California has two primary DUI laws for adult drivers:
- Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC, which makes it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol even if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is legal, and
- Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC, which makes it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or greater even if you are sober and driving safely.
Most people arrested for DUI in California get charged with both of these sections.
Driving with a BAC of .04% or higher is per se illegal if you have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) or if you are currently on probation for a prior DUI case. If you are under 21 years old, driving with a BAC of .01% or higher is automatically illegal.
- controlled substances,
- prescription drugs such as opioid painkillers or sleeping pills, or
- even over-the-counter drugs such as cough syrup.
The penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) vary depending on two primary factors:
- whether you have prior DUIs on your record,1 and
- whether anyone is injured as a result of your driving under the influence.2
- if someone is injured,
- if you have a prior felony DUI conviction for any reason, or
- if you have three (3) or more prior DUI or wet reckless convictions within the previous 10 years.3
This chart provides a basic summary of DUI penalties in California: 4
|Type of California DUI||Jail/Prison Sentence||Fine||Mandatory IID period||DUI School|
|1st offense misdemeanor DUI||Up to 6 months in county jail||$390-1000||6 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 DUI||96 hours to 1 year in county jail||$390-1000||1 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)||SB 38 18 or 30 months|
|3rd offense misdemeanor DUI||120 days to 1 year in county jail||$390-1000||2 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 parties||6 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 parties||1 year||18 or 30 months|
|Felony DUI||16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison||$390-1000||up to 5 years of driver’s license suspension||18 or 30 months|
In addition, your insurance rates will likely increase substantially.
As you can see from the chart above, California DUIs are “priorable” offenses. This means that the consequences of a DUI conviction get more serious with each successive drunk driving conviction that takes place within a ten-year period.5
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.
Below, our California DUI defense lawyers 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:
- 1. What are the penalties for a first offense misdemeanor California DUI?
- 2. What is the punishment for a second offense misdemeanor California DUI?
- 3. What are the penalties for a third offense misdemeanor California DUI?
- 4. What is the punishment for a DUI with injury?
- 5. What are the penalties for a California felony DUI?
- 6. Additional conditions of probation
- 7. Aggravating factors that may increase your sentence
- 8. Are there alternative sentencing options for a California DUI?
- 9. How do I fight DUI charges?
If after reading this article you have more questions, we invite you to contact us at one of our local DUI law offices.
When you are convicted of driving under the influence in California for the first time, the potential penalties for a first-offense DUI are as follows6:
- 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 (AB541 class),
- 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”7. A restricted license enables you to drive during the course of your employment, and to and from work, school, and/or California DUI school.
Example: The Los Angeles City Attorney offers the following sentence to you if you have been convicted of your first DUI in the city of Los Angeles, when no aggravating factors exist:
- Three years of summary probation,
- A $390 fine (which could be converted to 13 days of Cal-Trans roadside work or 13 days of jail), and
- A three-month AB541 drug/alcohol program
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, he/she can
- request the hearing for you and
- represent you at the hearing.
The consequences of a second California DUI conviction within ten years include8:
- Three to five years of summary probation,9
- 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).10
Example: Different counties set different “standard sentences” for second-time drunk driving convictions. A San Bernardino County District Attorney in the Rancho Cucamonga office would attempt to sentence you after a second DUI conviction (with no aggravating circumstances) to:
- Three to five years of summary probation,
- 45 days in San Bernardino county jail (or work release),
- A $390 fine, plus court assessments, and
- An 18-month drug/alcohol program.
California’s punishment for a third drunk driving conviction within ten years can include11:
- Between three to five years of informal probation,12
- 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 be converted to a restricted license after 18 months), and
- Designation as a “habitual traffic offender” (HTO) by the DMV.
- Five years of summary probation,
- At least 120 days in the Ventura County Jail,
- Approximately $3000 in fines13, and
- A 30-month drug/alcohol treatment program
4. What is the punishment for a 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
- the circumstances of your arrest, and
- 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:14
Misdemeanor driving under the influence with injury
- Three to five years of summary probation15,
- Five days to one year in a county jail16,
- $390-$5,000 in fines17,
- A three, 18, or 30-month alcohol program18,
- 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 suspension19, and
- Restitution to all injured parties20.
Felony driving under the influence with injury
- Sixteen months to ten years in the California State Prison21 and an additional and consecutive one to the six-year prison sentence, depending on (1) how many people you injured22, and (2) the extent of their injuries23,
- A possible “strike” on your record pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law,
- Between $1,015-$5,000 in fines24,
- An 18 to 30-month alcohol/drug program25,
- Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for three years26,
- 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 parties27.
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:28
- Sixteen months, or two or three 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. Learn more here.)
In addition to the criminal penalties described above, when California courts impose a DUI sentence that includes probation, the following conditions are always included29:
- You shall not drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood.
- You shall not refuse to submit to a chemical test of your blood, breath, or, in rare cases urine, if arrested for a subsequent DUI.
- You shall not 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.30
There are facts and circumstances that, if present at the time you are arrested for driving under the influence, will increase your county jail or state prison sentence. These aggravating facts will increase your penalties, regardless of whether you’ve been convicted of a first, second, third, or subsequent drunk driving charge.
The most common of these include:
- Having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% or higher (less in some counties)31
- 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) 32
- Causing an accident33
- Driving at excessive speeds34
- 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)35
- 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 penalties36
- Driving with an open container37
What type of enhanced penalty you receive for any of these aggravating factors will depend on
- the exact circumstances of your California DUI arrest, and
- 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.38 These harsh penalties reflect the importance of commercial drivers being safe since they carry large loads, and any accident could be fatal.
“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.39
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.
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
- 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.)40
Hiring an experienced DUI attorney to represent you
- in court and
- at your DMV hearing
is invaluable in helping you avoid the harsh consequences of violating California DUI laws. An attorney may be able to save your license while getting your charges reduced or dismissed so your record remains clear.
Depending on the facts of your case, there are many possible ways to attack drunk/drugged driving charges in California. Potential defenses include:
- The police lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place, and/or they lacked probable cause to arrest you.
- The police gave you incorrect instructions for the field sobriety tests, and/or they scored you wrong.
- The breath testing machine was defective, and/or the blood samples were contaminated.
- 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.
- 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.
If you or a loved one is in need of help with DUI penalties and you are looking to hire a DUI lawyer for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a consultation in the office or by phone.
We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
¿Habla español? Visite nuestro sitio Web en español sobre sanciones por DUI en California.
In Nevada? Go to our article on Nevada drunk/drugged driving penalties.
In Colorado? Go to our article on Colorado drunk/drugged driving penalties.
- California Vehicle Code 23622 — Violations of 23152 or 23153 within 10 years of specified offenses; effect upon sentencing [California DUI penalty statute discussing the effect of prior convictions on sentencing]. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher is per se DUI. The legal limit for commercial drivers is below 0.08%. Drivers arrested for drunk driving can elect to take a breath test or a blood test. See also: Missouri v. McNeely (2013) 569 U.S. 141; Padilla v. Meese (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 1022; People v. Milham (1984) 159 Cal.App.3d 487.
- Much like a typical DUI, the penalty assessments for a California DUI with injury under Vehicle Code 23153 VC depend on whether it is your first, second, or subsequent offense. First and second offenses are generally prosecuted as misdemeanors and will be detailed as such for purposes of this penalty section (which is why the range of penalties listed is so extreme). Second and subsequent offenses will be detailed as felony offenses under this section.
- California felony DUI may be charged if (1) it’s a fourth drunk driving offense, (2) an injury was caused to a third party, or (3) you had a prior felony drunk driving charge for any reason.
- The penalties listed here are set forth in California’s main DUI penalty laws: VC 23536, VC 23540, VC 23646, and VC 23566. VC stands for Vehicle Code section.
- California Vehicle Code 23622.
- California Vehicle Code 23536. See also People v. Schrieber (1975) 45 Cal.App.3d 917.
- See Vehicle Code 23536. See, for example, People v. Mitchell (Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Five, 2022) No. A163476.
- California Vehicle Code 23540
- California Vehicle Code 23600. See also People v. Weathington (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 69.
- California Vehicle Code 23540
- California Vehicle Code 23546
- See endnote 9, above.
- The fines for a Ventura driving under the influence of alcohol or under the influence of drugs are calculated differently from other counties – all penalties and other additional assessments are included and are typically higher than in other counties.
- See endnote 2, above. Also see our article about vehicular manslaughter (VC 192(c)).
- See endnote 9, above. Note that driving under the influence is not considered a crime of violence according to the United States Supreme Court (Leocal v. Ashcroft (2004) 543 U.S. 1).
- California Vehicle Code 23556
- See above
- See California Vehicle Code 23556
- See Same
- California Penal Code 1203.1
- California Vehicle Code 23566
- California Vehicle Code 23558
- California Penal Code 12022.7
- California Vehicle Code 23566
- CVC 23568
- CVC 23566
- CVC 23568
- CVC 23550
- CVC 23600
- CVC 23575
- California Vehicle Code 23578 VC
- See above.
- Many counties will impose an additional county jail sentence for driving under the influence if you caused an accident, even though the accident did not result in injury.
- CVC 23582
- CVC 23572
- If you are under 21 at the time of your drunk/drugged driving conviction, you will additionally be convicted of Vehicle Code 23136 (a civil offense under California’s zero-tolerance policy) and of an infraction under Vehicle Code 23140 (driving with a BAC of 0.05% to 0.07%).
- CVC 23221 – 23229.
- CVC 15300. CVS 15302.
- The Hawthorne Jail offers a work release program in which inmates can work at the jail during the day and go home at night. If you qualify for this program, you avoid having to spend the night in jail as part of your punishment for a California drunk/drugged driving conviction.
- CVC 14601.3. CVS 12810. CVC 1808.