Drunk Driving: A Criminal Offense in California

A DUI (driving under the influence) offense in California comes with serious legal ramifications. If you’re charged with DUI in California, you’ll need to hire a good California DUI lawyer to defend you. A first DUI conviction can result in a hefty fine, probation, a suspended driver’s license, alcohol education programs, and, in certain cases, jail time.

Most times, a DUI offense in California is a misdemeanor crime, and a convicted offender will not face jail time in that scenario. However, a  DUI (driving under the influence criminal offense) could be tried as a felony. In other words, depending on the severity of the charge,  it could transform from a misdemeanor DUI into a felony charge, resulting in the prospect of a significant prison sentence if the defendant is convicted.

If you’re wondering, “is a DUI a criminal offense?”, this guide will educate you on the nature of DUI criminal offense in California and the measures to take. Let’s dig in!

file with the inscription "DUI LAW"

The Standard Penalties for a First DUI Conviction

The first three DUI offenses during a ten-year period in California are misdemeanors if the defendant has not caused harm or death. If there are no other factors, a driver convicted of a misdemeanor first-offense DUI arrest in California may face the following penalties:

1. Fines

A first DUI offense entails fines ranging from $390 to $1,000, as well as a series of “penalty assessments” that can significantly raise the amount owed. The amount might be in the thousands of dollars or higher.

2. Jail Sentence

A first DUI offense can result in a sentence ranging from 48 hours to six months in prison. There’s no necessary jail term if the court orders probation, which is the situation in the vast majority of instances. Judges are frequently lenient with first-time offenders and don’t impose jail time as part of the sentence.

3. License Suspension

A first DUI conviction usually results in a six-month suspension of your driver’s license. If the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or more, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will impose a four-month administrative suspension. Drivers who resist having their blood alcohol content measured will have their license suspended for a year.

However, when two license suspensions are imposed, they’re usually allowed to overlap. Due to that, the driver will not be required to serve two full license suspensions. In addition, first-time offenders can often apply for a limited license that allows them to drive to and from places like offices and schools.

4. Probation

First-time DUI offenders are usually placed on informal probation for three years. The defendant will be required to attend a three-month DUI school program, consisting of 30 hours of classes, as a condition of probation. The program is nine months long and requires 60 hours of class time for individuals with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20 percent or above.

car keys, a glass of whiskey and a judge’s hammer on the table

The Standard Penalties for a Second DUI Conviction

Drivers convicted of a misdemeanor second-offense DUI within ten years of a first conviction may face the following penalties if no aggravating circumstances exist:

1. Fines

A second DUI carries the same penalties as a first; a $390 to $1,000 in fines and penalty assessments.

2. Jail Sentence

Second-time offenders face a sentence of 96 hours to one year in prison. However, the jail terms can be served under house arrest or in jail-alternative labor programs in some cases.

3. License Suspension

For a second DUI, the criminal court will impose a two-year ban, and for offenses involving a BAC of.08 percent or higher, the administrative court will impose a 12-month penalty.

However, the two suspensions are usually allowed to overlap. In addition, the driver can apply for a restricted license. For at least 12 months, all second offenders are obliged to wear an Ignition Interlock Device.

4. Probation

Second-time DUI offenders usually face a three-year probationary period (though it can be up to five years). The offender must finish an 18- or 30-month DUI school as a condition of probation. However, the judge decides which class to appoint.

The Standard Penalties for a Third DUI Conviction Within Ten Years

A third DUI in California is usually considered a misdemeanor. The following are the implications of a conviction:

1. Fines

The fines for a third DUI are the same as for a first and second violation, ranging from $390 to $1,000 with penalty assessments.

2 Jail Sentence

A third DUI carries a sentence of 120 days to one year in prison (30 days if probation is granted and a 30-month DUI school is imposed).

3. License Suspension

A third DUI carries a three-year criminal court suspension and a 12-month administrative suspension for offenses with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. The two suspensions, however, are frequently allowed to overlap.

In addition, the driver can apply for a restricted license (for drug DUIs, the driver must first complete 12 months of the suspension). For at least two years, all third offenders are obliged to wear an Ignition Interlock Device.

4 Probation

Most third-time DUI offenders will be placed on informal probation for three to five years. The judge has the authority to require a 30-month DUI school as a condition of probation.

sad drunk man sitting in the car after police alcohol test with alcometer

When Is a DUI Considered a Felony?

In California, Felony DUIs can be charged if the defendant has four DUIs in the last ten years, had a prior felony DUI, was involved in a DUI that resulted in injury, refuse to take a breath test, or was involved in a DUI with a minor in the car.

Let’s have a look at  each of them in more detail below:

1. Fourth DUI in the Last Ten Years

If you’ve been convicted of three or more DUI convictions in the last 10 years, all further offenses in California will almost certainly be charged as felony DUI. Meanwhile, the ten-year period begins on the day of the offense.

2. DUI Involving Injuries

If the DUI accident results in a bodily harm to someone, you’ll likely face harsher penalties than if you were charged with regular DUI convictions. Injury DUIs are “wobblers,” meaning they might be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances.

Injury DUI criminal offenses can result in a prison term of 16 months to four years if charged as a felony. Fines for an injury DUI can range from $390 to $5,000, depending on the defendant’s past.

3. DUI That Results in Death

DUI offenders who cause the death of another person are usually charged with vehicular manslaughter or murder under state law. A defendant could face charges of negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or second-degree murder in this situation.

4. DUI With a Felony DUI Conviction in the Past

After a felony DUI conviction, any subsequent DUI violation, regardless of severity, will be charged as a felony. When there has been a prior felony conviction within the last ten years, even a basic DUI with no aggravating factors is charged as a felony. That’s as a result of the underlying DUI criminal record(s) of the offender.

5. Refusal to Take a Breath Test

In California, refusing to undergo a breath test might result in harsher fines compared to when you comply with the test. Refusal usually results in the immediate cancellation of your driver’s license, and the possibility of mandatory jail time. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that refusing to take a blood or alcohol test can no longer result in an additional sentence unless the police first obtain a warrant.

6. DUI Involving Child Endangerment

Drivers who endanger children face harsher penalties in California. Prosecutors have two options if a driver is caught for DUI with a minor in the motor vehicle. If the incident occurs, the first option is a sentencing enhancement, which adds to adds additional mandatory jail time to prior DUI convictions.

The second option is to find sensitive or confidential information regarding the offender’s criminal record and file a significant criminal offense on top of the pending DUI charges. Depending on the facts of the case, prior convictions, or the criminal records of the driver, child endangerment might be charged as a felony offense or a misdemeanor.

Finding the Right DUI Lawyer

Just like any other criminal charge, you can’t be convicted of a DUI offense unless the state proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The right DUI lawyer serving in California will fight for your acquittal. The truth is, results of the DUI test or the probable cause of the law enforcement officer can be challenged by your criminal defense attorney.

If an acquittal isn’t possible, your lawyer may be able to lower the charge or arrange for alternative sentencing, such as community service and/or electronic monitoring. In any case, a professional California DUI lawyer will help you get the best possible result for your case.

In case you’re looking for a qualified DUI defense attorney in California, we can help you with that. We are a law firm with a wide range of DUI attorneys working with us ensuring clients get positive results at the end of their case. You can also contact us for a free consultation regarding a DUI arrest.