A third-time DUI in California is punishable by 3 to 5 years of probation, 120 days to 1 year in jail, $2,500 to $3,000 in fines, 30 months of DUI School, and a 3-year license suspension.
But you may be able to avoid jail through a live-in rehab program, house arrest, or work furlough. And the DMV lets most people resume driving right away with an ignition interlock device (IID).
In this article, our California DUI attorneys discuss:
- 1. What happens when you get a 3rd DUI in California?
- 2. Is a 3rd DUI a felony in California?
- 3. Can I avoid jail time for a 3rd DUI in California?
- 4. Can you get your license back after 3 DUIs in California?
- 5. Can my record be expunged?
- 6. Do I need an attorney?
1. What happens when you get a 3rd DUI in California?
A third DUI conviction in a ten-year period is a California misdemeanor carrying the following penalties:
- 3 to 5 years of informal probation1
- 120 days to one year in county jail,
- $2,500 to $3,000 in fines and penalty assessments
- Ignition interlock device (IID) for 2 years
- 30-month court-approved DUI education program
- 3-year California driver’s license revocation which can become a restricted license after 18 months (defendants may be able to drive right away with an IID)2
Probation always carries the following three conditions:
- Driving with no measurable amount of alcohol in your blood;
- Agreeing to submit to a chemical test if arrested for DUI again; and
- Committing no additional crimes.3
And depending on the circumstances, defendants may also have to:
- Attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings;
- Participate in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Panel; and/or
- Pay restitution4
Note that penalties can be even harsher if any of the following aggravating circumstances apply.
- Having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% or higher (less in some counties)5
- Refusing to submit to a chemical test6
- Causing an accident7
- Having children under the age of 14 in the car (also known as Penal Code 273a child endangerment)8
- Being underage (under 21) at the time of your DUI offense9
- Driving at excessive speeds10
As a priorable offense, a third-DUI carries harsher penalties than a second DUI or first DUI case.11
2. Is a 3rd DUI a felony in California?
No. Under California DUI laws, a 3rd DUI offense is a misdemeanor as long as it caused no serious injuries.12
3. How can I avoid jail time for 3rd DUI in California?
California defendants convicted of a DUI-third may be able to serve jail time on house arrest, through a work-furlough program, or by a live-in drug treatment program.
The best way to avoid jail for a DUI-3rd is to fight the charges in an attempt to get the case reduced to a lesser offense or dismissed completely. Ten common DUI defenses include that:
- The police officer had no reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop.
- Law enforcement lacked probable cause to make a DUI arrest.
- The police did not administer the standardized field sobriety tests correctly.
- The breathalyzer was defective.
- The defendant was having a medical episode that the police misconstrued as intoxication.
- The defendant had dental work that caused alcohol to pool, which then caused the breathalyzer to return an inaccurate result.
- The defendant had GERD or acid reflux, which then caused the breathalyzer to return an inaccurate result.
- The defendant had rising blood alcohol.
- The blood test samples were contaminated.
- The people who calibrated the breathalyzer let their certification lapse.
Sometimes, an experienced DUI attorney can get third time DUI charges plea bargained down to a wet reckless2, dry reckless3, exhibition of speed / “speed ex”13 or even dropped altogether.
Note that drivers are guilty of driving under the influence in California merely for having a BAC of 0.08% or higher. So it is not a defense that the defendant was unimpaired and driving safely.14
4. Can you get your license back after 3 DUIs in California?
The only way to avoid a license revocation following a third DUI offense in California is to win both the:
- criminal case, and
- the DMV hearing (called an admin per se (APS) hearing).
Even still, third-time DUI defendants can usually continue driving immediately with an IID installed in their motor vehicle. And they must keep the IID for 24 months.
But defendants who refused to take a chemical blood- or breath test following the arrest cannot drive at all for three years. And there is no way to get a restricted license during this time.15
Note that people who unlawfully drive on a suspended license are classified as habitual traffic offenders (HTOs) by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.16
5. Can my record be expunged?
Yes, DUI-3rd defendants can get a criminal record expungement if they successfully complete probation.17
6. Do I need an attorney?
Anyone facing charges of third-time drunk or drugged driving is strongly encouraged to hire private counsel to fight the case. DUI-3rds carry mandatory jail time – up to one year in some California counties. An attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor in an attempt to get any jail sentence converted to a laxer condition, such as home confinement or work furlough.
And in practice, prosecutors are more willing to extend favorable plea deals to defendants represented by private counsel rather than those represented by public defenders, who do not have the time or resources to fight for the best resolution in DUI cases.
Finally, having an attorney gives defendants the greatest odds of getting the entire case dismissed. Lawyers are skilled at investigating and combing through the evidence in search of all the weak links in the state’s case. An attorney can then use this information to persuade the D.A. to drop the case without a trial.
Arrested in California for a first DUI, second DUI, third DUI, or felony DUI? Our criminal defense lawyers have law offices throughout California, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and more.
Arrested in Las Vegas, Reno, or elsewhere in Nevada? See our article on DUI thirds in Nevada.
- California Vehicle Code 23600 VC; see also California Senate Bill 1046 (2018).
- California Vehicle Code 23546 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23600 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23575 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23578 VC.
- Same. See also California Vehicle Code 23577 VC.
- Many counties will impose an additional county jail sentence if you caused an accident on your third time DUI in California, even though the accident did not result in injury.
- California Vehicle Code 23572 VC.
- If you are under 21 at the time of your third time DUI conviction in California, 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%).
- California Vehicle Code 23582 VC.
- This ten-year timeframe relevant to a third time DUI in California is otherwise known as a “washout” or “lookback” period and also includes (1) California “wet” reckless, convictions, and (2) out-of-state convictions that, if committed in California, would constitute a DUI. See California Vehicle Code 23622 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23546 VC. See also Burris v. Superior Court (2005) 34 Cal. 4th 1012.
- California Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC.
- California Vehicle Codes 23152(a) VC and 23152(b) VC.
- California Vehicle Codes 23575.3 and 13553.3 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 14601.3 VC.
- California Penal Code 1203.4 PC; see also People v. Forrester (Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Six, 2007) 156 Cal. App. 4th 1021.