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.
This article covers the penalties you'll face for a first DUI conviction in California.
For most purposes, a DUI is considered a "first offense" if you haven't had a DUI in the past ten years.
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.
Criminal penalties are those imposed by a criminal court for a DUI conviction. Generally, a first DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor.
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).
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.)
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 groups or victim impact program 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.
Administrative penalties are imposed by the DMV. A driver can face administrative penalties even if they're not ultimately convicted of a DUI in criminal court.
DUI arrest and testing. If you're lawfully arrested for a first-offense DUI and chemical testing shows you have a BAC of .08% or more or you refuse testing, the officer will confiscate your license and issue an "Order of Suspension/Revocation" and temporary license.
Temporary licenses. The temporary license is valid for 30 days from when it's issued, and the Order of Suspension/Revocation goes into effect when the temporary license expires.
Appealing an administrative suspension. 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.
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 the expiration of your temporary license. This suspension is effective regardless of the outcome of your criminal case.
If your chemical test showed a BAC of .08% or more, the DMV will suspend your license for four months.
However, after completing a 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.
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.
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.
California's DUI laws are complicated and a DUI conviction carries serious penalties. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, get in contact with a qualified DUI attorney who can help you navigate the process.