California DUI laws

When facing a DUI arrest and/or conviction in California, there are a number of issues to be considered: First off, will you have to serve jail time and if so, for how long? How much money will you owe in fines? Is probation a possibility? Will your license be suspended? Will you have to go to a DUI school or do community service? The following is a list of basic laws regarding DUI fines and sentencing California.

First California DUI Offense:

California Criminal Status: Non-injury DUIs generally misdemeanors. DUIs that result in bodily injury may be elevated to felony status, depending on the circumstances.

Jail: 48 hours, but not more than 6 months.

California DUI Fines/Costs: $390-$1,000 plus penalty assessments.

California License Suspension: 6 months suspension; restored after 30 days upon showing of hardship. 1 year suspension if under 21.

Ignition Interlock Device: Court may order use of interlock device. Effective July 1, 2010, California promulgated a pilot program requiring mandatory installation ignition interlock devices for those arrested for drunk driving in Los Angeles, Tulare, Alameda and Sacramento Counties. The ignition interlock device will be installed for 5 to 12 months. If the pilot program is successful, the program may be expanded to the rest of the state.

Vehicle Impound: Court may order impoundment.

California DUI School: Mandatory alcohol education if under 21. Possible first offender school for 3-6 months (12-45 hours of alcohol education), depending on BAC level.

California Probation: 3 years informal – no probation officer.

Community Service: In some courts, you may work off some of your fees/costs by doing community service.


Second California DUI Offense Plus:

California Criminal Status: Non-injury DUIs generally misdemeanors. DUIs that result in bodily injury may be elevated to felony status, depending on the circumstances.

Jail: 90-120 days mandatory jail time, but no more than 1 year.

California DUI Fines/Costs: $390 to $1,000.

California License Suspension: 2 year suspension.

Vehicle Impound: Yes. Multiple offender’s vehicle may be seized and disposed.

California DUI School: 18-30 months at a DUI school, depending on whether it’s a 2nd or 3rd violation. CA Dept. of Alcohol and Drug Programs has a list of approved schools.

California Probation: 3-5 years informal probation (no officer to report to), OR formal probation (if third offense or more).

Community Service: 10 days required as alternative to jail time.


Under the age of 21:

California’s underage DUI laws are some of the toughest in the nation. Under the “Zero Tolerance Law”, anyone under 21 years old with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.01% or greater will be charged with a California DUI. Underage drivers with a BAC of 0.05% or greater may also be charged with both an underage DUI and a regular DUI at the same time and will be subject to arrest for a California DUI .

For most people to reach a BAC of 0.01% means drinking: One 12-ounce beer, One 4-ounce glass of wine, or One 1.25-ounce of liquor, these will put a driver over 0.01% and usually closer to 0.05%. Drivers under 18 years of age that are convicted of DUI will lose their license for one year OR until their 18th birthday, whichever comes first.

Additionally, a judge may choose to confiscate the underage driver’s vehicle. In all cases, the driver will have to pay fines of several thousands of dollars, attend driving safety and alcohol/drug abuse classes, and will have to prove financial responsibility.

All underage DUI convictions will lead to the suspension of the driver’s license for one year:

Any subsequent refusals to submit to chemical testing within ten years will result in harsher punishment: • Second refusal results in the driver’s license being suspended for 2 years • Third and subsequent refusals result in the driver’s license being revoked and/or suspended for at least 3 years

Refusing to submit to chemical testing is often socially and legally treated the same as an underage DUI. Like other DUIs, underage DUIs are subject to two separate prosecutors?the DMV, which will suspend or revoke the driver’s license, and the criminal court, which will impose fines, jail time, and require the driver to take classes in safe driving and alcohol and drug abuse.

In some cases, if the offending driver has no previous convictions and is over 18 years of age, he or she may be able to attend one 12 hour safety and alcohol/drug abuse class. If those requirements are not met, the driver will have to participate in a more intense and expensive 3 month course.

How long does a DUI stay on your driving/criminal record?

In California, a DUI remains on your driving record for 10 years with respect to non-commercial drivers. Before January 1, 2007, it only remained on your record for 7 years. Now, even if you were convicted of a DUI before the 2007 legislative change, it will still be reported for 10 years. Conversely, a DUI will remain on your criminal record permanently unless you take affirmative steps to expunge your criminal record. Most people think that DUIs are traffic violations; not true. A DUI is a criminal conviction.


For information on the new DUI laws in California taking effect in 2012 click here: New California DUI laws



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