DUI Penalties – California Vehicle Code 23152/23153

Car key on the bar with spilled alcohol and empty bottles

Being charged with driving under the influence in California is stressful. Being convicted is often worse. A DUI conviction in California can have serious consequences that are often not only immediate but long lasting. If you are charged with a DUI in California, as explained in California Vehicle Code 23152 or 23153, an attorney can assist you in making legal decisions that are most beneficial to your unique situation.

How severely a person is treated depends on many factors: The person’s past history of driving under the influence, their blood alcohol content and whether or not an accident was caused that resulted in injury are just a few examples. Most drunk driving charges are misdemeanors, but some cases of driving under the influence are considered felonies.

The District Attorney or Prosecutor makes the determination to charge someone with a misdemeanor or felony. If a person causes serious injury or death to another person as a result of their decision to drink and drive or if that person has three or more prior convictions for DUI on their record, they will likely be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor. A person is more prone to face jail time if they are convicted of felony DUI, but may be sentenced to jail for any degree of the crime.

The following are the basic penalties for typical DUI case convictions in California. However, it is important to note that, even though state law says many of these penalties are “mandatory,” an experienced DUI attorney will know how how to work with the District Attorney and the Court to give them a reason to shy away from these punishments.

Misdemeanors

  • 1st Offense: Up to $1,000 in fines plus additional penalties, assessments and court costs; a maximum of 6 months in a county jail; a maximum of 10 months suspended driver’s license; mandated DUI education.
  • 2nd Offense: Up to $1,000 in fines plus additional penalties, assessments and court costs; a maximum of 1 year in a county jail; a maximum of 2 years suspended driver’s license; mandated DUI education.
  • 3rd Offense: Up to $1,000 in fines plus additional penalties, assessments and court costs; a maximum of 1 year in a county jail; a maximum of 3 years suspended driver’s license;  DUI education at the discretion of the court.
  • DUI with Injury: Up to $5,000 in fines plus additional penalties, assessments and court costs; actual restitution; a maximum of 1 year in a county jail; a driver’s license suspension of between 1 and 3 years; mandated DUI education.

Felonies


In general, a fourth DUI is upgraded to a felony. In addition, a DUI with death or injury may also be tried as a felony. It’s important to note that, even on the first offense, a drunk driver may be tried for a felony, depending on the circumstances. Felonious penalties may include any or all of the following:

  • A sentence ranging from time in county jail to a state prison commitment of 16 months, 2 or 3 years; $1,000 in fines plus additional penalties, assessments and court costs; revocation of driving privileges, mandated DUI education to obtain license.
  • DUI with death or injury: A maximum of 25 years to life in prison; a maximum of $5,000 in fines; actual restitution; revocation of driving privileges.

Ambulance standing in night traffic at a motor vehicle accident in early winterEach time a person is convicted of driving under the influence, the consequences become more severe. An offender’s record is typically studied for 10 years prior to the offense date when the Court is determining sentencing. The Court not only considers convictions in California, but any offense occurring out-of-state that, if the crime had occurred in California, would have constituted a DUI charge. The Court will also consider any alcohol related reckless driving offense pursuant to Vehicle Code 23013/23013.5 when determining sentencing for a person convicted of driving under the influence.

The above information is considered a very brief outline of the consequences a person may face if convicted of driving under the influence in California. Below is a more detailed look at the possible penalties for misdemeanors and felony DUIs. Every case is unique, and therefore there is no definitive set of penalties for DUIs.

1. First Offense Misdemeanor

A first offense misdemeanor DUI may include any or all of the following penalties:

  • Three to five years of informal probation,
  • 0 to 6 months in the county jail,
  • A minimum fine of $390 and a maximum of $1,000,
  • Participation in a DUI education program lasting either 3 or 9 months, and/or
  • A license suspension lasting between 6 and 10 months. A driver convicted of a first offense will typically be able to have their full suspension converted to a restricted one. That is, the convicted party will be able to drive to work, school and their DUI education program.

Other penalties may also be included at the judge’s discretion.

No matter what you may be sentenced to, it is important that you hire an attorney within 10 days of your arrest. This is the time permitted to contact the DMV for a hearing. Once you have requested a hearing, your license suspension will be put on hold until the hearing is resolved. If you choose not to hire an attorney, you must still request the hearing if you hope to stay your license suspension.

2. Second Offense Misdemeanor

If a person is convicted of a second misdemeanor DUI in 10 years, they may face any or all of the above penalties, in addition to the following:

  • Jail time increased to a minimum of 96 hours and no more than 1 year,
  • DUI education of either 18 or 30 months,
  • A driver’s license suspension lasting 2 years. A restricted license may be made available after 1 year.

Other penalties may also be included at the judge’s discretion.

3. Third Offense Misdemeanor

hand of prisoner in jailAs mentioned above, if a person is convicted of a third DUI in 10 years, it is generally upgraded to a felony. This means a driver may face any or all of these additional consequences:

  • Jail time increased to a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 1 year,
  • Mandated DUI education for 30 months,
  • A driver’s license revocation lasting for 3 years. A restricted license may be made available after 18 months.

Other penalties may also be included at the judge’s discretion.

Once a person is convicted of a third DUI in 10 years, they may be labeled as a “habitual traffic offender.” A person may also be ordered to have an interlock ignition device installed in their vehicle. This device does not let the driver start the engine until an alcohol-free breath sample has been provided.

In addition, after the third DUI in 10 years, any further related infraction could be automatically tried as a felony.

4. DUI with Injury

When a person is charged with DUI with injury, they may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. When determining the classification of the charge, the circumstances of the arrest and the criminal history of the suspect are taken into account.

If a person is convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence and that crime led to the injury of another person, they may face any or all of the following:

  • Between 3 and 5 years of probation,
  • A minimum of 5 days in jail with a maximum of 1 year,
  • Fines totalling between $390 and $5,000,
  • A mandated DUI education program lasting either 3, 18 or 30 months,
  • A driver’s license suspension for a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 3 years, and/or
  • Restitution to any injured party.

If a person is convicted of a felony driving under the influence that results in injury to another person, they may face:

  • A state prison sentence of between 16 months and 10 years. There is the possibility of a consecutive sentence of between 1 and 6 years.
  • The possibility of a “strike” on the criminal record,
  • A minimum fine of $1,015 and a maximum fine of $5,000,
  • Mandatory DUI education for either 18 or 30 months,
  • 3 years of Habitual Traffic Offender status (HTO),
  • Restitution to any and all injured parties.

Other penalties may also be included at the judge’s discretion.

When a person is convicted of a felony DUI (without injury), they may face either 16 months, 2 or 3 years in a state prison, fines, a driver’s license revocation of 4 years, and the designation of  Habitual Traffic Offender. Their penalties may include any or all of these punishments.

Probation

man blowing into ignition interlock deviceFor many, probation is seen as a favorable alternative to a prison sentence. Probation, though, does not come without conditions. Any time a person is sentenced to probation in a driving under the influence case, they may not drive with any amount of alcohol in their blood. The person on probation may be required to submit to a chemical test if they are arrested under suspicion of DUI, and their probation may be contingent on them not be arrested for any additional crimes.

The above are the conditions that may be included with any sentence of probation. There may be additional conditions imposed at the judge’s discretion, depending on the unique circumstances of the case. Those additional conditions can include any or all of the following:

  • Enrollment in and attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Enrollment and participation in a drunk driving impact program created and delivered by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
  • Restitution for injury and/or property damage.
  • The installation of an Ignition Interlock Device. In some counties in California, installation is mandatory. In others, the installation of such a device is decided at the discretion of the judge.

Circumstances That Increase Sentences

Like with many other crimes, there could be extenuating circumstances that may increase a DUI sentence in California. These are called aggravating factors, and they may include:

  • A blood alcohol content of greater than 0.15%,
  • Refusal to submit to chemical testing,
  • Being found at-fault for an accident,
  • Speeding,
  • Having a child under the age of 14 in the car while driving under the influence,
  • Being under the legal drinking age at the time of arrest.

Though these are the most common factors, there is no set criteria for enhancing penalties if a person is found to be guilty of one of these aggravating factors. Moreover, there are other unlisted factors that a judge may consider when deciding if a DUI is “aggravated.”

There Are Alternative Sentencing Options

woman in jail jumpsuit wearing handcuffs and chainsWhile not true in every case, there are alternative sentencing options available to people convicted of DUI. A person may be sentenced to a weekend work crew, community service, house arrest, electronic monitoring, a place in a sober-living facility, or incarceration at a city, county or private jail.

Again, these alternative sentencing options are not available to everyone. Because they are available, a person who has been arrested for driving under the influence in San Bernardino County, Riverside County or anywhere in Southern California should consult with an experienced DUI attorney instead of trying to fight their charges on their own. An attorney is well-versed in the law and with the inner-workings of the local court systems.

Consequences of Conviction

The consequences of a DUI conviction vary for each individual, and the consequences of a conviction may depend on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony In general, a person who is convicted of this crime may find it difficult to secure future employment, locate affordable housing, enter a program of study at a local college or university, or suffer severe financial setbacks. The consequences of a DUI conviction can be both immediate and long-lasting.

If you have been charged with driving under the influence, reach out to our team of experienced DUI attorneys. We will review your case in detail and advise you of the options available to you under law. We are knowledgeable in DUI law and are ready to put our experience to work for you. Call today to schedule your free case evaluation and let us provide you with realistic options.