DUI Penalties in California

Driving under the influence (DUI) in California can result in some pretty stiff penalties so a good rule of thumb is if you drink don’t drive. You could go to jail, be fined, ordered to treatment, get probation or have your license suspended or revoked. In California, DUI means either alcohol or other drugs or a combination of the two.

Bill, a systems analyst working in Arcadia, had a few drinks after work with a couple guys from his job. He felt fine so he hopped on the 210 Freeway for his commute home. Suddenly he heard a siren and saw the lights in his rearview mirror. He pulled over as soon as he could. A Highway Patrolman walked up to the car and said, “You’re a little wobbly out there, sir. May I see your license and insurance?” Bill produced these documents but the next thing he knew he was trying to walk a straight line and then he was asked to take a Breathalyzer test. The patrolman told him his blood alcohol level was .09, above the legal limit for driving. Bill was charged with misdemeanor DUI.

Bill was lucky. He co-operated with the requirement to take the chemical test and this was his first offense. He was fined $500 and warned not to drink and drive again. This is what the court ordered. But the DMV tacked on a mandatory suspension of his license for one year.

Bill could have served jail time, and been fined up to $1000. He could have been given probation and ordered to get treatment. Because he co-operated with the blood alcohol test, he didn’t get the extra penalties a refusal would cause. California law considers driving to be a privilege and not a right and considers that those who drive have given “implied consent” to a chemical test. Had Bill refused, he would have gotten jail time and more serious license sanctions, plus a bigger fine. These would apply even if Bill were not convicted of the DUI charges.

If Bill operated a commercial vehicle, he would have lost his license to do so. For some people, in other words, a DUI conviction could mean loss of lively hood.

If Bill continues to offend, jail time becomes much more likely and fines can go as high as $1000. From the second offense on his car must be fitted with an Ignition Interlock Device. This is mandatory from the second offense. It prevents the car from being started if he has alcohol in his system. His license can be suspended or revoked and he risks having his car impounded and even sold by the state.

If Bill had had a wreck which resulted in injury or death to someone other than himself, he would be charged with felony DUI.

A felony DUI will usually mean prison, a fine from $1000 to $5000 and restitution of up to $10,000. His license would be revoked and he would have to reapply for a new license after the period of revocation had expired and after he had paid his fines and restitution. He could have his car impounded and sold. His probation would be from 3 to 5 years during which he could not commit any crimes, drive with any alcohol in his blood, refuse to submit to a chemical test, or fail to pay any fine, assessment, or restitution.

All in all driving under the influence in California is a very bad idea.

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