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DUI Defense

Overview of Potential DUI Penalties in California

The penalties for a DUI in California will depend primarily on whether you are a first-time offender, whether you endangered the lives of others, and any prior criminal history or history of intoxicated driving.

DUI penalties in California may include one or more of the following:

  • Jail time
  • Large monetary fines
  • Suspension of your professional licensure
  • Lengthy educational programs, such as DUI school
  • Potentially being ordered to install an ignition interlock device
  • Unofficial penalties, such as higher insurance costs
  • Immigration consequences if you are not a U.S. citizen

If you believe you were wrongfully arrested and charged with a DUI in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Lafayette, Palo Alto, Pleasanton, San Rafael, or elsewhere in California, it is important to understand that you have the ability to fight back. Let The Geller Firm help.

Our law firm compiled all the major DUI penalties below in order to provide a comprehensive assessment what is considered a DUI in the State of California, the consequences of a DUI conviction, and and how to fight these serious charges.

Legal Standard for a DUI in California

There are numerous ways someone can get charged with a DUI. The most basic involves having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level over the legal limit. The limits can be found in California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 23152. This statutory provision lists the specific BAC level that could lead to a DUI charge:

  • If you are an adult of 21 years of age or older and hold a regular driver's license, with no other restrictions, you could get charged with a DUI if you have a BAC of .08% or higher.
  • If you are presently on DUI probation for a previous charge, having a BAC of .04% or higher could result in a DUI charge.
  • If you are under the legal drinking age of 21 years old, having a BAC of just .01% could result in a DUI charge.

DUI Penalties are Enhanced in California If You Have Prior DUI Convictions

DUIs in California are “priorable” which basically means you will face stricter penalties if you already have prior DUIs on your record. For this purpose, any DUI in the last ten years will count against you.

Here are the specific penalties for a first, second, third, or fourth (or subsequent) DUI within a ten-year period in California.

First Offense DUI

For the first offense, the penalties are relatively small:

  • License suspension of 4 months or longer
  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Fines and fees of up to $3,600 dollars (the total cost can range up to $15,649)
  • Three months of DUI school
  • Possible installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Three to five years DUI probation
Second Offense DUI
  • A second offense DUI can result in:
  • License suspension of up to two years
  • Up to one year in jail
  • Fines and fees of up to $4,000
  • 18 months or 30 months of DUI school
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Three to five years DUI probation
Third Offense DUI

On your third offense, penalties include:

  • License suspension of up to three years
  • Up to one year in jail or up to 16 months in state prison
  • Fines and fees of up to $18,000
  • 30 months of DUI school
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Three to five years DUI probation
Fourth Offense DUI

If you are convicted of a fourth DUI, be prepared to endure harsh penalties, including:

  • Status as a convicted felon
  • License suspension of up to four years
  • Possible permanent license suspension
  • Being ordered to serve up to 16 months in state prison
  • Fines and fees of up to $18,000
  • 30 months of DUI school
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Between three and five years of DUI probation

Special Penalties for Refusing the Chemical Test

In California, if you get arrested and charged with a DUI, you will be required to submit to a chemical test, which could come in the form of a urine test, breathe test, and/or blood test.

Refusing to take one of these tests carries it own set of unique penalties. Among the most serious penalties for refusing to take a chemical test is the tacking on of more years to a license suspension, probation time, or even jail time. 

Penalties for DUI Conviction and You are Younger than 21

If you are not of legal drinking age, your DUI is known as an “underage” DUI. California has a Zero Tolerance Policy toward underage drinking and driving. This means that any amount of alcohol, or other intoxicants, in your system is enough to convict you. If convicted, you will face:

  • The criminal penalties listed above
  • A one-year suspension of your driver's license

Blood Alcohol Concentration – What Does It Actually Mean?

People may have heard the term “BAC” in an episode of Law & Order but may not realize what it actually means. The BAC acronym stands for “Blood Alcohol Concentration.” It is considered to be the percentage of alcohol by weight contained in a person's blood (measured either directly from a blood sample or indirectly from a breath sample).

Blood or Breath Test – The Choice is NOT Yours

In California, the decision to choose which sobriety test you take after being pulled over by police is not yours. Law enforcement possesses the authority to choose the test that will be used to test your BAC. Either the motorist submits to the test that the police have chosen, or suffers the consequences of a “refusal” to submit to a chemical test, which can have serious consequences. If the lack of personal choice wasn't bad enough, there are serious penalties associated with refusing to submit to a chemical test (e.g., breathalyzer test, blood test, or urine sample). If you refuse the test and get convicted, you are likely going to suffer a revocation of your driver's license for at least one year.

Long-Term Impact of a DUI Conviction

In addition to severe criminal penalties, a DUI conviction also carries potential long-term consequences. For example, there is a good chance your auto insurance premiums will go up significantly. In addition, you may have trouble applying for jobs, getting into schools, or qualifying for financial aid. And a DUI stays on your driving record for ten years, carrying two points. If you acquire enough points, you could be declared a habitual traffic offender. Finally, a DUI can have immigration effects or professional licensing consequences.

You are Only Subjected to Harsh Penalties If Convicted

The penalties described on this page are harsh, potentially life-altering, and…avoidable. You are not subjected to these penalties if you were simply charged with a DUI. Instead, the penalties only come into play if you are convicted of a DUI. This is why retaining the services of a seasoned San Francisco Bay Area DUI defense lawyer is so important. They can help you fight the charges, request an administrative hearing with the DMV, and in many cases, help you walk away cleared of all charges. A skilled DUI defense lawyer can also take the following actions to try and get the charges dropped, reduced, or at the very least expose potential holes in the government's case against you:

  • Challenge the results of breath and/or chemical tests,
  • Asserting your Constitutional right to prove that the police had no reason to stop you,
  • Consult with experts,
  • Speak to any witnesses, and/or
  • Collecting evidence pertinent to proving your innocence.

Take Action Today – Contact an Experienced San Francisco DUI Defense Lawyer 

If you were charged with a DUI in the San Francisco Bay Area, now is not the time to be complacent or to just throw your hands up in despair. Now is the time for action and to be proactive in protecting your rights. This is why one of the best actions you can take is contacting The Geller Firm. We are ready and able to help you during this difficult time and will work tirelessly to advocate for your interests in getting the DUI charges reduced or tossed out, depending on the facts of your case.

We are available for virtual and in-person consultations. We serve San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, San Rafael, Palo Alto, and the surrounding cities. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.


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