California’s DUI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI in California.

California's driving under the influence (DUI) laws prohibit operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. This article outlines exactly how the law defines a DUI and the penalties a convicted driver might face for a first, second, and third offense.

California's DUI Laws

To convict a driver of a DUI, prosecutors must prove to the court that the accused was driving a vehicle:

In other words, a DUI conviction can be based on BAC or proof of actual impairment.

What It Means to be "Driving" a Vehicle Under California's DUI Laws

Although not defined by statute, courts defined "driving" to include any act or action which is necessary to operate the mechanism and controls and direct the course of a motor vehicle.

Proving "Under the Influence" for a DUI Offense in California

Generally, a driver is considered to be "under the influence" when his or her mental or physical ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired to an appreciable degree.

If the driver has a BAC of .08% or more, the driver can be convicted of DUI (called a "per se DUI") without the need to prove actual impairment.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI in California

The penalties for a DUI in California are set by statute and depend primarily on the number of prior offenses the driver has within the last ten years. The statutes set out the minimum and maximum penalties for each offense but give substantial discretion to judges.

Jail, Fines, and Community Service for California DUI Convictions

The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first, second, and third DUI conviction in California.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


96 hours to 6 months

90 days to 1 year

120 days to 1 year


$390 to $1,000

$390 to $1,000

$390 to $1,000

Substance Abuse Evaluations for California DUI Offenders

Prior to sentencing for a DUI conviction, the judge can order the driver to complete a drug and alcohol evaluation. The court can then use the results to determine whether to order a treatment program.

California DUI Probation

Instead of ordering an offender to months in jail, judges will often order probation after part of the jail sentence is served. While on probation, offenders must comply with certain requirements (such as treatment and maintaining sobriety). Violating these probation requirements can result in the offender serving the full jail sentence.

Generally, the offender will be placed on probation after completing a reduced jail sentence, which can be less time than the minimums listed above.

DUI School in California

Offenders placed on probation are required to complete a DUI education program certified by the state.

For a first DUI, this treatment program must be at least 30 hours. This increases to 60 hours if the offender's BAC was above .20%. For a second and third offense, the treatment program must be 18 or 30 months, respectively.

BAC Limits for Offenders on Probation in California

An offender placed on probation will also be subject to strict BAC limits. If a person on probation for DUI is caught driving with a BAC of .01% or more, he or she will be subject to immediate license penalties. These penalties are in addition to any current license suspension being served.

California's Enhanced DUI Penalties for Causing Injury

An offender who causes injury to another while under the influence must serve at least five days in jail before release. A second offense requires a minimum of 120 days in jail and carries fines of up to $5,000.

California Felony DUI Penalties

A DUI can be charged as a felony if certain aggravating factors exist. The three main types of felony DUIs in California are:

  • fourth convictions within a ten-year period
  • a second felony DUI within ten years of a prior felony DUI, and
  • DUIs resulting in great bodily injuries.

The jail or prison time you'll face for a felony DUI conviction depends on the circumstances. However, in most cases, the driver will be looking at at least 180 days in jail. For more serious felony DUIs, the driver can face a long prison sentence.

Generally, felony offenders must also complete an 18-month or 30-month DUI school and will face license revocation.

California's DUI Vehicular Manslaughter Law

Causing the death of another while driving impaired is a felony and will normally be charged as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The conviction penalties include 16 months to four years in prison, vehicle forfeiture, and license revocation.

License-Related Penalties for California DUI Offenses

A DUI will typically lead to license-related penalties. These penalties vary depending on the driver's BAC and the number of prior DUI-related incidents (qualifying priors include DUI convictions and test refusals) within the last five years.

License-related penalties can result from a DUI arrest and/or conviction.

California's Implied Consent Law

Under California's "implied consent" law, all drivers who are arrested for DUI are deemed to have given consent to a chemical test of their breath or blood to determine the presence or amount of alcohol or drugs.

Although drivers do have the "right" to rescind this consent and to refuse testing, certain penalties apply to drivers who refuse to test.

Refusing a Chemical Test in California

When a driver refuses to take an alcohol or drug test as required by the implied consent law, the officer will send a report of the refusal to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The driver's license will be suspended for:

  • one year for a first offense
  • two years if the driver has one prior refusal, failure, or DUI conviction within the last ten years, and
  • three years if the driver has two prior refusals, failures, and/or DUI convictions within the last ten years.

Also, prosecutors can usually use the fact that a driver refused testing in court while trying to prove culpability.

Failing a Chemical Test in California

If the driver submits to a chemical test and is over the legal limit (.08%), the officer will submit the result and a report to the DMV. The DMV will suspend the driver's license for:

  • four months for a first offense, and
  • one year if the offender has a prior DUI, test failure, or test refusal in the last ten years.

The test results can also be used in criminal court to prove BAC.

License Revocation for DUI Convictions in California

All DUI convictions result in driver's license suspension. The DMV will suspend the driver's license for:

  • six months for a first DUI conviction
  • two years for a second DUI conviction within the last ten year, and
  • three years for a third DUI conviction within the last ten years.
  • four years (revoked) for a subsequent or felony DUI conviction.

If the offender was involved in an accident resulting in bodily injury, his or her license will instead be suspended for one year, three years, and five years for a first, second, and third offense, respectively.

Offenders must complete the court-ordered treatment programs and provide proof of financial responsibility (SR-22) to be eligible for license reinstatement.

The suspension periods for a DUI conviction generally run concurrent to any test failure or test refusal suspension.

California's Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Requirements

Along with other listed penalties for a DUI conviction, the court is also authorized to order the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to three years.

Also, California allows most DUI offenders to voluntarily install an IID to get a restricted license or reduced suspension period.

Getting a Restricted License in California After a DUI Suspension

Drivers suspended due to an alcohol-related DUI can apply for a restricted license. To get a restricted license, the applicant must enroll in or complete the DUI education program and install an IID. Drivers with prior DUI offenses must generally complete one year of the suspension period prior to application.

California's Underage UDD (Underage Drinking and Driving) Laws

Drivers who are under 21 years old are subject to more stringent BAC limits than older drivers. For these younger drivers, a BAC of .01% or more will result in a one-year administrative license suspension.

Underage drivers who are caught driving with a BAC of at least .05% can be charged with an underage drunk driving violation. Upon conviction, he or she will face a one-year license suspension and fines. The offender must also complete a DUI education program.

California's implied consent laws apply to drivers who are under the age of 21 as well. So an under-21 driver who refuses a chemical test will be suspended for one, two, or three years for a first, second, or third offense, respectively.

Talk with a California DUI Lawyer

If you've been arrested for driving while under the influence in California, you should get in contact with a qualified DUI attorney in your area. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand how the law applies in your case and advise you on how best to handle your situation.

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