Guide to California DUI Consequences, Penalties & Laws
California DUI penalties and consequences can vary widely based on many factors. California DUI laws define the range of penalties a judge may impose. Judges are given discretion to select from a range of California DUI consequences based on the facts in the case, severity of the offense committed and the defendant's number of prior DUI convictions.
Under California DUI laws, a conviction counts on your record as a prior conviction for 10 years. Once a DUI charge is more than 10 years old, it is not considered a prior conviction for any subsequent offenses.
Other DUI consequences
In addition to DMV and court penalties, DUI convictions create a variety of other costs and complications:
- DUIs can affect professional licenses, insurance and certifications.
- Auto insurance costs go up and trigger SR22 requirements.
- Job applicants are usually asked about prior convictions and background checks will show them unless the conviction has been expunged.
- DUI conviction can affect university admission decisions and qualifying for financial aid.
- Foreign nationals must explain DUI arrest details when asked by DHS when applying for visas, change of status, green cards or entering the US.
California DUI Penalties May be Avoided or Reduced
Most of the penalties outlined below can either be dramatically reduced or eliminated if the charges are dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. Even the DMV license suspension may be avoided if you act quickly and hire a 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.
Penalties for Different Types of DUI Convictions
First DUI Offense
A first DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor with the following consequences:
- Fines and fees: A first misdemeanor DUI carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a number of penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $3,600.
- Jail time: up to 6 months.
- License: Criminal courts can impose a 6 month suspension for a first DUI. The DMV also imposes a 4 month administrative suspension. 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.
- Vehicle. Possible installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
Second DUI Offense
A second DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor with the following consequences:
- Fines and fees: A second misdemeanor DUI carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a number of penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $4,000.
- Jail time: up to 1 year.
- License: Criminal courts impose a 2 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 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. Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
Third DUI Offense
A third DUI conviction in California is a misdemeanor with the following consequences:
- Fines and fees: A third misdemeanor DUI carries $390 to $1,000 in fines plus a substantial penalty assessments that can raise the total up to $18,000.
- Jail time: up to 1 year in jail 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.
- Vehicle. Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
DUI with Injury
DUI with bodily injury. When someone is injured in a DUI accident, defendants can face much more severe penalties than standard DUIs. A DUI with bodily injury is a California "wobbler" crime that can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony DUI with bodily injury is a serious crime that can result in 16 months to 4 yrs of jail time. Fines can vary from $390 to $5,000 depending on the facts and defendant's history.
DUI resulting in fatality. 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 PC189
The penalties for these offenses vary widely from 1 year in jail up to 15 years to life in state prison.
Defendants can be responsible for damages and restitution for DUIs involving injury or property damage.
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 BAC limit of 0.04% (not the 0.08% that applies to 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 consequences, it is key to hire a top DUI lawyer to fight the charges as soon as possible.
Non-US Citizen DUI
Non-US citizens face all the 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 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 certain "aggravating factors" that make them more serious can cause deportation, problems adjusting immigration status or problems re-entering the United States.
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
It is very important that all non-citizens facing DUI charges must be represented by a DUI and immigration lawyer who understands both immigration law and DUI defence 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
What if You Refuse the 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 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 challenge this suspension, but you are required to request the hearing within 10 days of your DUI arrest or forfeit the right. Our experienced DUI lawyers can increase your chances of successfully challenging the suspension.
What is SR-22?
SR-22 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 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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