California has two primary laws that make it a crime to drive while intoxicated. Under California VC 23152(a), it is a crime to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The California VC section 23152(b) makes it an offense to drive a vehicle when your blood alcohol content is 0.08% or higher. If the police arrest you for DUI in California, you could face charges under the two statutes. The California VC 23152(f) outlines the consequences of driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs.

The applicable DUI penalties usually vary depending on whether you have committed other DUI crimes in the last ten years. The penalties will also depend on whether another person sustains injuries due to your drunk driving. If you are accused of DUI in Pasadena, CA, Attorney Ann Gottesman can zealously defend you in court and with the DMV.

DUI Offenses in California

Under California law, DUIs are a priorable defense. This means you will face harsher penalties for every subsequent DUI conviction within ten years. Below are the common DUI offenses and their penalties:

  1. First-time DUI

When the police arrest you for a first-time DUI offense, you will face two legal proceedings. First, you will be subject to a DMV hearing to decide whether or not you should retain your driver's license. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can only impose a license suspension or a set-aside. Usually, the decision made by the DMV is distinct and will not affect the court trial and the possible penalties imposed by the court.  You will also typically face criminal charges and you would then have a right to a trial to determine whether the prosecutor can prove those DUI charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you want to avoid a license suspension after a DUI arrest, you must request a DMV hearing to contest the automatic suspension. If you fail to request the hearing within 10 calendar days from the date of arrest, your license will be automatically suspended after 30 days. The suspension lasts 4 months. However, you may be eligible for a 4 month or six month restricted license.  If you win the hearing, you can retain your license. However, the DMV will suspend your license if you lose the hearing.

Even if the DMV does not suspend your driver's license, you could still face a court-imposed license suspension if you are convicted of a DUI in court. The reverse is also true—if you lose the DMV hearing you may avoid a DUI conviction in court. If you are acquitted of driving with a .08 BAC in court, your attorney can notify the DMV and remove any APS suspension that arose from the same incident!

Penalties Of A First-time DUI

The penalties for a first-time DUI offense will vary depending on several factors. However, the typical penalties for a first-time DUI offense are as follows:

  • Penalties of between $390 and $1,000 plus penalties and assessments.
  • A jail time of not more than six months in county jail.
  • Summary, also known as informal probation, for three to five years.
  • A court-approved drug or alcohol education program.
  • The court could order you to install an ignition interlock device, abbreviated as IID. This device allows you to continue operating your vehicle without restrictions. If you are not willing to install the device, you will face a six-month driver’s license suspension or may be eligible for a work-restricted license. After this period, your license will be reinstated if you have completed an approved DUI class and have SR22 insurance.

It's important to note that sometimes, your charges could be reduced to a lesser offense like a wet reckless. You will not be subject to a court-imposed license suspension in this case. However, the DMV could still suspend your license separately if you lost the APS hearing or if you have accumulated too many points on your driving record.

The court is likely to allow probation instead of jail time for a first-time DUI offense. If this is the case, you can avoid spending time in jail. However, while on probation, you will have to follow certain conditions of probation.  Getting arrested for any other criminal offense could be a probation violation.

  1. Second DUI Offense

If you are arrested and charged with a second DUI offense, you may wonder how the penalties will differ from those of a first-time DUI offense. Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to this question because the penalties will depend on the unique facts of your case. However, there are mandatory sentences for second and multiple offenders. The penalties that the court typically imposes for a second time DUI offense are:

  • Summary probation lasting between three and five years.
  • A mandatory jail time of between 96 months and one year or 10 days community service in lieu of the minimum jail time.
  • Fines of between $390 and $ 1000. You could also incur additional costs of over $1,000 in penalty assessments.
  • Completing a court-approved DUI School ranging between 18 and 30 months.
  • A one-year IID installation per DMV or ordered by the court.
  • A two-year license suspension, but you may be eligible for a restricted license if you did not refuse a chemical test.

In most cases, the court imposes a sentence that includes probation. You could serve part of your sentence in jail and the rest on probation. While on probation, you will be subject to several conditions of probation:

  • You must not operate a vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood.
  • You must always submit to chemical testing, including a DUI breath, blood, or urine test.
  • While on probation, you must avoid committing additional crimes.
  • You must successfully complete the ordered DUI class.

 Depending on the facts of your case, the court could impose additional conditions of probation as follows:

  • Attending the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.
  • Participating in the MADD victim impact panel. MADD stands for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
  • If you cause an accident while driving under the influence, the court may require you to pay restitution to the victims.
  • Installing an IID on every vehicle, you operate for three years.
  • You may be required to complete the HAM (Hospital and Morgue) class.

 The court will order a license suspension of two years when you have a prior DUI or wet reckless within ten years and you commit a second offense. On the other hand, the DMV orders a license suspension of 1 year for a second DUI offense. The DMV suspension ends upon the date of the court conviction.

You will face harsher penalties if you face second-time DUI charges and refuse to submit to DUI testing. You will be subject to a two-year “hard” license suspension, during which you cannot apply for a restricted license.

  1. Third DUI Offense

You will face misdemeanor charges for a third DUI offense in ten years. The penalties for the crime are:

  • A jail time of 120 days to one year in a county jail.
  • Informal probation for a period of three to five years.
  • Hefty fines and penalty assessments of between $2500 and $3,000.
  • Installing an IID for at least two years.
  • Attending a court-approved DUI education program for 18 or 30 months.
  • License revocation for three years — However, you can start driving if you are willing to install an ignition interlock device.
  • You will be labeled a habitual traffic offender.
  • A 3-year suspension with option for a restricted license if no refusal.
  • Court could suspend license for a maximum of ten years under VC 23597.

 The court could also recommend probation instead of jail time. However, while on probation, you will have to adhere to several probationary conditions. If you do not comply with the probation conditions, the court could revoke the probation and subject you to jail time.

The penalties for a third DUI offense could be even harsher if the following aggravating factors are present:

  • You had a significantly high blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% or higher.
  • You caused an accident while driving under the influence.
  • You refused to submit to a DUI chemical test.
  • When you committed the DUI offense, you were underage, usually below 21 years.
  • You had a child below 14 years of age in your vehicle when you committed the DUI offense.
  • You were operating your vehicle at an extremely high speed.

Given that driving under the influence is a priorable offense, the penalties for a third offense are harsher than those for the second one.

  1. Fourth DUI Offense

Under California law, a fourth DUI could be charged as a misdemeanor or felony; it is a wobbler offense. In addition, you will face the following penalties if you commit your fourth DUI offense within ten years.

  • If the court charges the crime as a misdemeanor, you will face a jail sentence of 180 days to one year in a county jail.
  • If the crime is a felony, you will face 16 months, two, or three years served in county jail.
  • Fines of between $390 and $1,000.
  • Assuming the status of an HTO (Habitual Traffic Offender) for three years.
  • A driver’s license revocation for four years. However, you can continue driving normally if you install an ignition interlock device.

When the judge determines the exact penalties for a fourth DUI offense, he/she will consider the facts of your case, your prior offenses, and the level of alcohol content in your blood when you committed the crime.

When charged with a fourth DUI, you can only avoid a suspension of your driver’s license if you win during the DMV hearing and the trial.

You could be wondering what happens if you commit your fifth DUI offense. People who commit their 5th DUI offense within ten years face the same penalties as someone who commits their 4th DUI crime. However, for a 5th offense, the court imposes a jail term on the higher side of the sentencing range. For example, the court may impose a jail term of 180 days for a fourth-time DUI offense, especially for a misdemeanor. However, when you commit a 5th DUI offense, you will likely face a jail term of two or three years.

There is no limit to the number of DUI charges you can face in California. The more subsequent charges you face, the harsher the penalties.

  1. DUI With Injury

The prosecutor must prove several elements to charge you with DUI with injury, also known as DUI causing injury. First, California Vehicle Code 23153 outlines the crime of DUI with injury. To charge you under VC 23153, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You operated a vehicle.
  • When you drove, you were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both or were driving with a .08 or higher BAC.
  • When driving under the influence, you committed a negligent act or failure to perform a legal duty.
  • Your negligent act or failure to perform a legal duty made another person suffer injury.

The law considers you to be under the influence if your consumption of alcohol or a drug impairs your physical ability in a way that you cannot drive with the caution of a sober person. If your BAC was a .08 within 3 hours of driving, a fact finder such as a jury can assume but are not required to assume that you were driving with a .08 BAC or higher.

You will only face charges under VC 23153 if you commit an illegal act, like running a red light or acting negligently. The prosecutor must prove that you did not exercise ordinary care while driving. Failing to exercise ordinary care means you did something that an ordinary person would not have done under the circumstances. It also means that you failed to do something that an ordinary person would have done under similar circumstances.

The penalties for violating VC 23153 depend on whether the prosecutor charges the crime as a misdemeanor or felony. DUI with injury is a wobbler offense. If you face misdemeanor charges, the potential penalties include the following:

  • Confinement in a county jail for not more than one year.
  • Summary/informal probation for between three and five years.
  • A fine of not more than $5,000.
  • The court can order you to complete the California DUI School.
  • Paying restitution to the injured parties.
  • The suspension of your driver’s license for up to three years.

If the prosecutor charges the crime as a felony, the potential consequences include the following:

  • A fine that doesn’t exceed $5,000.
  • A sentence of up to four years in a state prison.
  • Completing a court-approved DUI School.
  • You could assume the status of a habitual traffic offender for three years.
  • Revocation of your driver’s license for five years.
  • A strike on your record, according to the Three Strikes Law in California.
  1. Underage DUI

California has two primary laws that relate to underage DUI. The California Vehicle Code 23136, commonly referred to as zero tolerance law, makes it a crime to drive with a BAC of 0.01% or more. The California VC 23140 also makes it an offense for those under 21 years old to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.05% or more.  The laws apply even if the underage driver is not impaired by alcohol. An underage driver could violate these laws by simply having measurable alcohol content in their blood. Violating the underage DUI laws could lead to a one-year license suspension.

The refusal to submit to a chemical test will also lead to a one-year driver's license suspension.

The California zero-tolerance laws do not just apply to alcoholic beverages. It applies to all beverages that contain alcohol, including certain medications and mouthwashes.

Penalties For Violating VC 23136

  • The violation of VC 23136 is not an actual crime. Therefore, the only consequence you can face for violating VC 23136 is the suspension of your driver's license. The license suspension lasts for one year for a first-time violation of the zero-tolerance laws. (A “Critical Need” restricted license may be possible.) However, if you have a history of violating underage DUI laws, your license could be suspended for two to three years.

California VC 23140

You could violate the California VC 23140, commonly referred to as underage DUI if you operate a vehicle with a BAC of over 0.05% and are below 21 years old. The police will usually conduct a pre-arrest and a post-arrest chemical test to confirm your BAC level. The tests are a DUI breath test and a DUI blood test. The violation of the California underage DUI laws is an infraction. An infraction is a minor offense, similar to minor traffic offenses. You will not face jail time for violating the California underage DUI laws. The potential consequences of the violation are:

  • A minimum one year suspension of your driver’s license if it is your first offense. (Critical need restricted license may be possible.)
  • A first-time offense will attract a fine that doesn’t exceed $100.
  • If you are at least 18 years or more when committing the offense, you will be subject to a mandatory alcohol or drug education program for a minimum of three months.

As an underage driver, you could face DUI charges similar to an adult. You could face adult DUI charges under VC 23152(a) if the consumption of alcohol or drugs impairs your ability to drive. You could also face adult DUI charges under VC 23152(b) if you record a BAC of 0.08% or more.

Sentence Enhancements for DUI Charges

If the penalty enhancements apply, you could face additional charges for committing a DUI offense. 

DUI With A Minor

Under California VC 23572, you could face harsher penalties if you operate a vehicle while intoxicated while in the company of a person below 14 years, a crime known as DUI with a minor. You will face enhanced charges irrespective of whether you intended to harm the child, your driving pattern, or whether you intended to inflict harm on the minor.

If you violate VC 23572, you will receive additional jail time on top of the consequences for the underlying DUI offense. The sentence enhancement will depend on whether on your record, whether it is your first, second, third, or fourth DUI offense. The additional jail time will be as follows:

  • You will face an extra 48 hours in county jail for a first-time DUI offense.
  • A second DUI offense will attract an additional ten days in county jail.
  • A third-time DUI will attract a further 30 days in jail.
  • A fourth DUI offense will attract a further 90 days in jail.

Excessive Speed And Reckless Driving While Intoxicated

You could face additional charges under VC 23582 if you operate a vehicle at high speed while intoxicated. To charge you with the violation of VC 23582, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • You operated a vehicle while intoxicated (driving impaired or with a BAC of .08 or more).
  • You drove 30 miles or more over the speed limit on a highway or more than 20 mph over the speed limit on a street while drunk.
  • You drove recklessly.

Driving in a reckless manner means that you drove with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of people or property..

If the prosecutor proves all the necessary elements under VC 23582, you may face an additional 60 days in jail for driving recklessly and speeding while under the influence. If the court suspends the execution of the underlying sentence or grants you probation, you must still serve 60 days in jail. This enhanced sentence is mandatory and cannot be waived unless it is in the interests of justice to waive or suspend the jail.

Excessive BAC or Test Refusal

You could face enhanced penalties under the California VC 23578 if you had excessively high BAC levels or refused to submit to a DUI breath test. As outlined by this statute, excessive BAC is 0.15% or higher. In addition, you could be guilty of a test refusal if you refuse to undergo a breath or blood test after being properly admonished under VC 23612. This enhancement may apply irrespective of whether it is your first or subsequent DUI offense.  For example, the court could order you to attend DUI classes for nine months on a first offense if the BAC is a .20 or higher.

You could face tougher penalty enhancements like:

  • Community service.
  • Steeper fines.
  • Additional time in county jail or even state prison.
  • A longer probation.
  • Stricter conditions of probation.

Child Endangerment

If you operate a vehicle under the influence and endanger a child's life, you could face the child endangerment sentence enhancement. The prosecutor will have to prove the following elements:

  • You intentionally inflicted unreasonable mental suffering or physical pain on a child.
  • You allowed or caused a child to suffer unjustifiable pain.
  • You placed or allowed the child to be in a situation where their life or health was in danger.

Expunging Your DUI Conviction Record

After a DUI conviction, you could be eligible for an expungement if you meet the following conditions:

  • First, you completed probation where applicable.
  • You did not serve time in a state prison.
  • You are not currently facing any new charges or are probation for a new offense.

 Therefore, you are eligible for expungement if you were convicted of a DUI offense but only served jail time less than one year, not imprisonment in prison. An expungement releases you from all the consequences of your DUI conviction.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

California has stringent DUI laws. Therefore, even a seemingly minor DUI violation could have detrimental consequences. If you face DUI charges in Pasadena, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Ann Gottesman is a caring and dedicated attorney who can defend your driving privileges and your freedom after a DUI arrest. Contact Ann at 626-710-4021 to speak to Ann directly.