Did you know that over 200,000 drivers are arrested each year for driving under the influence (DUI) in California alone? Given these statistics, it’s easy to see why state lawmakers continue to focus their efforts on ways to deter motorists from getting behind the wheel after using alcohol. Unfortunately, this also means that individuals who are arrested for DUI face a number of tough penalties if they are convicted of the charge—even if it’s their first run in with the law. Here’s what you can expect you are found guilty of a California DUI.
California DUI First Offense
Although the criminal penalties for DUI are determined in a criminal courtroom—after a prosecutor has proven you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—the administrative, or civil, penalties will begin immediately. In fact, the moment you are arrested, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will revoke your driving privileges by issuing a license suspension. While you have the opportunity to challenge this penalty by requesting an administrative hearing, you must submit an official request within ten days after your arrest in order for the proceeding to take place. Otherwise, your suspension will remain in effect until your case is tried in criminal court.
In addition to the administrative penalties imposed by the DMV, you will also face criminal punishment for your actions. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, a first-time DUI conviction carries up to $1,000 in fines, a six-month jail sentence, an additional four-month license suspension, and probation time. You will also be required to complete an 18- to 30-month alcohol awareness program and maintain SR22 insurance (an expensive auto insurance policy designed for DUI offenders and other high-risk drivers) for three years after your driving privileges are restored.
However, before you can be convicted of drunk driving, the prosecution must establish three things: first, that the officer who arrested you had probable cause to stop you (such as speeding or running a red light, for example); second, that you violated the state’s DUI laws by driving with an illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) or refused to perform a chemical test; and lastly, that your arrest was lawful. If all three of these requirements are not met, the charges against you should be dismissed.
To improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome for both your administrative and criminal DUI hearings, you must present a strong argument that supports your defense in court—and using the wrong strategy can lead to devastating results.
California DUI Second Offense
Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the most harrowing experiences a California motorist can face. In addition to facing an automatic license suspension, a drunk driving arrest can lead to a number of severe criminal penalties—including hefty fines and a possible jail sentence. And, if you are one of the thousands of individuals who have a prior drunk driving conviction on your record, the stakes are even higher. Under the state’s mandatory sentencing guidelines, a California DUI second offense can carry much harsher punishment than a first offense.
State law classifies any person who has been convicted of driving under the influence within a ten-year period as a repeat DUI offender. As a result, lawmakers grant little leniency to those who are found guilty of a subsequent charge—and many of the penalties you receive will be based on the nature of your prior arrest.
Like most states, California law prohibits anyone from operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. However, if you are under 21, you can be charged with DUI if your BAC is 0.01% or higher. Commercial vehicle operators are also subjected to an even lower BAC limit of just 0.04%. Any driver who is found to be in violation of these guidelines can therefore be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.
Along with enforcing the above BAC limits, California’s “Implied Consent Law” requires drivers to submit to chemical testing if they are ever suspected of driving while impaired. Designed to calculate BAC, chemical tests (breathalyzers, blood, and urine tests) are one of the most common tools law enforcement officers use to identify drunk drivers. In the event that you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, you are legally obligated to allow the officer to administer a test to determine your BAC. In fact, refusing to comply can lead to even more severe penalties than failing the test.
If you are charged with driving with an illegal BAC and have been convicted of a similar offense in the past, the punishment for a second conviction can include up to a one-year license suspension, possible jail sentence, and mandatory alcohol treatment. In addition, you will be forced to obtain SR22 insurance—a type of auto insurance policy reserved for high-risk drivers—for up to three years after your driving privileges are restored. In light of SR22 insurance costing two to three times more than your current policy, this penalty can easily become one of the most damaging.
If you are convicted of refusing a breathalyzer or other chemical test for a second time, you will face the same penalties listed above; however, whereas drivers who fail a chemical test are eligible for a restricted license after a specified period of time—allowing them to drive to and from work, school, and other court-approved activities—individuals who are convicted of violating the state’s implied consent law do not qualify for these limited privileges.
California DUI Third Offense
If you have ever been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in California, you may think you know what to expect—after all, you’re facing the same penalties as before, right? Wrong. Under state law, habitual drunk drivers (anyone convicted of driving under the influence within the past ten years) face much harsher punishment than a first-time offender. As a result, the consequences of a third conviction are far more devastating than what you received in the past. Here’s what you can expect if you are found guilty of a California DUI third offense:
As you may remember, a DUI arrest triggers an automatic license suspension. Once notified, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will immediately begin the process of revoking your driving privileges. Although you have the opportunity to appeal this penalty, you must submit a formal request to the DMV in order to do this—and you have just ten days to challenge your suspension.
Once the DMV receives your request, an administrative DUI hearing will be scheduled. During this proceeding, a DMV official will review the evidence against you to determine whether your arrest was warranted. If your arrest is deemed lawful, your suspension will remain in effect.
It is important to remember that any penalties imposed by the DMV are entirely separate from those associated with a criminal DUI charge. In fact, regardless of the outcome of your administrative hearing, you will face additional penalties, including a longer license suspension and possible jail sentence, if you are found guilty of drunk driving in criminal court.
The exact terms of your sentence will depend largely upon your previous DUI history, as well as whether you failed or refused a chemical test. In California, any driver operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher can be arrested for DUI. Because chemical tests (breathalyzers, blood, and urine tests) are the most reliable way to calculate a driver’s BAC, state law requires motorists to submit to such testing if a law enforcement officer suspects them of driving under the influence. In other words, simply refusing to perform a chemical test is enough to warrant an arrest for DUI.
If this is your third time being arrested for failing a chemical test, a third conviction carries up to a two-year license suspension and possible jail sentence. In addition, you may be required to complete a court-approved alcohol education program and obtain SR22 insurance (an expensive auto insurance policy designed for high-risk drivers) for three years after your driving privileges are restored.
On the other hand, if you are convicted of refusing a chemical test for a third time, you will not only face those penalties listed above, but also an additional one-year license suspension. Plus, you will be ineligible for any type of restricted license (a limited permit that allows you to drive to and from work, school and other approved activities) for the entire length of your suspension.
The good news, however, is that being arrested for a third DUI offense does not mean you will be convicted of the charge in criminal court.To learn how you can reduce or avoid the consequences of your arrest, submit your information online today to receive a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced drunk driving defense attorney in your area.