The Definitive Guide to California DUI Laws and Penalties [2019]


California DUI penalties, costs and punishments vary based on the number of prior DUI charges on your record and whether anyone was injured.

Most driving under the influence arrests are prosecuted as misdemeanor DUI, although prosecutors may file felony DUI charges if someone is injured, you have four or more prior DUI convictions or you have a prior felony DUI.

Under California DUI laws in 2018-2019, a conviction counts on your record as a prior conviction for 10 years from the offense date. Once a DWI or DUI charge is more than 10 years old, it is not considered a prior conviction for subsequent offenses.

California DUI penalties can be avoided or reduced

Most DUI consequences outlined below can either be reduced or eliminated if DUI charges are dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense.

DMV license suspensions can be fought if you act quickly to hire a Los Angeles DUI lawyer. A skilled DUI lawyer can request a DMV hearing to save your license and use a range of negotiation and defense strategies to achieve the best possible outcome to your case.

 
Chart Summarizing California DUI Penalties, Sentences & Costs
Type of DUI Jail Time Fine* License Suspension
First DUI up to 6 months $390-1,000 up to 6 months
Second DUI up to 1 year $390-1,000 up to 2 years
Third DUI up to 1 year $390-1,000 up to 3 years
4th+ DUI Felony up to 3 years $390-1,000 up to 4 years
Injury DUI up to 1 year $390-5,000 1-3 years
Felony Injury DUI up to 16 years $1,015-5,000 up to 5 years

* How much does a DUI cost? California DUI fines range from $390 to $5,000 plus penalty assessments & fees that can raise the total cost to $18,000, depending on your DUI charge. DUI with injury or property damage may also require you to pay injured parties.

Other consequences of California DUIs

DUI convictions have other consequences beyond court penalties:

  1. California DUIs can affect professional licenses, insurance and certifications.

  2. Mandatory ignition interlock device installation is required.

  3. Auto insurance costs go up and trigger SR22 requirements.

  4. Job applicants are usually asked about prior convictions and background checks will show them unless the conviction has been expunged.

  5. DUI California convictions can affect university admission decisions and qualifying for financial aid.

  6. You usually must sign a Watson Advisement that will be used against you on any future DUI accident.

  7. Non-US citizens must explain DUI arrest details when asked by DHS when applying for visas, change of status, green cards or entering the US.

To learn more, consult an Orange County DUI attorney for a Free review of your case.


Penalties for different types of DUI convictions

 
 

[Click on your type of DUI]


 
 

First DUI in California

A California DUI first offense is a misdemeanor with the following first DUI penalties:

  • Fine for first DUI: A first misdemeanor DUI California carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a number of penalty assessments and fees that can raise the total up to $3,600.

  • First DUI jail time: up to 6 months.

  • License: Criminal courts can impose a 6 month suspension for a first time DUI in California. The DMV also imposes a 4 month administrative suspension as a penalty for first DUI. If the driver refused BAC testing, the DMV suspension is increased to 1 year. If there are multiple suspensions, they are usually allowed to overlap so that drivers only face whatever the longest suspension is. After an initial 30 day suspension period, drivers may qualify for a restricted license allowing driving to and from work or school.

  • Probation: 3 years of DUI probation (although it can be up to 5 years). Defendants usually must complete a 3 month DUI school as a condition of probation, consisting of 30 hrs of classes. If the defendant has a BAC of 0.20% or higher, the DUI school requirement is 9 months in duration and 60 hrs of classes for 1st DUI California.

  • Vehicle: Installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 6 months.


 
 
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Second DUI California

For a misdemeanor 2nd DUI California consequences and penalties are as follows:

  • Fines and fees: A 2nd DUI in California carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a number of penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $4,000.

  • Second DUI jail time: up to 1 year.

  • License: Criminal courts impose a 2 year suspension for 2nd offense DUI in California. The DMV imposes a 1 year administrative suspension for a DUI or DWI exceeding the legal BAC limit of 0.08% or higher. If there are multiple suspensions, they are usually allowed to overlap so that drivers only face whatever the longest suspension is. After an initial 90 day hard suspension period, drivers may qualify for a restricted license allowing driving to and from work or school. If the DUI involved drugged driving, the 90 days is extended to 1 year.

  • Probation: 3 years of DUI probation (although it can be up to 5 years). Defendants must complete an 18 or 30 month DUI school as a condition of probation.

  • Vehicle: Second DUI consequences include mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 1 year.

To learn how to get your case dismissed or minimize DUI penalties, call our DUI defense lawyer for a Free consultation.

 
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3rd DUI California

A third DUI California conviction is a misdemeanor with the following consequences and penalties:

  • Fines and fees: A third misdemeanor DUI carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus substantial penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $18,000.

  • 3rd DUI jail time: up to 1 year in jail punishment or 16 months in state prison.

  • License: Criminal courts impose a 3 year suspension and the DMV imposes a 1 year administrative suspension for DUIs involving a BAC of 0.08% or higher. If there are multiple suspensions, they are usually allowed to overlap so that drivers only face whatever the longest suspension is. After an initial 6 month hard suspension period, drivers may qualify for a restricted license allowing driving to and from work or school.

  • Probation: 3 to 5 years of DUI probation. Defendants must complete a 30 month DUI school as a condition of probation for 3 DUI in California.

  • Vehicle: 3rd DUI consequences include mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 2 years.

 

 
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4th DUI California

Fourth and subsequent DUIs within a ten year period* are usually charged as a Felony with the following penalties:

  • Fines and fees: Fines can vary from $390 to $5,000 depending plus substantial penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $18,000.

  • 4th DUI jail time: 4th DUI California jail time can range from 16 months to 3 years in state prison.

  • License: License suspension up to 4 years with a possible permanent license suspension.

  • Probation: 3 to 5 years of DUI probation. Defendants must complete a 30 month DUI school as a condition of probation for 4 DUI in California.

  • Vehicle: mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 3 years (if you are able to qualify for a restricted license to drive).

  • Record: Convicted felon status.

*The ten year look back period to determine if you have three prior convictions is based on the date of DUI offenses, not the court conviction dates.

Convictions that count as “priorable offenses” include:

  • Driving under the influence 23152a VC

  • Driving with excessive BAC 23152b VC

  • DUI with injury 23153 VC

  • “Wet reckless” 23103.5 VC

  • Expunged convictions for any of the above

 

 
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DUI felony California: Bodily injury

When someone is injured in a DUI accident, defendants can face much more severe DUI punishment than standard DUIs. A DUI causing injury is a California "wobbler" crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts and prior record.

Bodily injury felony DUI convictions carry the following penalties:

  • Fines and fees: Fines can vary from $390 to $5,000 depending on the facts and defendant's history plus substantial penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $18,000.

  • Restitution: Defendants are liable for restitution to injured parties.

  • Felony DUI jail time: Felony DUI California jail time can range from 16 months to 3 years in state prison.

  • License: License suspension up to 4 years with a possible permanent license suspension.

  • Probation: 3 to 5 years of DUI probation. Defendants must complete a 30 month DUI school as a condition of probation for 4 DUI in California.

  • Vehicle: Felony DUI consequences include mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 3 years (if you are able to qualify for a restricted license to drive).

  • Record: Convicted felon status.

DUI Resulting in Fatality and Watson Murder

A DUI causing death subjects the defendant to prosecution for vehicular manslaughter or murder charges such as:

  • Negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated PC191.5b

  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated PC191.5a

  • Second degree murder PC187 “Watson Murder”

  • Second degree murder PC189

Prosecutors can charge drivers that have a prior DUI conviction with PC187 - 2nd degree “Watson murder” charges. Watson murder takes it’s name from the 1981 California Supreme Court case People v. Watson where the court ruled that DUI driver Robert Lee Watson could be charged with second degree murder since he acted wantonly with a conscious disregard for human life.

Watson Advisement

If you are convicted of DUI, in most cases you will be required to sign a “Watson Advisement.” This formal statement requires that you state you understand driving under the influence can injure or kill people. It’s purpose is to provide a legal record prosecutors can use against you if you are involved in a future DUI accident.

By signing this form, it helps prosecutors prove willful malice in future DUIs. Willful malice legally means you may be charged with second degree murder if you are involved in a future DUI accident that results in a fatality.

The penalties for DUI with fatality vary widely from 1 year in jail up to 25 years to life in state prison.

 
 
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Commercial DUI

Commercial driver's license (CDL) holders are held to a higher standard than regular drivers at all times, even when they are NOT driving a commercial vehicle.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations for commercial drivers establish a legal BAC limit of 0.04% (not the 0.08% limit for other drivers). CDL holders need to be very careful as it is easy blow 0.04% even when you feel completely sober.

FMCSA regulations state that if a blood alcohol test is denied, it is equivalent to pleading guilty to DUI and your driver's license will be suspended or revoked.

All the consequences outlined above apply to commercial drivers, but with these enhanced penalties:

  • First DUI: Your commercial driver's license will be suspended for 1 full year.

  • Second DUI: Your CDL will be permanently revoked for life.

  • There are no restricted driving privileges available for CDL allowing driving for work. This means you will lose your ability to work as a commercial driver.

  • Employer must be informed within 30 days of a DUI arrest.

Depending on the nature of the violation, commercial drivers can face possible jail terms of:

  • 3 years or more if the offense occurs while you are operating a commercial vehicle with hazardous materials.

  • Life, for subsequent offenses.

  • Life, if you use a commercial driver's license to commit a felony involving controlled substances.

Given the harsh DUI punishment California enforces, it is key to hire a top Newport Beach DUI lawyer to fight the charges as soon as possible.

 

 
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Foreign citizen DUI

Non-US citizens face all the California DWI penalties outlined above with the added complications of immigration related consequences.

Recent rule changes are causing serious DUI immigration consequences for foreign nationals charged with a DUI or related offense if not handled properly.

Foreign nationals charged with DUI should be represented by a law firm that has both immigration and DUI expertise to carefully navigate the following additional consequences:

1) Visas can be revoked

US Department of State consular officers can automatically revoke the visas of individuals arrested for DUI. This typically occurs quite quickly before you have even had a chance to defend yourself. A guilty judgement is NOT required.

The DOS has issued guidance on this policy to clarify how it is to be implemented. Law enforcement agencies share bench warrant and arrest records quite rapidly and visa holders are often surprised by the quick receipt of a visa revocation notice even before their case has been heard.

DOS "prudential visa revocations" affect nonimmigrant visa holders and their dependents such as:

  • International F1 visa students

  • Exchange visitors and scholars on the J1 visa

  • H1B highly skilled workers and others

A revoked visa prevents reentering the United States. Once a foreign national’s visa is revoked, they cannot use the visa to enter the US without first reappearing before a US consular officer and re-establishing their visa eligibility. If a foreign national attempts to enter the US with a revoked visa, they will be flagged prior to boarding a flight, or denied entry into the US upon landing.

2) Undocumented (illegal) immigrants can face deportation from DUI arrest

Undocumented immigrants arrested for DUI can face immigration proceedings and deportation. It does not matter whether you are found guilty of DUI or not. One key is whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) become aware of your arrest and issue an immigration hold. ICE can become aware of your arrest by:

  • Law enforcement information sharing under the DHS Secure Communities Program that causes rapid fingerprint and record sharing between law enforcement agencies and ICE.

  • When the police arresting you become aware you are not a legal immigrant and they inform ICE while you are in custody.

ICE tends to focus their limited resources on pursuing those with a criminal record. It is important to fight DUI charges and keep your record free of criminal convictions if possible to minimize the odds of a getting caught up in a removal proceeding.

Hiring a DUI lawyer with immigration expertise can be critical to navigating this complicated area of US law.

3) Deportation for DUIs with aggravating factors

DUI convictions have historically not been grounds for deportation of permanent residents ("green card" holders) and other legal aliens. In the 2004 US Supreme Court Leocal v. Ashcroft case, the court determined that a DUI is not a “crime of violence” and, therefore not an aggravated felony. Aggravated felonies are one class of convictions that can be grounds for deportation.

However, DUI convictions with "aggravating factors" can cause deportation, problems adjusting immigration status or problems re-entering the US.

Some examples of aggravating factors include:

  • DUI when driving with a suspended license

  • Driving under the influence of drugs such as those on the DEA list of controlled substances

  • DUI involving child endangerment charges such as being convicted of DUI with a child in the car

  • Multiple DUIs or a DUI topping the list of convictions for other crimes

Foreign citizens facing DUI charges must be represented by a DUI and immigration lawyer who understands both immigration and DUI defense law. 

Every non-citizen case is unique and requires defense strategies that carefully consider and avoid the potential consequences of a DUI conviction on immigration status.


Frequently asked questions

California DUI laws: What is DUI in California?

DUI or “driving under the influence” is the illegal act of driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

The most common DUI convictions under California drunk driving laws are for driving with a blood alcohol level (BAC) that exceeds the California legal BAC limit.

California DUI laws include 7 misdemeanor DUI offenses you may be charged with in California vehicle code 23152 VC:

  • 23152(a) VC: Driving under the influence of alcohol such that your mental or physical abilities are impaired and you cannot drive as well as a sober person. This subjective standard does not require proving your BAC level.

  • 23152(b) VC: driving with a BAC of .08% or higher. This “per se” definition does not require proving the driver was “under the influence”, but merely that the BAC measured .08% or higher.

  • 23152(c) VC: driving a vehicle if you are addicted to any drug.

  • 23152(d) VC: driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC at or above .04%.

  • 23152(e) VC: driving with a passenger in a passenger for hire vehicle such as a taxi or Uber with a BAC at or above .04%.

  • 23152(f) VC: driving under the influence of any drugs.

  • 23152(g) VC: driving under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs.

Most people arrested for DUI in California are charged with both 23152(a) and 23152(b), which gives prosecutors options on how to prosecute the case.

DUI Causing Injury Charges

If there is an injury caused by a DUI offense, the driver may be charged with DUI causing injury California vehicle code 23153 VC. DUI injury charges are serious “wobbler” offenses that may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor.

California Scooter Laws Define the DUI Scooter Offense

Separate laws apply in California for scooter and bicycle riding. Unlike in autos, there is no “per se” .08% BAC limit for intoxicated scootering or bicycle riding nor any required chemical blood test. Law enforcement officers instead must rely on observations of driver impairment such as slurred speech, poor driving or field sobriety test performance.

California bike laws also prohibit operating a pedal bicycle on public roads while intoxicated. The following California vehicle code statutes apply when operating scooters and bicycles:

  • 21221.5 VC: operating a motorized scooter under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

  • 21200.5 VC: operating a pedal bike under the influence. “Cycling under the influence” or “CUI”.

 

California Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in 2018-2019:

  • .01% or higher: Under 21 years old or you are on DUI probation.

  • .04% or higher: If you hold a commercial driver’s license.

  • .04% or higher: If you are driving a passenger for hire vehicle (Uber, Lyft & taxi drivers).

  • .08% or higher: 21 years old or older driving a standard passenger vehicle.

Drug or Marijuana DUI California

You can also be convicted of DUI if Police prove you are impaired, or under the influence of a substance, drug or medicine that affects your driving such as:

  • Prescription drugs such as painkillers

  • Marijuana, i.e. “DUI Marijuana”

  • Over the counter drugs that impair such as cold medicines

  • Illegal drugs

What are DWI, OUI, OWI and DWAI?

DWI or “driving while intoxicated/impaired” is also the illegal act of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Some states classify DWI as a separate, more serious crime than DUI that involves a higher degree of impairment or BAC level.

While DUI is the most common term, DUI laws vary by state and there are several alternative terms used for drinking and driving that can have different meaning depending on the state:

  • DWI: driving while intoxicated or impaired

  • OUI: operating under the influence

  • OWI: operating while intoxicated

  • DWAI: driving while ability impaired

California is a zero tolerance state for drunk driving. California DUI statutes do not not distinguish between DUI and alternatives.

 

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What are DUI laws in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles DUI laws impose penalties based on the number of prior DUIs on your record and whether anyone was injured, as do all counties in California.

First DUI in Los Angeles Penalties:

  • $390 to $1,000 in fines plus penalty assessments and fees that can raise the total up to $3,600.

  • Up to 6 month jail sentence.

  • Up to 6 month license suspension.

  • 3 years of DUI probation and 3 month AB541 DUI school

  • Installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for 6 months.

In general, Los Angeles DUI laws and Orange County DUI laws are the same as all other California counties. One exception (until January 2019) was the Ignition Interlock Device requirement discussed below.

New California DUI laws 2019

California Senate Bill SB 1046 is the major change to California DUI laws in 2019. The new laws effective January 1, 2019 require those convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in order to be eligible for a restricted driver’s license.

The length of time an IID will be required varies based on the number of convictions:

  • First DUI offense: 6 month IID

  • Second offense: 1 year IID

  • Third DUI offense: 2 year IID

  • Fourth DUI offense: 3 year IID

Marijuana or drug DUI convictions will generally not be eligible to receive an IID restricted driver’s license.

The 2019 DUI laws allow most DUI first offenders to install an IID and get their driving privileges back quickly without a mandatory driver’s license suspension period.

While there is cost and hassle involved, installing an IID allows drivers to get to work and anywhere they want as long as the device is installed. The best way to avoid having to install an IID device is to use a skilled DUI lawyer to fight the charges.

What is an ignition interlock device?

An Ignition Interlock Device (IID) is a breathalyzer-type blood alcohol testing device wired into a vehicle’s ignition system. The IID requires a breath sample from the driver in order to start the engine.

If the IID detects alcohol on the driver’s breath, the engine will not start. The device also requires periodic breath samples while driving to ensure continued absence of alcohol. If a breath sample fails to pass or the device is tampered with, it will record it on the device. When an IID records tampering, bypassing or attempts to remove the device, the driver’s restricted license is subject to suspension.

Drivers are responsible for the cost of installing and maintaining IID devices. Once installed, the IID must be calibrated and inspected at intervals not to exceed 60 days. Some financial assistance may be available for drivers who cannot afford an IID’s cost.

IID Requirement Expanded State Wide January 1, 2019

From July 1, 2010 through 2018, California ran a pilot program testing the mandatory use of IID devices with certain DUI convictions in the following four counties:

Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare Counties.

Due to the effectiveness of the pilot, the California Senate approved SB 1046 that rolled out mandatory IID installation throughout all California counties for certain DUI convictions starting January 1, 2019.

Washington, DC and 32 states require or highly incentivize the use of an IID for all those convicted of DUI.

DUI penalties in Orange County

DUI in Orange County CA penalties vary depending on whether there was an accident with injury, the driver’s BAC and prior record. The county has a record of being very tough on drunk driving. Orange County DUI arrests end with a conviction 91% of the time – the 2nd highest conviction rate in the entire state of California.

First Time DUI Penalties in Orange County:

  • Fines: $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments and fees that can raise the total to $3,600.

  • Driver’s license suspension: up to 6 months.

  • Jail: 2 day to 6 month jail sentence.

  • Probation: 3 years of DUI probation

  • DUI classes: 3, 6 or 9 months of AB541 DUI school.

  • Ignition interlock device: Required for 6 months.

 

What if you refuse breathalyzer and blood tests?

Under California VC 23612, a person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to breathalyzer or other chemical testing of his or her blood or breath to determine blood alcohol content if lawfully arrested for DUI.

If you refuse BAC testing, the minimum suspension is increased to 1 year for the 1st DUI offense. You will also not be eligible to receive a restricted license or driving privileges for work.

The DMV gives you the right to challenge this suspension, but you are required to request an Admin Per Se hearing within 10 days of your DUI arrest or forfeit the right. Our experienced Santa Monica DUI lawyer can increase your chances of successfully challenging the suspension.

What is SR-22?

SR-22 insurance filings refer to the paperwork your insurance carrier files with the state verifying that you have minimum liability insurance coverage. If the DMV requires that you comply with SR-22 requirements, your insurance company will file proof that you have insurance and will notify the California DMV office if your policy lapses for any reason.

The DMV requires SR-22 to prove you have at least the minimum insurance coverage in order to reinstate your license after a suspension. SR-22 is also required in order for the DMV to issue a restricted license during your period of suspension. You will be required to show proof of a non-owners policy if you don't own a vehicle. SR-22 filings are typically required for 3 years, although stricter terms can be required under certain circumstances.

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Disclaimer

This information does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for individual case consultation and research. No representations are made as to the accuracy of this information and appropriate legal counsel should be consulted before taking any actions.  Contact us for a Free consultation regarding your case to see if Chudnovsky Law is the best DUI defense attorney for you.


About the Authors

Written by Tsion Chudnovsky, JD, Robert Weinberg, JD and Sherry Cross, JD.

Our award-winning DUI defense attorneys wrote this guide to share their expertise and knowledge from handling 1000’s of DUI cases and court trials. You can read more about Chudnovsky Law’s team of highly experienced former prosecutor and public defense attorneys here.

Last updated 11.9.19