You can be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in California if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (often called a “per se” DUI) or while “under the influence” of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.
(See our BAC chart for an estimate of how many drinks it takes to get to the legal limit.)
When you’re arrested for most crimes, there aren’t any penalties unless you’re actually convicted of the offense (either by entering a plea or being found guilty at trial). But if you’re lawfully arrested for DUI, there can be administrative consequences—such as license suspension and fees—regardless of whether you’re ultimately convicted of the crime. And if you are convicted of DUI, you’ll face additional criminal penalties.
For most purposes, a DUI is considered a “first offense” if you haven’t had a DUI in the past ten years.
The process. If you’re lawfully arrested for a first-offense DUI and chemical testing shows you have a BAC of .08% or more, the arresting agency will confiscate your license and issue an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” and temporary license. The temporary license is valid for 30 days from issue, and the Order of Suspension/Revocation goes into effect when the temporary license expires. If you want to fight the license suspension, you have ten calendar days from when you receive the Order of Suspension/Revocation to request a DMV hearing.
Refusals. If you refuse to submit to a chemical test in violation of California’s implied consent laws, your license will automatically be suspended for one year upon expiration of your temporary License. This suspension is effective regardless of the outcome of your criminal case.
Over the legal limit. If your chemical test showed a BAC of .08% or more, the DMV will suspend your license for four months. However, after completing 30-day “hard suspension,” you may be eligible for a restricted license. A restricted license allows you to drive to, from, and for work and an educational DUI program (see below). To obtain a restricted license, you must enroll in a DUI program, provide proof of insurance (“SR-22”), and pay a license reissue fee of $125.
License reinstatement. For full license reinstatement, you must complete an educational DUI Program. These DUI classes range from three to nine months and cost $600 to $1200, depending on your BAC and other case factors.
IIDs. First offenders basically get to choose between a 12-month restricted license (which requires an ignition interlock device (IID)) for driving to and from places like work and school or a maximum six-month IID requirement following license reinstatement. You’ll be responsible for paying the costs of IID installation and maintenance—typically, about $70 to $150 for installation and $60 to $80 per month for maintenance.
Generally, a first DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor. Convicted motorists face $390 to $1,000 in fines plus penalty assessments that can reach several thousand dollars or more. (Get a better idea of how much a first DUI will cost you.) And a judge can sentence a first offender to serve two days to six months in jail (though no jail is required if probation is granted).
As a first-time offender, you will likely also be placed on probation for three to five years. Standard conditions of probation include requirements that you:
The judge can impose other conditions such as requiring support group or victim impact programs attendance. Violating the terms of your probation can lead to additional penalties.
For a first DUI conviction, the judge generally must suspend your license for six months. However, the administrative and criminal suspension periods are allowed to overlap and the total suspension time can’t exceed the longer of the two suspensions. And, as explained above, most first offenders can get a restricted license, which grants limited driving privileges.
California’s DUI laws are complicated, and the facts of each case are different. If you’ve been arrested or charged for DUI, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area who can help you decide how best to proceed with your case.