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California DUI Laws and Penalties 2023


Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) is a significant risk. Not only do impaired drivers jeopardize their own health and safety, but they also risk the health and safety of others as well. It is easy to cause serious injuries, or even death, while driving under the influence.

For these reasons, the law prosecutes DUI offenses harshly. To mitigate the danger on California’s roadways, the punishments for impaired driving are severe compared to other offenses. If you have been arrested for a DUI, it is important that you do everything in your power to avoid charges and preserve your reputation.

Although they are harsh, the punishments for DUIs are based on the severity of the offense and the driver’s DUI history. It is important to be aware of these standards so that you know what to do if you are arrested for driving under the influence.

What Is a DUI?

A driver over the age of 21 is considered to be under the influence of alcohol if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08% or higher. A police officer will determine the driver’s BAC through a breathalyzer test as well as field sobriety tests. If the driver is under the age of 21, any BAC .01% or higher may warrant a DUI charge. This is because individuals under 21 should not be drinking alcohol at all.

A driver may also be arrested for a DUI if they are driving while under the influence of drugs in any amount or of any kind. This includes cannabis, which is recreationally legal in California. If the police officers discover that you are under the influence of drugs, they have grounds to arrest and charge you with a DUI.

First-Time DUI Offense

First-time DUI offenders usually receive the lightest penalties, though they are still significant. Usually, first DUI offenses are considered misdemeanors.

Potential penalties include:

  • Jail time of up to 6 months
  • A fine between $390 and $1,000
  • 4 months of license suspension or an ignition interlock device (IID) for 6 months
  • 3-9 months of DUI classes

Many people who are first-time offenders do not have to serve time in jail. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that it is a possibility. Most people receive a combination of the above penalties for their first DUI.

Second DUI Offense

A second DUI offense is still usually considered a misdemeanor. The penalties, however, will increase between the first and second offenses.

Common penalties for a second DUI include:

  • Between 96 hours and 1 year in jail
  • A fine between $390 and $1,000
  • License suspension for 2 years
  • An IID for 1 year
  • Between 18 and 30 months of DUI classes

Your jail time may be waived or replaced for a second DUI as well, depending on the situation.

Third DUI

A third DUI is usually still a misdemeanor, though it is the final offense that will be categorized this way.

Penalties for a third DUI include:

  • Between 120 days and 1 year in jail
  • A fine between $390 and $1,000
  • 2 years of an IID
  • License suspension
  • 30 months of DUI classes

Many people do go to jail for their third DUI.

Felony DUI

The above DUI offenses were all considered misdemeanors. However, DUIs are considered “wobbler” offenses, meaning that they can be categorized as either misdemeanors or felonies depending on the situation. You may be charged with a felony DUI if:

  • You commit four or more DUI offenses within 10 years.
  • While under the influence, you seriously injure or kill someone.

You will be charged with felony DUI on your first offense if you kill someone, regardless of your background or driving history.


Q: What Are Three Punishments for a First DUI in California?

A: First-time DUI offenders usually receive a fine between $300 and $1,000. They also face license suspension, usually lasting four months. Finally, first-time offenders can expect to attend DUI classes and impact panels for 3 to 9 months as part of their punishment. There may be additional punishments or requirements, depending on the situation.

Q: Is Jail Time Mandatory for a Third DUI in California?

A: Yes. While a judge may waive the jail minimums for first- or second-time offenders, jail time is mandatory for third offenses. The minimum amount of time is 120 days, meaning that third-time offenders will go to jail for at least four months. However, the judge may sentence third-time offenders for up to one year. Third-time offenders will face felony charges if they commit another DUI crime within 10 years.

Q: Do First-Time DUI Offenders Go to Jail in California?

A: It is possible for first-time DUI offenders to go to jail, but it is not required. Many judges opt for other punishments or alternatives rather than sending first-time offenders to jail. However, they do have the right to sentence a first-time DUI offender to up to 6 months in a county jail. If you have an attorney on your side, we can usually negotiate alternatives to jail time for a first offense.

Q: Is a DUI a Civil or Criminal Case?

A: A DUI is a criminal offense. This means that the state or federal government will act as the prosecution in order to enforce the law. This also means that the government is the only party that may drop the charges against you, and this is only done in rare circumstances. You will need the help of an expert attorney to successfully navigate a DUI case.

Contact Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP

For many years, our team has been helping individuals who have been wrongly accused of driving under the influence. We know that these situations are often more complicated than they seem. Our firm works diligently to make sure that the court hears our clients’ sides of the story. Without legal representation, you will likely lose your claim and face consequences. Our team of criminal defense attorneys provides you with the best possible chance of avoiding punishment for your DUI offense.

For more information, contact Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, via our website today.

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