What is the typical punishment if convicted of a DUI?

Whether you plead guilty (or “no contest”) or get convicted at trial in criminal court, DUI penalties are significant. First and foremost, you’ll face criminal consequences—e.g., the judge will sentence you to jail time, fines, DUI classes, etc. Second, and often equally devastating (if not more so), the DMV can administratively revoke your license for extended periods of time. This can greatly affect your ability to live and work. Third, your insurance rates can skyrocket, which is an often overlooked consequence of a DUI conviction. Fourth, you will have a criminal record, no matter how you slice it. This can certainly affect your current employment (depending on your profession) and opportunities in the future.

 

The degree of punishment in your criminal case depends on a number of factors. The significant factor is whether this DUI was a first-time offense or you have prior DUIs within the last ten years. Additionally, the court will look at whether:

  • the level of your blood alcohol content was very high (Were you twice the legal limit or worse?);

  • you were involved in an accident and whether anyone was injured; 

  • you were speeding; 

  • you had a passenger in the vehicle 14-years-old or younger; 

  • you refused to submit to a breath or blood test after you were arrested;

  • you committed other offenses in addition to DUI, such as

    • driving with a suspended license

    • driving with no insurance

    • driving with an open can of beer or marijuana in the car, etc.; or

  • whether you were on probation for a prior offense.

Below is a general summary of the basic consequences you’ll face when convicted of DUI in the criminal courts. Every case is unique. Further, this generic summary includes neither added punishment for any factors listed above nor separate consequences imposed by DMV regarding your license. Please note that some counties have harsher punishments than others. The specifics of what you’ll actually face in terms of jail time and fines differs county-by-county. However, overall, the minimum punishments are relatively similar throughout California. In general, in criminal court, if you plead guilty (or no contest), or you’re convicted after a jury trial, you will be sentenced in the range of what’s listed below. The times in jail listed can be served on a Sheriff’s Work Program (e.g., picking up trash on the road instead of actual jail time). Also, if you’ve already been booked and spent any time in custody, you’ll get credit for that time.

 

First-Time Offense

  • 3 years of informal / summary / court (unsupervised) probation (a few counties require more than 3 years court probation to help lower monthly fine amounts, but 3 years is generally the norm)

  • Generally between 2 to 30 days of jail (satisfied by work program)

    • Maximum punishment is technically 6 months, but no one gets that (unless extreme circumstances exist)

    • 50% credit applied (e.g., 8 days jail really means 4 days)

  • 3 months “First Offender Program” DUI classes to reinstate your license

    • But could be sentenced to 9 months of classes if your blood alcohol was particularly high (e.g., .20% or more)

  • Approximately $1,700 to $2,000 in court fines and added penalty assessments, which can be paid off in monthly installments

Second-Time Offense Within 10 Years

  • 3 years of probation (but could be as much as 5 years)

    • Probably formal, supervised probation where a probation officer monitors you

  • Generally between 10 and 90 days of jail (or potentially work program in lieu of jail, which varies by county)

    • Maximum punishment is technically 364 days jail (no one gets this)

  • 18-month DUI “Multiple Offender Program” to reinstate your license

  • Approximately $1,700 to $2,000 in court fines and fees, which can be paid in monthly installments

  • Up to $100/mo. for probation supervision fees (if you're on formal probation)

  • Requirement to install an Ignition Interlock Device (an "IID," which is a breathalyzer connected to your car's ignition)

  • Possibly the requirement to attend AA classes

  • Probably the probation condition that you not consume any alcohol or go into any bars or stores where alcohol is the chief item of sale

Third-Time Offense Within 10 Years

  • 3 years of probation (but could be as much as 5 years)

    • Likely formal, supervised probation where a probation officer monitors you

  • Generally between 120 and 180 days of jail

    • Maximum punishment is 364 days jail

    • May not be able to serve all or part of time on work program or work furlough, 

    • May, however, be able to serve all or part of time in a certified residential treatment program

  • 18-month DUI (or possibly 30-month) “Multiple Offender Program” to reinstate your license

  • Approximately $1,700 to $2,000 in court fines and fees, which can be paid in monthly installments

  • Up to $100/mo. for probation supervision fees

  • Requirement to install an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle

  • Possibly the requirement to also attend AA classes

  • Probation condition that you not consume any alcohol or go into any bars or stores where alcohol is the chief item of sale

Fourth-Time Offense Within 10 Years

  • You will be charged with a felony at this point.

  • As a felony, the punishment, would be felony probation, which is formal with a probation officer, and you'd face up to 1 year in the county jail (180 actual days). If the judge did not grant you probation, you would then face one of the following prison sentences: the judge would choose either 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years. Although a "prison" sentence, you would still serve the sentence in the local county jail at 50% time. So, for example, if sentenced to 16 months, you'd serve 8 actual months.

If You Injured Someone While Drunk Driving, Even if Only Your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Offense, Your Case Will Probably be Charged as a Felony

  • It doesn't matter if it's your first, second, or third offense, you will be charged as a felony if anyone was seriously injured. If the injuries were minor, then it's possible the DA will file the case as a misdemeanor. Or even if the case is filed as a felony, it may be possible to convince a judge to reduce the case to a misdemeanor after the preliminary hearing, especially if the DA struggles to put on evidence of any legitimate injury.

  • If a judge didn't grant felony probation, you'd serve 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison (served locally in county jail).

If You Killed Someone While Drunk Driving

  • If you had a prior DUI, you'd be charged with murder.

  • Anytime someone pleads guilty to a DUI, all courts in CA require defendants to acknowledge that they understand drinking and driving is inherently dangerous and can kill. Thus, if you act recklessly in the future and ended up killing someone while drinking and driving, you won't just face a vehicular manslaughter charge, which is far less punishment than murder. This acknowledgment in open court is known as a Watson advisement (stems from a case where the defendant's name was Watson). Accordingly, when murder charges stem from a repeat drunk driver who eventually kills someone, these cases are referred to as Watson murders.

 

 

 

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