What is the typical punishment if I am convicted of a DUI?

by Ariel Rief, Esq.

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 / work program

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

  • 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

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

    • May be formal, supervised probation where a probation officer monitors you

  • Generally between 10 and 90 days of jail / work program (it varies by county)

    • Maximum punishment is technically 364 days jail

  • 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)

  • Possibly the requirement to install an Ignition Interlock Device (a breathalyzer connected to your car's ignition) in your vehicle

  • Possibly the requirement to attend AA classes

  • Possibly 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

  • 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

    • May be able to serve all or part of time in a 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

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

  • As a felony, the punishment, if you don't receive probation, would be one of the following prison sentences: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years (served in county jail).

If You Injured Someone While Drunk Driving

  • 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 you didn't get probation, you'd serve 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison (but served locally in county jail).

If You Killed Someone While Drunk Driving

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

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