California DUI Laws, Penalties and Sentencing

Updated


Under California DUI law, the penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) vary depending on two main factors:

  1. whether you have prior DUIs on your record,1 and
  2. whether anyone is injured as a result of your driving under the influence.2

Most DUI cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors. But the offense may be charged as a felony if someone is injured or you have four (4) or more prior DUIs on your record.3 Some convictions carry jail time for California DUIs. In many cases, defendants can continue driving as long as they have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed.

This chart provides a basic summary of DUI penalties in California4

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 the person's license for 4 months; after 30 days, the defendant could get a restricted license allowing him/her 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 the defendant chooses not to get an IID, the license suspension period is 2 years; after 1 year, the defendant can get a restricted license allowing him/her 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 the defendant chooses 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 the defendant chooses 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

Type of California DUI

Penalties

1st offense misdemeanor DUI

Up to 6 months in county jail; $390-1000 in fines; driver's license suspension for 4 to 10 months (but the defendant may be able to drive immediately if he/she gets an IID for 6 months); 3 or 9 months of DUI school

2nd offense misdemeanor DUI

96 hours to 1 year in county jail; $390-1000 in fines; driver's license suspension for 2 years (or instead the defendant can drive with an IID for 1 year); 18 or 30 months of DUI school

3rd offense misdemeanor DUI

120 days to 1 year in county jail; $390-1000 in fines; driver's license suspension for 3 years (or instead the defendant can drive with an IID for 2 years); 30 months of DUI school

DUI with injury (misdemeanor)

5 days to 1 year in county jail; $390-5000 in fines plus restitution to injured parties; driver's license suspension for 1 to 3 years (or instead the defendant can drive with an IID for 6 months); 3, 18 or 30 months of DUI school

1st offense DUI with injury (felony)

16 months to 16 years in state prison; $1015-5000 in fines plus restitution to injured parties; driver's license suspension for 1 year (or instead the defendant can drive with an IID for 1 year); 18 or 30 months of DUI school

Felony DUI

16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison; $390-1000 in fines; driver's license suspension for up to 5 years; 18 or 30 months of DUI school


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 (1) California "wet reckless" convictions, and (2) 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:

If after reading this article you have more questions about the penalties for DUI in California or would like to discuss your case with a DUI defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at one of our local DUI law offices.

man being arrested for DUI
A first offense misdemeanor DUI can result in fines, jail time, and/or probation.

1. What are the Penalties for a First Offense Misdemeanor California DUI?

When a defendant is convicted of driving under the influence in California for the first time, the potential penalties 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,
  • A three- or nine-month court-approved alcohol and/or drug education program (AB541 class),
  • The judge may order that the defendant install an IID in his/her car for six months in order to be able to continue to drive without restrictions. Otherwise, the defendant 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 those who have been convicted of their 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 DUI, you only have ten days to request a DMV hearing from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.  This request postpones your license suspension until the resolution of the hearing and may even result in your license suspension being set aside.

If you hire a California DUI attorney within that ten-day period, he/she can request the hearing for you--and represent you at the hearing.

2. What is the Punishment for a Second Offense Misdemeanor California DUI?

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,
  • Completion of an 18-month or 30-month court-approved California DUI school, and
  • Mandatory IID installation for one year, during which time the defendant can drive anywhere; otherwise, the DMV will suspend the defendant's license for two years that may be converted to a restricted license after one year.10

Example:  Different counties set different "standard sentences" for second time DUI. A San Bernardino County District Attorney in the Rancho Cucamonga office would attempt sentence a person convicted of his/her second DUI (with no aggravating circumstances) to the following:

  • 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.

3. What are the Penalties for a Third Offense Misdemeanor California DUI?

California DUI punishment for a third 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,
  • Completion of a 30-month court-approved DUI education program, 
  • Mandatory IID installation for two years, during which time the defendant can drive anywhere; otherwise, the DMV will suspend the defendant's license for three years that may be converted to a restricted license after 18 months, and
  • Designation as a "habitual traffic offender" (HTO) by the DMV.

Example:  A Ventura County District Attorney would attempt to sentence a person convicted of his/her third Ventura DUI (absent additional aggravating circumstances) to the following:

  • Five years of summary probation,
  • At least 120 days in the Ventura County Jail,
  • Approximately $3000 in fines13, and
  • A 30-month drug/alcohol program

4. What is the Punishment for a DUI with Injury?

A California DUI with 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 (1) the circumstances of your arrest, and (2) your criminal history.

If you are convicted of a DUI where a person other than yourself suffered an injury, you are subject to the following14:

Misdemeanor DUI 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, the defendant will have a one-year driver's license suspension19, and
  • Restitution to all injured parties20.

Felony DUI with injury

  • Sixteen months to ten years in the California State Prison21 and an additional and consecutive one to 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 Strike's 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 the defendant to continue driving anywhere (otherwise, the license will be suspended), and
  • Restitution to all injured parties27.
man behind bars as a felony DUI penalty
A felony DUI can result in hefty prison time and fines.

5. What are the Penalties for a California Felony DUI?

California felony DUI is typically charged if someone acquires four or more DUI convictions within a ten-year period. The 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,
  • Mandatory IID installation for at least one year (otherwise, the driver's license will be suspended for up to four years), and/or
  • Designation as an "HTO" by the DMV.

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.

6. Additional "Conditions of Probation"

In addition to the DUI 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 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)30

Violation of these terms can result in the consequences associated with California DUI probation violations.31

7. Aggravating Factors that May Increase Your Sentence

There are facts and circumstances that, if present at the time you are arrested for driving under the influence, will increase your DUI county jail or state prison sentence.  These aggravating facts will increase your DUI penalties, regardless of whether you've been convicted of a first, second, third, or subsequent DUI.

The most common of these include:

What type of enhanced penalty you receive for any of these aggravating factors will depend on (1) the exact circumstances of your California DUI arrest, and (2) your criminal history (with emphasis on your prior DUI history).

8. Are There Alternative Sentencing Options for a California DUI?

"Alternative" sentencing options are alternatives to a county jail or California State Prison sentence for a DUI conviction.  When imposed in connection with a California DUI, 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.38

Lawyers who don't specialize in California DUI defense may not even know that these California DUI 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 DUI defense lawyer to defend your California drunk driving case and help you minimize your California DUI penalties

Hiring an experienced DUI attorney to represent you in court and at your DMV hearing is invaluable to helping you avoid the harsh consequences of a California DUI conviction.

Call us for help . . . 

california dui penalties attorneys
Call us for help

If you or a loved one is in need of help with DUI penalties and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in 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.

For information about Nevada DUI penalties, go to our article on Nevada DUI penalties.

¿Habla español? Visite nuestro sitio Web en español sobre sanciones por DUI en California.


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23622 VC -- Violations of 23152 or 23153 within 10 years of specified offenses; effect upon sentencing [California DUI penalty statute discussing effect of prior convictions on sentencing].  
  2. Much like a typical DUI, the penalties 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.
  3. California felony DUI may be charged if (1) it's a fourth offense DUI, (2) an injury was caused to a third party, or (3) the defendant had a prior felony DUI for any reason.
  4. The penalties listed here are set forth in California's main DUI penalty laws: VC 23536, VC 23540, VC 23646, and VC 23566. 
  5. California Vehicle Code 23622 
  6. California Vehicle Code 23536 
  7. See Vehicle Code 23536 
  8. California Vehicle Code 23540 
  9. California Vehicle Code 23600 
  10. California Vehicle Code 23540 
  11. California Vehicle Code 23546 
  12. See endnote 9, above.
  13. The fines for a Ventura DUI  are calculated differently from other counties - all penalties and other additional assessments are included and are typically higher than in other counties.
  14. See endnote 2, above.
  15. See endnote 9, above.
  16. California Vehicle Code 23556 
  17. See above
  18. See California Vehicle Code 23556 
  19. See Same
  20. California Penal Code 1203.1 
  21. California Vehicle Code 23566 
  22. California Vehicle Code 23558 
  23. California Penal Code 12022.7 
  24. California Vehicle Code 23566 
  25. California Vehicle Code 23568 
  26. California Vehicle Code 23566 
  27. California Vehicle Code 23568 
  28. California Vehicle Code 23550 
  29. California Vehicle Code 23600 
  30. California Vehicle Code 23575 
  31. California Vehicle Code 23578 VC 
  32. See above.
  33. Many counties will impose an additional county jail sentence for DUI if you caused an accident, even though the accident did not result in injury.
  34. California Vehicle Code 23582 
  35. California Vehicle Code 23572 
  36. If you are under 21 at the time of your DUI 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%).
  37. 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 DUI.

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