If convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in California, the penalties you'll face depend on a number of circumstances. The facts of the case and characteristics of the offender—often categorized as "aggravating and mitigating factors"—normally come into play whether the conviction results from a plea bargain or jury verdict. But the maximum and minimum penalties a judge can impose are set by statute. In large part, these allowable sentencing ranges depend on the number of prior DUI convictions the defendant has.
In California, a DUI generally counts as a prior conviction for ten years. So, a DUI that occurred more than ten years ago disappears for purposes of determining whether a current DUI is a second or subsequent offense.
California has special DUI laws and penalties that apply to scooters and bikes.
Minimum and Maximum Penalties for a First DUI Conviction
A first DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor. The convicted motorist faces the following penalties.
- Fines. A first DUI carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a number of "penalty assessments" that can substantially increase the amount the driver has to pay. The total can be several thousand dollars or more.
- Jail. It's possible for a first offender to receive 48 hours to six months in jail. But if the judge orders probation—which occurs in most cases—there's no mandatory jail time. Oftentimes, judges are lenient on first offenders and don't order time in jail as part of the sentence.
- License suspension. For a first DUI conviction, there's generally a six-month license suspension. There's also a four-month administrative suspension imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if the driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. (Drivers who refuse BAC testing face a one-year administrative suspension). However, if two suspensions are imposed, they're typically allowed to overlap. So the driver won't have to complete two full suspensions. Also, first offenders can generally apply for a restricted license for driving to and from places like work and school. The restricted license requires the use of an ignition interlock device (IID) but allows the motorist to start driving right away. Motorists who opt to not apply for the restricted license will generally be required to install an IID for up to six months after license reinstatement.
- Probation. First DUI offenders normally receive a three-year term of informal probation (though it can be up to five years). As a condition of probation, the defendant normally must complete a three-month DUI school, consisting of 30 hours of classes. However, for defendants who had BACs of .20% or more, the program is nine months in duration and 60 hours of class time.
Minimum and Maximum Penalties for a Second DUI Conviction
A second DUI conviction is a misdemeanor in California. The convicted motorist faces the following penalties.
- Fines. The fines for a second DUI are the same as those for a first offense: $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments.
- Jail. Second offenders face 96 hours to one year in jail. However, jail time can sometimes be served on house arrest or through jail-alternative work programs.
- License suspension. For a second DUI, there's a two-year suspension that comes from the criminal court and a 12-month administrative suspension for offenses involving a BAC of .08% or more. The two suspensions, however, are generally allowed to overlap. And the motorist can apply for a restricted license (for drugged driving the motorist must complete one year of the suspension before applying for the restricted license). All second offenders are required to have an IID for at least 12 months.
- Probation. Second DUI offenders normally receive a three-year term of informal probation (though it can be up to five years). As a condition of probation, the defendant must complete an 18- or a 30-month DUI school; the judge gets to decide which class to order.
Minimum and Maximum Penalties for a Third DUI Conviction
In California, a third DUI is typically a misdemeanor. A conviction carries the following penalties.
- Fines. As with a first and second offense, the fines for a third DUI are $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments.
- Jail. A third DUI results in a jail sentence of 120 days (30 days if probation is granted and a 30-month DUI school ordered) to one year.
- License suspension. For a second DUI, there's a three-year suspension that comes from the criminal court and a 12-month administrative suspension for offenses involving a BAC of .08% or more. But the two suspensions are generally allowed to overlap. And the motorist can apply for a restricted license (for drug DUIs, the driver must first complete 12 months of the suspension). All third offenders must have an IID for at least 2 years.
- Probation. Most third DUI offenders must complete three to five years of informal probation. As a condition of probation, the judge has the discretion to order a 30-month DUI school.
Felony DUI Charges
Certain aggravating factors can elevate a DUI to a felony. Felony DUIs carry much more serious penalties than misdemeanors.
DUIs Involving Deaths or Injuries
DUIs with injuries. If you injure someone in a DUI accident, you'll generally be facing more severe penalties than you would for a standard DUI. Injury DUIs are "wobblers"—meaning they can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a felony, an injury DUI can result in a prison sentence of 16 months to four years. And depending on the defendant's history, fines for an injury DUI can range from $390 to $5,000.
DUIs with fatalities. DUI offenders who cause the death of another person are typically prosecuted under the state's vehicular manslaughter or murder laws. A defendant in this situation could be charged with:
- negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or
- second-degree murder.
The penalties for these offenses vary greatly. At the low end—for a misdemeanor negligent-vehicular-manslaughter-while-intoxicated conviction—an offender is looking at up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 in fines. But a second-degree murder conviction is a felony and carries 15 years to life in state prison.
Fourth or Subsequent DUI Within Ten Years
In California, a fourth DUI within ten years can be charged as a felony offense. A felony fourth DUI carries 16 months to four years in prison and $390 to $1,000 in fines.
Past Felony DUI Convictions
A driver who has a past felony DUI conviction that occurred within the past ten years can be charged with a felony DUI for the current offense, even if the offense didn't involve any aggravating factors. The penalties for a conviction include 16 months to four years in prison and $390 to $1,000 in fines.