What Are the Penalties for DUI in California?

What Are the Penalties for DUI in California?

What Are the Penalties for DUI in California?

If you get caught driving while under the influence of alcohol in California, a prosecutor will likely subsequently charge you with a DUI. Getting a driving under the influence charge can frustrate and scare you, but you do not need to fear it. A lawyer will tell you the penalties for DUI in California and fight the consequences.

Knowing your potential defenses can help when fighting a DUI charge. Before we go over penalties, we will provide more information about what you can do to avoid a DUI conviction. A DUI defense lawyer can minimize your sentence if you cannot avoid conviction.

What Is a DUI?

Every state bans people from driving their vehicles after drinking too much.

Usually, the legal limit for a driving under the influence (DUI) charge is a BAC of 0.08 percent, though this varies from state to state.

If the police catch you driving beyond your state's legal limit, do not panic. In the best-case scenario, a lawyer can convince the court to drop the charges or argue for reduced sentences or penalties.

Hire a lawyer to represent you in your case. A skilled lawyer can help you fight these charges and get the best outcome possible.

Beating a DUI Case

Here are several defenses commonly used to minimize DUI charges and have the potential to beat a DUI case.

Breathalyzer Inaccuracy and Errors

The most frequently used form of DUI test is the Breathalyzer BAC test. This test uses a device that people breathe into. Once the device gathers enough breath, it provides their blood alcohol concentration. The test measures breath alcohol and then multiplies that amount by a ratio that estimates blood alcohol level. Usually, the device assumes a 1:2,100 ratio in blood alcohol to breath alcohol.

The actual ratio is closer to a range of 1:1,300 to 1:3,000. That's a significant variation. Thus, a judge can deem Breathalyzer tests inaccurate, but to get this outcome, you must use it as a defense.

Some factors that influence actual blood alcohol ratios are weight, gender, the pattern of breath, current body temperature, and the ratio of white blood cells to red blood cells. Understanding this, you can see how you can argue that a blood alcohol test was inaccurate.

False positives

Sometimes Breathalyzer tests provide false positive results. Sometimes they amount to user error or device-related faults.

Here are some examples of the causes of false positives with Breathalyzer tests:

  • The margin of error caused by inaccurate ratios programmed into the device
  • Poorly maintained devices
  • Improper calibration of devices
  • Misuse by the officer administering the test
  • Physical characteristics that impact the accuracy of a test

Many experts have stated that Breathalyzer devices typically have a margin of error ranging from 0.005 percent to 0.02 percent. The margin of error depends on the specific device and how well the operator has maintained and calibrated it. How the police officer administers the test can also influence the results. Your lawyer can use this defense to argue that you were below the legal limit when the device reported otherwise.

Making such an argument, though, requires skilled legal representation. If you do so alone, you may not convince the judge that these trusted devices provided inaccurate reports. Similarly, you must argue this defense in front of other lawyers, who will undoubtedly pick it apart.

Lack of Probable Cause

Police officers need probable cause to pull over any driver. They are not allowed to pull you over just because they feel like it. Probable cause relies on reasonable suspicion that you broke the law. They had no reason to pull you over if they had no reason to suspect you.

For example, if you just left a bar but drove reasonably and safely, you may argue that police pulled you over simply because you left the bar. A legal stop requires you to break the law or exhibit NHTSA driving impairment patterns.

Suppose your lawyer can prove that the arresting officer had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop you. In that case, there is an opportunity to seal evidence that the police obtained during the stop. Proving a lack of probable cause can lead to the court throwing out your Breathalyzer or other failed field sobriety. This dramatically increases your chances of the court dismissing a DUI charge.

Though, the court and arresting officer may assume that they had probable cause just because of the outcomes of the stop. Arguing that they did not is complicated. Therefore, it is a task that someone with significant knowledge of DUI-related laws should ideally handle. Hire a DUI defense lawyer today to find out how you can illuminate an officer's lack of probable cause and potentially have your case dismissed.

Incorrect Blood Tests

After being arrested for driving under the influence, the police may have subjected you to a blood test to measure your blood alcohol content. These tests are routinely inaccurate. Therefore, you can question the results in your DUI defense.

Consider this: Police stations may leave blood samples sitting for days before they run tests on them. Because blood is an organic material, it decomposes over time. This results in bacterial and enzymatic reactions. These reactions can produce alcohol in the sitting blood. Interestingly, a blood sample with no alcohol can develop a blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.25 percent if left sitting long enough.

Unfortunately, courts still assume that blood tests administered by law enforcement are accurate. This means you must prove that they were not. To achieve this, you can file a motion for a blood split. If the court accepts the motion, the blood sample must undergo another test, and you also get to learn how the lab stored it and other samples.

Whenever your lawyer discovers an error, your chances of having your case dismissed increase dramatically. That's why you need a lawyer to help you develop your case. You can avoid penalties if they can prove that your blood test was inaccurate!

Penalties for a DUI Conviction?

What happens after your DUI conviction depends on the severity of your case and the charges you face. In California, courts can order minimum and maximum sentences depending on whether it is your first offense or you are a repeat offender. Generally, the DMV or court will always suspend your license, but that’s not all. Fines and jail time are also on the table for DUI offenders.

License Suspension

A DUI conviction in California will automatically suspend the guilty party's driver's license. The duration of a license suspension depends on how many DUI convictions you have.

Here are the timelines for each category:

  • First DUI - Six-month driver’s license suspension
  • Second DUI - Two-year driver’s license suspension
  • Third DUI - Three-year driver’s license suspension

Restricted Driver’s Licenses and Ignition Interlock Devices

Some DUI convicts are eligible to receive a restricted license rather than a traditional driver's license. With a restricted license, you may drive to work and school. Though, this license also requires you to use an ignition interlock device. These devices test whether you consumed alcohol before driving. If the device shows you have, the vehicle will not start. This limits your ability to drive while drunk.

If you are on your first DUI conviction, you can choose between a 12-month restricted license or six months of using an ignition interlock device after you get your license back. Second-time offenders must use an interlock device for 12 months, while third-time offenders must use them for 24 months. Whether you get to use an interlock device with a restricted license or must wait for reinstatement depends on your sentence. If you want a restricted license rather than full suspension, we suggest you hire a DUI defense lawyer to represent you.

Jail Time

Nobody wants to go to jail. Yet, jail time is possible when a court convicts you of drunk driving. In California, the amount of jail time you face depends on how many drunk driving convictions you have and the judge's discretion.

Here is what you can expect for each level of offense in California:

  • First DUI - Zero day minimum, six months maximum jail time
  • Second DUI - Four-day minimum, one year maximum jail time
  • Third DUI - 120-day minimum, one year maximum jail time

These convictions remain on your record for a minimum of ten years.


The court usually expects DUI convicts to pay a fine. These fines vary depending on your number of DUI convictions.

Here are the details for each level of conviction:

  • First DUI - $390 to $1,000
  • Second DUI - $390 to $1,000
  • Third DUI - $1,800 maximum

Protect Yourself From DUI Penalties

You don't deserve to face the worst possible consequences if you drove drunk. You have the right to fight these charges, so express that right immediately by hiring a lawyer from the Chudnovsky Law firm. With an attorney on your side, you lessen the chances that you will get the most devastating sentence. A lawyer may convince the court to dismiss your case.

Just find a lawyer you can rely on and trust them with the details of your case. DUI convictions are significant events and can affect the course of your entire life. The stakes are too high not to get the help of an attorney. If you face a DUI charge, you probably feel stressed. Knowing that a qualified lawyer is on your side can reduce your anxiety.

For more information about fighting your DUI case, get your case evaluated by submitting the contact form on this page. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner you can begin the defense process against the charges you face in California.

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