a drunk driving defense lawyer to defend your California drunk driving case and help you minimize your penalties.

Criminal Case vs DMV Case

Each DUI arrest triggers a criminal case and an entirely separate DMV case – called Administrative Per Se (APS).

The criminal case determines your guilt and potentially carries fines and jail; in contrast the DMV case has a very narrow focus, which is whether you get to keep your license.

If you have a DMV hearing, only three issues are up for discussion:

  1. Did the police officer have reasonable cause to believe you were operating a motor vehicle in violation of VC 23140, VC 23152, or VC 23153?
  2. Were you operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher?
  3. Did the police place you under lawful arrest or detain you while you were on DUI probation?

If you refused to take a chemical test, then only four issues are up for discussion:

  1. Did the police officer have reasonable cause to believe you were operating a motor vehicle in violation of VC 23140, VC 23152, or VC 23153?
  2. Did the police place you under lawful arrest or detain you while you were on DUI probation?
  3. Did the police tell you that if you refused to take or complete a chemical test, your license would be suspended for one, two, or three years?
  4. Did you refuse to take or complete a chemical test after the officer asked you to?

Since the criminal case is separate from the DMV case, you can win one and still lose the other. Though if your DMV case results in your license being suspended – but you end up being acquitted of DUI in the criminal case – the DMV will lift the suspension.

Note that if your DUI charge merely gets reduced to reckless driving, your license suspension would stand.


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  • Simon Greenleaf School of Law- Trinity University – Juris Doctor
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