Discover Top 5 California DUI Penalties

California DUI Penalties

Discover Top 5 California DUI Penalties

Table of Contents

Below we explore the top 5 California DUI penalties and explain the typical factors that impact the severity of these California DUI penalties for those facing a DUI charge.

I. Jail Time

If you are able to beat your DUI case or have it reduced, you will avoid jail time. However, if you plead guilty or if you are convicted at trial, the amount of time you go to jail will depend on the specific DUI code sections for which you have been

convicted. The law in California states that some DUI charges carry mandatory jail terms while others are discretionary. For mandatory jail terms charges, the Judge must impose at least the minimum sentence required by the law. For discretionary jail terms it is up to the Judge whether to give jail time as part of the sentence.

An experienced DUI lawyer can help increase the chance that you will receive alternative sentencing such as rehab programs, DUI court, work release, home confinement, community service and Caltrans. The biggest factors that will contribute to increased sentencing in a DUI case are:

  • A) Injuries

If your DUI case involved an accident and injury or death to a victim, your penalties will be substantially increased. Even a first time DUI could carry a lengthy prison term in this scenario. That being said, your case may also have good opportunities for the defense that could allow us to get your case reduced or dismissed. So, while the stakes are higher in cases with injuries or death, there is never a guarantee that you will be sentenced to jail.

  • B) Prior convictions

If you have been convicted of DUI previously, especially if within the last 10 years, your prior convictions will be used to enhance your sentence.

  • C) High BAC

The legal limit for most DUI cases in California is .08. The higher your reading is above the .08 cutoff, the more severe your penalties are likely to be. Prosecutors will often request jail time, higher fines, longer DUI classes, or longer periods of probation based on this factor.

  • D) Other aggravating factors

The potential list of aggravating factors is endless but the most common factors that lead to increased likelihood of jail time in California are having a child in the car under the age of 14, refusing to submit to a chemical test, speeding while DUI, and driving under the influence of drugs or the combined effect of drugs and alcohol at the same time.

II. Driver’s License Suspension

While all DUI cases involve the potential for license suspension, the actual length of suspension will vary greatly from case to case. Factors considered are whether it’s a first conviction or a multiple offender, whether or not injuries are involved, whether or not you refused a chemical test, your age, your license status prior to the DUI, and your driving record. California law was recently amended to allow many drivers to reclaim a license much faster than they could in the past after a DUI case.

These new laws allow many drivers to continue driving even after a DUI conviction by installing a breathalyzer device known as an IID or Ignition Interlock Device in your car. The key to minimizing the licensing penalties in a DUI case is having a lawyer who understands the complex set of rules imposed by the court and DMV in DUI scenarios. After a DUI case, it is common for the driver to receive 5 or 6 different letters from the California DMV with varying penalties and start and stop dates for the suspension.

None of the letters include clear instructions regarding the bottom-line status of your license and none of the letters detail the process for reclaiming your license as quickly as possible. This is where your lawyer plays an important role. Translating DMV speak into English is a critical skill that your lawyer must possess for you to have the best chance at protecting your license. If you have a question about the specific license penalties, you will face in your DUI case please contact us right away for a free case evaluation.

III. Restricted License

California DUI law does provide for a restricted license which would allow you to continue driving to work in some DUI scenarios. This does not apply to all DUI cases and in some cases better alternatives such as an Ignition Interlock Device restriction may be available. A restricted license allows a person to drive in very limited situations. These include going to and from work and going to and from DUI school.

It’s important to note that not every person arrested for DUI is eligible to receive a restricted license to drive to work. If a driver was driving on a suspended or revoked license when they were stopped for DUI or they refused to take a chemical test after being arrested for DUI, the driver generally becomes ineligible for a restricted license. To view the California DMV DL 691 application with additional information, go to:

IV. Ignition Interlock

If you are convicted of a DUI in California you will be ordered to install an Ignition Interlock Device or IID in your car as part of your sentencing. In the past, the law only required an IID installation for cases involving multiple convictions such as a 2nd or 3rd time offender. Then the law changed to require the IID for all DUI offenders in 4 pilot or test counties within the state. Now the law requires the installation of an IID for every driver with a DUI in the state of California.

IIDs can be obtained from any licensed vendors in California, but the devices themselves must be manufactured by one of companies on this list approved by the State of California: The only way to avoid the installation of the IID is to have your case dismissed, be found not guilty at trial, or negotiate a plea bargain to a reduced charge (a “non-DUI” plea).

V. Multiple Offender Penalties

If you have a prior conviction, your California DUI penalties will increase on the second DUI. Generally speaking, the shorter the amount of time between the first conviction and the second conviction, the greater the increased penalty. For example, Jane Driver was convicted of her first DUI in 2018, and in 2020 she is convicted again. John Driver was convicted of his first DUI in 2012 and in 2020 he is convicted again.

All other factors being equal, we would expect Jane’s sentence to be higher because she reoffended in two years, while John reoffended after 8 years. Under California sentencing laws, if the second DUI is within 10 years of the first conviction, mandatory sentencing must include jail time and an 18-month DUI program. If the second DUI is more than 10 years after the first, jail time is still possible, but it is no longer mandatory under the code.

VI. Conclusion

The best way to avoid or significantly reduce your chances of receiving these California DUI penalties is to hire an experienced California DUI attorney. The Law Offices of Mark A. Gallagher has handled thousands of DUI cases over a span of nearly 20 years. When you’re facing a DUI charge and you’re looking for your best shot at avoiding severe penalties, call us at 800-797-8406 or schedule your free consultation below! You can also CLICK HERE for additional contact information.


Related Articles

You may also be interested in

Monthly Newsletter

Law Offices of Mark A. Gallagher

Whether it’s a DUI, domestic violence, suspended license, traffic tickets, or any other criminal matter, the Law Offices of Mark A. Gallagher can help. Schedule your FREE consultation below or call us at 800-797-8406. For more information, visit