In the state of California, driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) OF 0.08% or more could have you convicted with DUI. This could also apply to drivers under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Once you are arrested and convicted of DUI, you could face many penalties ranging from fees, license suspension, and more if you are lawfully arrested for DUI. Regardless of the DUI charges that you face, hiring an attorney is the best decision that you could make to reduce your charges or dismiss them. The Law Office of Fountain and Hattersley will help you with any legal questions and through the entire legal process that follows after your DUI charges.

First- time California DUI Misdemeanor Offense and Its Penalties

In California, a first DUI offense is a misdemeanor. Typically, you can be charged with two separate crimes once you are arrested for DUI. This includes charges under Vehicle Code 23152(a), which makes it unlawful for drivers to operate while under the influence of alcohol. The second charges include Vehicle Code 23152(b), which makes it a crime to drive with a BAC level of 0.08% or higher.

Please note, although these two offenses are usually charged separately, you can be convicted of both.

First- Time DUI for Under 21

Anyone below 21 years is charged under Vehicle Code 23136(California zero-tolerance law). Under this law, you can be charged for DUI if you are arrested with any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood. Violation of this law is not a crime but a civil offense. The only penalty for violating this law is the suspension of your driver's license by the California DMV.

If you do not have a license during your time of the violation, you will probably face a one-year delay in getting your driver's license after attaining the required age. During the arrest, the traffic officer will take away the license and issue a temporary permit for thirty days. At the end of these thirty days, your license suspension or revocation will go into effect unless you request a DMV hearing to contest the suspension or revocation within ten days after the citation.

Please note that you can only request a DMV hearing if your license was suspended or revoked for refusing to take a chemical test. 

Penalties for First-Time California DUI

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

  • 3 to 5 years of informal probation
  • Mandatory attendance in a DUI school for three to nine months
  • A maximum fine of $2,000
  • License suspension for six months with a possibility of reducing it to a restricted license or an IID restricted license
  • Work release in some California counties
  • A maximum of six months with an IID installed in your driver
  • Inability to travel to Canada unless you take relevant and necessary steps with the Canadian immigration authorities to drop this penalty

First Time DUI for Commercial Drivers

Commercial drivers are charged under California Vehicle Code 23152(d). Under this law, it is unlawful for a commercial driver to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. Charges under this law can still apply even when the commercial driver in question was arrested while driving a non-commercial vehicle but was under the influence of alcohol.

The penalties for a first time DUI with a commercial driver's license is a maximum of six months of jail time, a maximum fine of $1,000, mandatory alcohol education for a maximum of nine months, and license revocation for one year. 

Alternative Sentencing for First-Time DUI Charges

Sometimes, the judge might decide on alternative sentencing under discretion. These sentences vary from county to county and depending on the circumstances of the offense. The following is a detailed view of the alternative sentencing for first-time misdemeanor DUI charges in California.

  1. Community Service

One alternative for paying fines or serving a jail or prison term is participating in community service. This is a common alternative for most misdemeanor charges in California. The court usually designates the organization for your community service. Most of the time, the judge will appoint an organization that helps DUI victims, offers alcohol recovery programs, or other rehabilitation programs. Regardless of the organization attached to, the court usually provides instructions on the amount of time you should participate in the community service.

  1. Participation in Caltrans

The court can also sentence you to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to complete your service. For this to happen, offenders must bring the necessary paperwork and assignment to begin their service. The department will then provide relevant paperwork and assignments that will help you start your service.

  1. Electronic Monitoring or House Arrest

The court might recommend electronic monitoring as an alternative for your fines, jail, or prison sentence. An electronic tracking device monitors the movement of DUI offenders, especially those that are under house arrest. Anyone who's under house arrest is only permitted to go to particular locations that have been approved by the court, which usually includes work or school. The conditions of the house arrest might also entail curfew restrictions and random drug testing. A Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) device can also be utilized when it is believed that the DUI offender is an alcohol addict.

  1. Work Release Program and Work Furlough

The court might decide on a work-release program or work leave, depending on the specifics of your DUI case. A work release program involves physical labor at a designated program like roadside cleanup. The offenders usually participate in the program and can go home until they are required to participate. In a work furlough, offenders can continue working in their existing jobs during the day but are required to report to a dormitory-like facility at night.

  1. Substance Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation

If your DUI charges resulted from severe drug and alcohol problems, the judge might require you to attend an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation program. The length of these programs varies depending on the individual needs of the offender. 


  1. Residence in a Sober Living Environment

A sober living environment is where someone enters to eliminate dependency and addiction to a substance. It can also be suitable for DUI offenders struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol hence their DUI charges. Therefore, it is easy to find rehabilitative services, educational programs, and treatment for addiction in these places. These environments vary according to specific age groups such as male, female, young adults, and LGBTQ communities.

 Second California Misdemeanor Offense and Its Penalties

Whenever you are convicted for a second California DUI misdemeanor offense within ten years, you expect to face severe penalties than a first-time DUI offense. A second misdemeanor DUI offense attracts the following penalties:

  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • 3 to 5 years of summary probation
  • A maximum sentence of one year in county jail
  • Mandatory completion of a court-approved California DUI school for 18 months or 30 months
  • Mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for a year
  • License suspension for two years with the possibility of converting it to a restricted license after a year. You can also get an IID restricted license, which permits you to drive anywhere as long as it is installed in your vehicle

Once the court imposes a DUI sentence with probation, you will probably face the following conditions:

  • Avoid driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood
  • Submitting to a chemical test if arrested for a subsequent DUI
  • Avoid committing additional crimes

Other conditions might be imposed on you depending on the circumstances of your arrest. These conditions include:

  • Restitution of all injured parties if anyone was injured due to driving under the influence
  • Mandatory attendance in Narcotic Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholic Anonymous(AA) meetings
  • Mandatory participation in Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
  • Installation of an IID for a maximum of three years

Particular circumstances may increase your county jail or state prison sentence once you are convicted for a second-DUI misdemeanor offense. The most common of these include:

  • Causing an accident
  • Having a BAC of 0.15% or higher in some counties
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical test
  • Having a child below the age of 14 years in the car
  • Driving at an excessive speed

Third California Misdemeanor Offense and its Penalties

A successful conviction for a third California misdemeanor offense attracts more severe penalties than a first-time or second-time DUI. Typically, the penalties imposed by the court are as follows:

  • Three to five years of informal probation
  • A maximum of one year in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $3,000
  • Completion of a thirty-months court-approved DUI education program
  • Revocation of your driver's license for three years, which is convertible to a restricted license

Please note, a third DUI injury offense is an automatic California felony DUI.

California DUI with Injuries and its Penalties

In California, the crime of DUI causing injury is charged under California Vehicle Code 23153. Prosecutors may charge you under this section either as a misdemeanor or a felony. The consequences of California DUI with injury vary depending on the specific case's facts and whether the first and second DUIs were committed within ten years.

Penalties for Vehicle Code 23153

The penalties for violation of California Vehicle Code 23153 varies, depending on whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony DUI. A misdemeanor DUI with injury attracts the following penalties:

  • Summary or informal probation for three to five years
  • Five months to one year in a county jail
  • Three, nine, 18, or 30-months court-approved drug or alcohol education program
  • One to three years of suspension of your California driving privilege
  • Restitution of all injured parties

A felony DUI with injuries would attract the following penalties:

  • Two, three, or four years in the California State Prison
  • An additional and consecutive three to six years prison sentence if there are victims who suffered significant bodily injury
  • Inclusion of a 'strike' under California Three Strikes law if someone suffered significant bodily injury due to your DUI
  • A maximum fine of $5,000
  • Mandatory attendance to an 18 or 30-month court-approved DUI school
  • Inclusion of a Habitual Traffic offender (HTO) status for three years
  • Revocation of your California driver's license for five years

California Felony DUIs and Their Penalties

You can be charged for California felony DUI if you were involved in DUI that caused injuries or death, have a prior felony DUI, or have at least three prior DUI convictions.

California DUIs are priorable offenses. This means that every time you are convicted of another DUI or wet reckless, your county jail or State prison sentence increases. If you are arrested for drunk driving or have three or more prior DUI convictions within ten years, you will likely face a felony DUI charge under the California Vehicle Code 23152. These prior convictions include:

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a)
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b)
  • Vehicle Code 23153(DUI with injury)
  • California wet reckless (Vehicle Code 23103.5
  • Previously expunged conviction for any of the above-stated offenses

Penalties for California Felony DUIs

The penalties for California felony DUIs can be devastating. Since California DUI stems from multiple prior DUI convictions, the kind of penalties that result depends on the specific case's facts, the offender’s BAC level, aggravating factors, or whether the offender suffered due to those prior convictions.

Generally, the sentence for most California felony DUIs include:

  • Revocation of your driving privilege for four years
  • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

What you Should Know About DUI Trial and DMV Hearing

A drunk driving charge usually triggers two types of legal proceedings against the driver. This includes a criminal trial to determine whether the driver committed a crime and an optional California DMV admin per se hearing to determine whether the driver should keep his or her license.

Please note that DMV officers can only impose license suspension, and they cannot impose any other penalties. The DMV decision is also separate from criminal cases or possible criminal penalties. Let's learn in detail what these two types of hearing entail.

California DMV Hearing

Shortly after your DUI arrest, the arresting officer will confiscate your driver's license and issue a temporary one that will be valid until the suspension period is over. The arresting officer will send your confiscated driver's license to the California Department of Motor Vehicle. The DMV automatically suspends DUI arrestees' license after the temporary one has expired unless they request a DMV hearing within ten days after their arrest or seek an IID restricted license.

Please note that as of January 2019, DUI arrestees can continue driving without restriction as long as they have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in their vehicle. For a first-time DUI, the IID license only lasts for four months, while successive DUI attracts an IID license that lasts for one year.

Once you request the DMV hearing within the ten-day window, the DMV delays license suspension until the hearing is heard and its outcomes are made. You can conduct the DMV hearing in-person or over the phone.  

The California DMV hearing officer will ask whether your arresting officer reasonably believed that you were DUI, whether you were lawfully arrested, and whether your BAC was at 0.08% or higher at the time of your arrest.

Winning the DMV hearing will help you avoid suspending your license, although you can still get a separate suspension after a California DUI conviction in court. Losing the case means that the suspension will go into effect. Your license can be suspended for four months to three years, depending on your prior DUIs and whether or not you refused a chemical test.

Although DMV hearings are independent of DUI court cases, arrestees still have the right to seek a DUI attorney's representation. A DUI attorney will cross-examine the arresting officer and every detail of what happened to expose police blunders and weakness in the case.

DUI Trial Process in California

DUI trials can be triggered even when a DUI offender wins a DMV hearing. Additionally, the start with an investigation once a DUI suspect has been pulled over for traffic violation, due to something related to your vehicle, or you had an accident, and a law enforcement officer came to the scene.

Regardless of how your DUI investigations start, the DUI officer will write a report that details the objective signs of intoxication that you portrayed after stopping and speaking to you. The officer will then perform a variety of roadside field sobriety tests and take an on-the-spot breath test. 

Once you have been arrested, the DUI officer will take you to a jail, police station, or a hospital to take a breath or blood test to measure your BAC levels. If your BAC level is revealed to be at 0.08% or higher, you can be charged under Vehicle Code 23152(b). If the breath test results are lower than the officer's expectations, you will be suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs, which requires further blood and urine testing.

After the tests are completed, the DUI officer will book and release you depending on your criminal history and your case's facts. You can also be released on a written promise that you will appear in court at your assigned date or on bail. In most cases, the police hold DUI defendants in jail for several hours, after which they will release them. 

The arresting officer will then complete your DUI report and submit it to the prosecuting agency for review. Once the agency has reviewed the case, they might decline the charges or formally charge you with California DUI. This will prompt court arraignment as your first court process.

DUI Arraignment

The California court process begins with the arraignment and ends up with sentencing of acquitting for your charges. During the DUI arraignment, the prosecutor usually gives "an offer," a reduced sentence recommended by the prosecutor if you plead guilty to the proposed changes.

An arraignment provides you with an opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to your charges. Pleading guilty will sentence you to the offer provided except fulfilling your probation terms while your DUI case is closed.

Pleading not guilty provides an opportunity to your attorney to review the prosecutor's evidence, which includes maintenance records of the chemical testing equipment and the police report. This will lead to the pre-trial process, which is the longest process in the California DUI court process. 

California Pre-trial Process

Your defense attorney will meticulously investigate your case at the pre-trial phase and do everything possible to collect supporting evidence against your suit. The more evidence that your defense attorney, the higher are the chances of reducing or dismissing your charges. In most cases, the effective way to do this is by:

  • Running a pre-trial motion through a motion to suppress the hearing, pitchess hearing, and probable cause hearing
  • Running a plea bargain. This is an opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce your charges to lesser offenses like dry reckless, wet reckless, or dismiss your case

If your DUI defense attorney fails to find a satisfactory solution to your plea bargain or negotiation, your case may go to a trial. 

Legal Defenses for DUI

It is necessary to mention the legal defenses for DUI to understand how your California DUI attorney can help you in your case. Legal defenses are crucial in the pre-trial phase since the bulk of negotiation occurs, and they can be useful in dismissing or reducing your charges. Your DUI defense attorney can rely on the following legal defenses:

  • Breath test errors
  • Falsely high BAC reading triggered by the presence of mouth alcohol
  • Ketosis as a result of low carb diet or diabetes
  • Rising BAC levels
  • Errors in DUI blood test
  • Violation of California Title 17
  • Lack of a probable cause for a DUI stop
  • Innocent explanations for your physical signs of DUI
  • Failure to read Miranda rights during your arrest
  • Inaccurate field sobriety tests
  • DUI sobriety checkpoint failure to comply with the law
  • Lack of mental impairment
  • Prove That your BAC does not accurately reflect impairment
  • Claim that you were not driving
  • Police misconduct during the DUI case

Find a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

California has one of the harshest DUI laws in the United States. Failure to employ relevant legal knowledge and hire an attorney can have you charged with your crimes' highest possible sentence. Nevertheless, a DUI attorney would help you establish the best legal defenses and investigation flaws that would increase the possibility of dismissing or reducing your charges. At The Law Office of Fountain & Hattersley, we understand the burden of being arrested, charged with DUI crime, and serving a jail or prison sentence. That's why we tirelessly vindicate our clients, dismiss their charges, or minimize the potential penalties. For those charged in Pasadena, CA and its surrounding areas, contact us anytime at 626-793-4111 and find out how we can help you.