A Primer on California Drunk Driving Penalties

Drunk driving conviction penalties in California are hefty, and depending on previous convictions can max out to jail time of one year, fines up to $18,000 and license suspension for three years. Here’s a rundown:

First offense

Jail time can be anywhere from 4 days to 6 months. Look for fines and penalties from $1,400 to $2,600 and a license suspension of 30 days to 10 months. In some counties an IIG (interlock ignition device, a device attached to the vehicle dashboard that disables the ignition if it detects alcohol in the breath) is required.

Second offense

Jail time increases to a range of 10 days up to a year. The fines span $1,800 to $2,800 with a license suspension that can be as lengthy as 2 years. An IIG is required.

Third offense

Look for jail sentences up to one year (minimum of 120 days) and fines from $1,800 to $18,000 with a license suspension of 3 years. Again, an IIG is required.

Blood alcohol content

The offender if under age 21 is considered driving drunk if the blood alcohol content is .01 percent; for over 21, the limit is .08 percent.

Refusing to take a blood alcohol chemical test

California has an implied consent law that says if a motorist refuses to take a chemical test, automatic fines and license suspensions of one, two, and three years for first, second, and third offenses apply. A chemical test involves analysis of your urine, breath, or blood.

Is it wise to refuse the DUI test?

Not usually. Even though the hassle of a DUI arrest with jail times and automatic heavy fines are initially more severe than the alternate $125 fine and license suspension, refusal to take the chemical test can be used against you and result in an easier conviction for the prosecution. The implication is that you refused to take the test because you knew you were over the limit.

Pleading to a lesser offense

In borderline DUI cases not involving an accident, the defendant can plea bargain to a lesser charge of "wet" reckless driving. The defendant must have a clean record; however, any future drunk driving conviction would be considered as a second offense. You'll need to get a lawyer to help with a plea bargain of this type.

Charged with DUI/DWI?

We're here for you and have been defending against DUI charges for over two decades. Contact us for professional and confidential help in navigating the details of the complex and confusing California justice system.