A DUI, also known as driving under the influence, occurs when a driver is charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In most states, there is a limit to how much alcohol an individual can consume and legally operate a vehicle. These limits vary by state.

California DUI penalties can be harsh and increase with each offense. DUI offenses in California are “priorable” offenses, meaning that the punishment increases with each DUI conviction in a 10 year period.

A DUI first offense punishment can be harsh. Most DUI offenses are charged as a misdemeanor, but can be charged as a felony if the offense includes bodily injury and/or property damage.

The penalties for a first time DUI offense in California can include:

  • A fine of $390.00 to $1,000.00;
  • Up to 6 months in jail;
  • An alcohol and/or drug education program lasting 3 to 9 months;
  • 3 years summary probation; and/or
  • The installation of an ignition interlock device in a vehicle for a period of time.

There may also be penalties through the California Department of Motor Vehicles, including:

  • Driver’s license suspension of 6-10 months;
  • A restricted driver’s license; and/or
  • Acquiring additional automobile insurance for high-risk or DUI drivers, known as SR22 insurance.

What Are the California DUI Enhancement Penalties?

California DUI punishments may include DUI enhancement penalties. California enacted DUI enhancement penalties to standard DUI penalties in order to punish offenders if there are any aggravating circumstances that exist at the time of the DUI offense.

DUI offenses are extremely serious on their own. Aggravating circumstances create more danger and risk. This is why enhanced penalties are used to punish those who commit DUI offenses with aggravating circumstances.

The penalties for DUI offenses increase under the California enhancement laws if there are aggravating circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • A prior DUI conviction in the last 10 years;
  • A blood alcohol level of 0.15% or more at the time of the offense;
  • Refusing to submit to a chemical test;
  • Driving 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit at the time of the offense;
  • A child under the age of 14 being in the vehicle;
  • Causing property damage at the time of the offense; and/or
  • Causing bodily injury at the time of the offense.

For repeat offenders, an individual with a 2nd or 3rd DUI conviction in 10 years can face different penalties. A 2nd DUI conviction is a misdemeanor. If convicted, an individual can face fines between $390.00 and $1,000.00, between 96 hours and 1 year in jail, a license suspension of 2 years if their blood alcohol level is above .08%, and 3 years of informal probation.

A 3rd DUI in California is usually charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted of a 3rd DUI, an individual can face between $390.00 and $1,000.00 in fines, a jail sentence of 120 days to one year, driver’s license suspension of 3 years and 3-5 years informal probation.

If an individual has a blood alcohol level of .15% or greater at the time of the DUI, penalties can be enhanced. The fines, penalties, suspensions and probations can be enhanced if convicted.

If an individual has a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle at the time of a DUI offense, they may face additional penalties. This includes a mandatory 48 hours in jail on a 1st DUI offense conviction. A 2nd DUI conviction under this law includes an enhancement of 10 days in jail. A 3rd DUI conviction under this law includes an enhancement of 30 days in jail. An individual convicted of this type of crime can also face child endangerment charges.

If an individual refuses to take a breath or blood alcohol test after being arrested for a DUI, they may be subjected to “refusal enhancement” penalties. These include:

  • 1st DUI – an additional 48 hours in jail and 1 year license suspension;
  • 2nd DUI- an additional 96 hours in jail and a 2 year license suspension; and
  • 3rd DUI – an additional 10 days in jail and a 3 year license suspension.

If an individual causes property damage and/or bodily injury during the commission of the DUI offense, penalties can be enhanced from a misdemeanor to a felony. Enhancement can be increased if more than one person is injured as a result of the individual’s conduct. If property is damaged, the individual may face:

  • Longer jail sentences;
  • Larger fines;
  • Longer DUI courses;
  • Drug and/or alcohol treatment classes;
  • Participating in a victim impact panel program, including MADD, or Mother’s Against Drunk Driving; and/or
  • Being required to compensate the property owner for the damage caused.

If an individual causes bodily injury to another during the commission of a DUI, punishment may be more severe. The individual may be charged with “great bodily injury (GBI)” enhancement. This enhancement may add up to 3 years in prison in addition to penalties for the DUI to the sentence. In addition, the GBI enhancement makes the DUI offense a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.

What Other Factors are Considered for California DUI Punishments?

As noted above, penalties are different for a first time DUI offense in California and following convictions. The court will consider all facts and circumstances surrounding the DUI offense, including those noted in the above sections.

Are There any Defenses for DUI Charges in California?

DUI defenses are available for DUI charges in California and may vary based on the facts of the case. For example, in many cases, the physical appearance of the driver is used to indicate that they appeared to be under the influence. These include:

  • Red or watering eyes;
  • Slurring speech;
  • A flushed or red face;
  • The odor of alcoholic beverages; and/or
  • Being unsteady on their feet.

These indicators can be explained by things other than intoxication. Defenses to these physical indicators can include allergies, sickness, medications and/or eye irritations.

Other defenses to a DUI charge in California include:

  • An improperly conducted field sobriety test;
  • An improperly calibrate or faulty PAS breathalyzer;
  • The lack of a 15 minute observation period by the officer prior to a breath test;
  • During the time an individual was actually driving, their blood alcohol level was below the legal limit and rose after they ceased driving; and/or
  • An individual’s blood alcohol level was falsely inflated due to diabetes and/or hypoglycemia.

There is another category of defenses, known as affirmative defenses that may be used. These include:

  • Necessity – the driver must operate a vehicle to prevent a greater evil more serious than the DUI;
  • Duress – the driver was forced to operate the motor vehicle by force or threat or force while intoxicated;
  • Mistake of fact – the driver genuinely believed they were not intoxicated; and
  • Involuntary intoxication – the individual consumed alcohol and was not aware they had done so.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My DUI Charges in California?

California has harsh DUI penalties, whether it is your first DUI offense or you have multiple DUI offenses. An experienced California DUI lawyer can review your case and determine if you have any defenses available to you. A DUI can have serious and lasting consequences that can affect your ability to drive and even work.

A DUI lawyer can help you restore your license and may even be able to help you avoid DMV suspensions. It is even more important to have a DUI lawyer review your case if there are aggravating circumstances. A DUI lawyer can represent you through the duration of your case and assist you in getting the best possible outcome.