First-Offense DUI in California: Laws and Penalties

Read about the administrative and criminal penalties for a first-offense DUI in California.

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.

What's Considered a "First DUI" in California?

For most purposes, a DUI is considered a "first offense" if you haven't had a DUI in the past ten years.

How Does California Law Define a DUI Offense?

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 for a First California DUI Conviction

Criminal penalties are those imposed by a criminal court for a DUI conviction. Generally, a first DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor.

Jail Time for a First California DUI Conviction

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).

Fines for a First California DUI Conviction

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.)

Probation for a First DUI in California

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:

  • not drive with a measurable amount of alcohol in your system
  • submit to roadside alcohol testing if requested to do so by an officer, and
  • refrain from further violations of the law (apart from traffic infractions).

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.

License Suspension for a First DUI Conviction in California

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 License-Related Penalties for a First DUI in California

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.

California's Administrative DUI Suspension Process

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.

Penalties for Refusing a Blood or Breath Test in California

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.

Penalties for Failing BAC Testing in California

If your chemical test showed a BAC of .08% or more, the DMV will suspend your license for four months.

Getting a Restricted License in California Following a DUI Suspension

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.

License Reinstatement Following a California DUI Suspension

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.

California's Ignition Interlock Requirements for DUI First Offenders

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.

Talk to an Attorney

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.

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