California puts much effort in the fight against drunk driving. For that reason, a person can quickly receive the maximum sentence, even if they are not guilty of the offense. DUI penalties are stiff, and they include incarceration, hefty fines, and also the likelihood to lose your driving privilege for a maximum period of four years.
At San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we strive to understand our clients who are facing DUI charges to be able to help them fight those charges. We take time to understand the circumstances of their arrest and whether or not they deserve the maximum sentence for the charges they are facing. Through our intervention, we can help reduce your charges, which means less severe penalties for your offense. We could also have the court drop your charges for lack of enough evidence to convict you of DUI.
Understanding DUI Laws in California
California's fight against DUI has seen the state come up with various laws that govern drunk driving in multiple capacities and for various people. Generally, operating a car while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a severe offense in California. The most popular DUI law in California is that which makes it a crime for anyone to operate a vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Concentration that surpasses the standard Blood Alcohol Concentration limit. There are up to seven misdemeanors in California for which a person can face charges under the general DUI law as provided under California Vehicle Code Section 23152. These are:
- Vehicle Code 23152(a). It is an offense for a person to drive under the effects of liquor to the extent that both your physical as well as mental capabilities have been reduced, and you are unable to drive as a solemn person would. Note that the person’s Blood Alcohol level is not essential in this case to prove that they are indeed operating under the influence.
- Vehicle Code 23152(b). It is a crime to drive a car with a Blood Alcohol level of 0.08% or more. It is California’s per se definition of DUI. To be found liable for this offense, the prosecutor will not need to prove that you were operating under the effect as long as your BAC results show it to be at .08% level or more.
- Vehicle Code 23152(c). It is an offense to operate a vehicle when you are dependent on any form of drug
- Vehicle Code 23152(d). It is an offense for a commercial vehicle motorist to operate with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of .04% or more
- Vehicle Code 23152(e). It is a crime to operate a commuter for-hire vehicle with a passenger with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .04% or more
- Vehicle Code 23152(f). It is an offense to drive under the effects of any drug
- Vehicle Code 23152(g). It is an offense for any person to drive a car under the effect of alcohol and drugs
While each of the laws here is important in the fight against drunk driving, the most commonly used laws are the first two, which are Sections 23152(a) and 23152(b). They are the laws that guide the prosecutor on how they will prosecute the case.
Penalties for California DUI are not designed based on the particular DUI offense the offender has committed, but on the severity of the crime and whether or not they have a previous DUI sentence on their criminal record.
Here are the consequences for various DUI offenses charged under the California drunk driving laws.
Penalties for First Offense DUI
If a driver is facing their first conviction for DUI, the sentences they are likely to receive for misdemeanor DUI are as follows:
- Summary/misdemeanor/informal probation for between 3 and 5 years
- Maximum jail time for 6 months
- Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
- Court-ordered DUI education program for between 3 and 9 months
- An order from the judge to have a California IID fitted in their car for 6 months as a condition for having their driver’s license restriction lifted. If not, the driver will face a license suspension of between 6 to 10 months, which could be changed into a limited driver’s license. While he/she can drive on a restricted license, they will only be allowed to drive to specified places such as to work/school and the DUI school.
To have your driver’s license suspension postponed, you can request a hearing with DMV in ten days after your arrest. The outcome of this hearing will determine whether or not the Department for Motor Vehicles will suspend your driver’s license. For that reason, hiring a DUI defense attorney early in your case can help protect your license and your rights in general. Note that you also need legal representation during the DMV hearing for a favorable outcome.
Penalties for Second Offense DUI
The second offense DUI occurs if you have had a previous conviction for DUI within 10 years. The second conviction is also a misdemeanor in California, attracting the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor or summary probation for a period of between 3 and 5 years
- Jail term for 96 hours to a year
- A fine of $390 to $1,000
- The compulsory requirement to complete a court-ordered DUI school for between 18 and 30 months
- The compulsory requirement to fix an IID in your vehicle for one year. Once this is done, the defendant is allowed to drive anywhere they please with no limitations. If he/she does not agree to the installation, California DMV will suspend their driver’s license for two years. The suspended license can only be changed into a restricted driver’s license after a year from the day of suspension
Penalties for Third Offense DUI
A third offense DUI happens if the defendant has two previous DUI convictions, all within ten years. The third drunk driving conviction in California is also charged as a misdemeanor, attracting the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor/summary probation from three to five years
- Time in jail from 120 days to a year
- Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
- The compulsory requirement to complete a court-approved DUI program for 30 months
- The compulsory requirement to have an IID installed for 2 When that is done, the offender can drive anywhere without restrictions. If not, the state DMV will suspend his/her driving permit for three years. The suspended license will only be converted into a restricted license after 18 months.
- Designation as a state’s Habitual Traffic Offender by the state DMV
California Misdemeanor/Summary Probation
Probation is the period in which an offender is released from jail and allowed to serve their time in the community instead of detention. As mentioned above, the first three DUI offenses in California are convicted as misdemeanors. For misdemeanor convictions, the court can sentence the offender to probation instead of jail. It allows low-risk offenders to serve most or the entire part of their sentence in the community but under the supervision of a probation officer. In most cases, this type of probation lasts between one and three years in California, though sometimes it can go up to five years.
During the probation period, the court expects the defendant to comply with all the conditions it provides. Note that California judges have total discretion in the determination of these terms. The most important thing is that the terms must be fitting to the service of justice and must be reasonably relevant to the offense committed. The most common conditions for misdemeanor DUI probation will be:
- That the defendant must pay all the fines in full
- That he/she must participate in either individual or group therapy
- That he/she must find gainful employment
- That the defendant must complete community service as ordered by the court
- That he/she must abstain from drugs and/or alcohol within the probation period. He/she must also attend a court-ordered DUI program for the stipulated period
- That the defendant must not drive with any trace of alcohol or fail to submit to DUI testing
- That the defendant must have an IID system installed in their vehicle or a SCRAM on their ankle. It mostly applies to DUI defendants who have previous convictions for DUI in their record
- That the defendant must not violate any state or federal laws
Note that violation of misdemeanor probation is an offense in itself. Three things are likely to happen if a defendant violated their probation conditions:
- The judge might ignore the violation
- He/she may modify your probation order
- The court may revoke your probation and send you to jail
If the latter happens, you will receive a maximum penalty for your original offense. You might also get additional sentences of the violation involved the commission of a new crime. However, before the judge revokes your probation, there will be a probation hearing. It gives the defendant a chance to either deny the violation or explain why they acted the way they did. The outcome of this hearing will determine the court’s next action.
California DUI Program/School
This, too, is a common feature in the penalties provided for most California DUI offenses. A DUI school is an education and prevention program through which DUI offenders must go through after getting convicted for DUI or DUI-related offenses. The program is either ordered by the criminal court or the state’s Department for Motor Vehicles. The following are some of the DUI offenses that would call for the court-ordered DUI program:
- Sections 23152(a) and 23152(b) of California Vehicle Code
- Section 23140 of California Vehicle Code for Underage DUI
- Section 23103.5 of California Vehicle Code for wet reckless
Other penalties for Sections 23140 and 23103.5 will be discussed below.
Providers of California DUI programs must be state-licensed. The good thing is that there are over 500 of these licensed DUI schools in the state under the management of over 250 providers. A significant requirement for these programs is that they must provide in-person service, not online services. For enrollment into the program, the driver will need either of the following:
- A court order for enrollment
- Proof of driver’s license suspension by the DMV
The length of time and cost of California DUI School is dependent on the offender’s specific DUI conviction. A first under-21 DUI defendant will, for instance, be expected to attend a maximum of two DUI classes, each for twelve hours. A repeat DUI offender with two prior convictions will, on the other hand, be expected to attend a maximum of 15 classes within 30 months.
Penalties for California 4th and Subsequent DUI Offense
Any DUI conviction that comes after the third conviction is charged as a felony in California. A 4th DUI offense, in this case, is one that occurs when the defendant already has three previous DUI convictions within ten years. California has stringent laws on any DUI. As listed above, penalties for a first offender are quite severe, and things keep getting worse as the number of previous convictions in an offender's records increase. It means that penalties for a fourth offender will be more than what the first, second, and third DUI offenders get.
More penalties, in this case, mean more years behind bars, heftier fines, and more mandatory requirements, for instance, installation of IID. The reason for this is because being a regular offender shows that the defendant does not have any regard for road safety. The penalties the defendant is likely to receive for the fourth or subsequent DUI convictions include:
- Incarceration for sixteen months, two or four years in state prison
- Fines ranging between $390 and $1000, without the court charges
- An order by the DMV to register themselves as habitual traffic offenders for a minimum of three years.
- Suspension of your driver’s license for 4 years
All these penalties are life-changing, and the reason why you need to work closely with a proficient DUI attorney for a sentence reduction.
Penalties for California DUI with Injury
DUI with Injury is a severe form of California DUI in which the offender, while operating a vehicle under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, causes an accident in which a person is injured or property damaged. The offense, which is covered under Section 23153 of California Vehicle Code, is a wobbler. It means that it can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The decision falls squarely on the judge, who chooses the conviction to give depending on the circumstances of the offender’s arrest and their criminal history.
The punishments for misdemeanor DUI with the injury include:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation for between three to five years
- Jail term for between five days to one year
- Fines of between $390 and $5,000
- Mandatory completion of a California DUI program for between 18 to 30 months
- Mandatory installation of an IID system for six months if the defendant wants to drive without restrictions. If not, the court will impose a license suspension of one year
- Payment of restitution to all the injured parties
Note that misdemeanor DUI with Injury happens if another person other than the offender gets injured in an accident caused by the DUI offender.
The consequences for felony DUI with Injury, on the other hand, include:
- Imprisonment for a period between 16 months to ten years. There will be additional sentences of between one to six years that should be served successively based on the number of victims that have suffered injuries in the accident plus the extent of their injuries
- A strike on the defendant’s criminal records according to California Three Strikes Law
- Fines of between $1,015 and $5,000
- Mandatory completion of a California DUI program for 18 to 30 months
- Mandatory registration as a habitual traffic offender for at least three years
- The compulsory requirement to have an IID system installed in your vehicle for between two and three years for you to continue driving with no restriction. if not, the defendant will have their license suspended
- An order to pay compensation to all the people injured
Increased Penalties for California Aggravated DUI
There are certain circumstances and facts that, when they are present at the time a person is getting arrested for DUI, they could increase the person’s jail or prison sentence. They are called aggravating factors. Such factors will heighten any DUI offender’s sentence, whether they are facing their first or subsequent convictions. The most common aggravating factors that could increase your DUI penalties include:
- Operating a car with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.15% or more
- Failing to yield to DUI testing
- Operating a car under the influence and causing an accident
- Operating under the effect of alcohol with a minor below 14 years in the car. This could bring up additional charges for child endangerment as provided under Section 273(a) of California Penal Code
- Underage DUI, considering that the legal drinking age in California is 21
- DUI while driving on a revoked or suspended driver’s license
- Getting arrested for DUI while on a DUI probation
The type of penalty enhancement the court gives for each of these aggravating factors depends on the exact circumstances of their arrest and their criminal history.
Penalties for California DUI Hit & Run
Many things can happen when a person is driving under the effects of drugs and alcohol, and Hit & Run is one of them. When a motorist who is already driving under the influence causes a car accident, then flees the accident scene for fear that the police will realize that he/she was drunk driving, they can be charged with DUI Hit & Run upon their arrest. In this case, DUI and Hit & Run, which are severe offenses, are treated as two separate offenses, and the offender receives penalties for both of them.
There are mainly two types of charges a person can face for DUI Hit & Run:
- Hit & Run with physical injuries as provided under Section 20001 of California Vehicle Code
- Hit & Run with property damage as provided under Section 20002 of California Vehicle Code.
Penalties for California DUI Hit & Run will be serious as they carry the sentences for two serious offenses. Some of these severe penalties include:
- Fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
- Between 2 and 4 years of incarceration if the accident caused severe physical injuries or death of a victim
- A maximum sentence of one year behind bars if the victim sustained only minor injuries
- A maximum of six months of jail time plus fines of not more than $1000 if the crash only resulted in damage of property. if that is the case, the offender will face a misdemeanor conviction for DUI Hit & Run
Note that a person can only face the penalties mentioned above if they are found guilty of both offenses.
If no one was injured in the accident, but still, there was an accident, and the defendant fled the scene, he/she will be charged with a misdemeanor DUI Hit & Run. The only time they will face a felony conviction is if they are facing the same charge for the fourth time in ten years. Again, the defendant will face a felony conviction if more than one person was injured in the accident because the accident will automatically become a violent crime.
DUI Hit & Run will attract a sentence of up to four years even if it is the offender’s first DUI offense, and they do not have a prior conviction of the same or similar crime in the last 10 years. In addition to time in jail, the offender will be expected to pay a maximum fine of $10,000.
Find a San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm Near Me
If you are facing a DUI charge in California today, you are probably thinking of the hefty penalties you are likely to face if convicted. California takes DUI offenses very seriously. That is why there are substantial penalties for all DUI offenses, no matter how slight the crime might seem. At the San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we understand our client’s concerns. We know how life-altering some of these penalties can be. That is why we utilize our skills and experience to compel the court to either drop or reduce your charges. Call us at 408-777-6630 if you or your loved one is facing DUI charges and let our team take you through the process.