California DUI Laws: FAQ

Is drinking and driving a crime in California?

It is not a crime to drink and drive in California. However, you may not legally drive if your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) has exceeded the maximum percentage allowed under California law.

What constitutes driving under the influence (DUI) in California?

You may be convicted of DUI in California if you are operating a motor vehicle and have a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08% or more, or if you are operating a motor vehicle and have ingested drugs, either by prescription or otherwise, that impairs your ability to operate in the same manner as a sober person. However, the law is lower for commercial drivers who may not legally drive if their BAC exceeds 0.04. Finally, any driver under the age of 21 may not legally drive with a BAC exceeding 0.01.

What are the penalties for a DUI conviction in California?

Penalties for a 1st DUI conviction include:

  • Fines ($390-$1,000),
  • 4 days to 6 months in jail,
  • Payment of a "penalty assessment" equal to approximately three times the amount of your fine,
  • Four month drivers license suspension (1 year if you refuse chemical testing),
  • $125 license reissue fee,
  • Possible vehicle confiscation, and
  • DUI treatment program attendance (term length depends on BAC).

Penalties for a 2nd DUI conviction, within 10 years of the first, include:

  • All of the above penalties,
  • As well as 90 days to 1 year in jail and
  • A mandatory one year license suspension.

Penalties for a 3rd DUI conviction, within 10 years of the first, include:

  • All of the above penalties,
  • As well as an increased minimum mandatory jail sentence (120 days) and
  • A longer license suspension (2-4 years).

Other circumstances surrounding a DUI that may increase the extent of a driver’s penalties:

  • Driving under the influence with a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle,
  • If you were driving 20 miles or more over the speed limit,
  • If a passenger, bystander, or another driver was killed or injured,
  • If you had a previous DUI conviction in the past 10 years, and/or
  • If your BAC level was 0.15% or higher.

What are the penalties for a DUI conviction if another person is injured or killed during the incident?

Under California law, the DUI charges will be elevated to felonies, which carries harsher penalties. If a person is killed during the incident, you can be charged with the felony of vehicular manslaughter.

What if I am pulled over for drunk driving in California and refuse to take chemical or field sobriety tests?

California has an “implied consent” law, which means that if you are suspected of drunk and driving, and refuse to submit to testing, you could face penalties such as mandatory suspension of your driver’s license.

Will I have to attend counseling or rehabilitation if I am convicted of DUI in California?

If you are convicted of DUI in California, an alcohol education program must be completed if you wish to obtain a restricted driver’s license that would enable you to drive to work during your license suspension. Alcohol education and/or treatment programs are also a typical component of a DUI sentence in California.

How quickly will I lose my driver's license if I am arrested for DUI in California?

If you are arrested for DUI in California, the arresting officer will serve you with a suspension notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which also serves as a temporary driver’s license good for 30 days. You must contact the DMV in order to set up an administrative hearing regarding your driver’s license within ten days of your arrest. If you fail to do so, you will lose your license 30 days from the date of your arrest. Otherwise, a hearing will be held in order to determine whether your license should be suspended or revoked, based on the facts of your case.

Does the DMV hearing determine criminal penalties for my DUI charges?

No. The DMV hearing is a separate administrative proceeding whose outcome does not affect your criminal charges or proceedings in any way. Your criminal penalties for a DUI conviction will be determined by a judge, not the DMV.

How long will I lose my driver's license if I am convicted of DUI, and I already have at least three DUI convictions in California?

As of January 1, 2012 if you already have two or more DUI convictions in California, and you are again convicted of DUI within ten years, the judge has the option to revoke your license for up to ten years. This is an drastic increase to the previous law that gave the judge the discretion to either revoke a three time offender’s license for three years or suspend the offenders license for six months followed by a restricted license with a mandatory ignition interlock device.

What can happen under California law if I refuse to take a chemical or field sobriety test when I am suspected of DUI?

California is one of many states with implied consent laws, which means that when you are arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, you implicitly agree that you will undergo blood, urine, or breath tests to determine your level of intoxication. If you refuse to submit to the tests, and are arrested pursuant to the implied consent law, you can face an additional criminal charge, and may receive a harsher sentence, including a longer license suspension period.

Are there different penalties for minors who are convicted of DUI in California?

Yes. A minor is subject to a mandatory license suspension of six months if convicted of DUI in California. If a minor is suspected of DUI and refuses to take a chemical test, however, he or she is subject to the same license suspension periods as an adult.

Can law enforcement take my vehicle if I am arrested for or convicted of DUI in California?

Yes. Vehicle confiscation is a remedy under California law for a DUI conviction.

What is the penalty if I am caught driving while my license is suspended for DUI in California?

If you are convicted of driving while your license is suspended due to a DUI conviction, you face incarceration for a period ranging from 10 days to 6 months, and a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000.

How do I get my driver's license reinstated after a DUI conviction in California?

At the end of your license suspension period, you can get your driver’s license reinstated by paying a reissue fee at the DMV, and showing proof of financial responsibility, i.e. proof that you have vehicle insurance coverage.

What terms are used for drunk driving offenses in California?

A person arrested for drunk driving in California will be charged with Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”).

Where can I find a California Drunk Driving Attorney?

Check out LawInfo.com’s list of Lead Counsel Rated attorneys to find qualified legal representation.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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