What is the True Cost of a First-Time California DUI?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on March 23rd, 2015

You may have seen the billboards a couple years ago warning motorists that a DUI can cost a person up to $16,000 total. I suspect that it has gone up since then. People have asked me whether this figure is accurate and what they can actually expect to spend after a first-time California DUI conviction. So let’s do the math.

Now I don’t say this next thing because I’m an attorney who is trying to solicit clients, but rather I’m saying it as an attorney who knows what to expect from the court process. Hire a lawyer. Attorneys have gone through three or more years of a law school, passed the unbelievably rigorous bar exam, and eventually become licensed to practice law in California for a reason. That reason is to go to court for people. Don’t think you can do it on your own.

Having said that, attorneys can cost between $1,000 and $10,000 depending on who they are, what their reputation is, and what their experience is. You can do your own math based on these figures. But of the attorney and law firms I know, I’d say a safe average is $3,500. This will usually cover a retainer up to, but not including trial. Those costs can be much more.

Upon conviction, the court will impose fines and fees. The statutory minimum for a first time DUI is $390 and the statutory maximum is $1,000. Fortunately for first-time California DUI offenders, the court usually imposes the minimum. Unfortunately, however, the court tacks on “penalties and assessments.” It is difficult to know exactly how much these penalties and assessments will amount to. In fact, today in court I heard a judge say that even he didn’t know how much amounted to. But, as a rule of thumb, I tell my clients to expect four to five times what the base fine is. So for the sake of our discussion, let’s say an even $1,700.

Most people convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to take a three month DUI program. While people can choose from a number of programs with slightly different enrollment costs, a three month DUI program can cost a person around $575.

In Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare Counties, a person convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for five months. On average, a person can expect to pay about $100 to have the device installed and about $2.50 per day to lease the device, have it maintained, and keep it calibrated. This amounts to about $325.

If a person’s vehicle is towed and stored at a yard, which is often the case following a California DUI arrest, that person can expect to pay about $350 to have it released.

Once a person is eligible to have their license reinstated by the California DMV, they will need to pay $125 to the DMV as a reinstatement fee.

However the single most expensive cost following a California DUI conviction is the increase in insurance premiums. In order to drive following a California DUI, the California DMV will require a person to file an SR-22 form. This document certifies to the DMV that, notwithstanding the DUI conviction, a person’s insurance company still insures them for California’s minimum requirements for automobile insurance liability coverage. The exact amount it costs to maintain the SR-22 is difficult to calculate because a number of factors such as age, gender, place of residence, and the rates of the particular insurance company.

Because the amounts of increased insurance premiums are difficult to calculate, I’ll use the figure used by the 2013 Automobile Club’s estimate for a 25 year old male over a 10 year period. This was the amount used when the Automobile Club announced that the total costs of a DUI were $16,000 in 2013. This amount was $10,154.

I’ll save you from doing the math. When you add all of these figure up it amount to $16,729.

This is about as rough as an estimate as we can get. Remember there are a number of other factors that contribute to the overall cost of a DUI. Having said that, this number can still be used as a guide to what a person can expect to pay following a first-time California DUI conviction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Before you head out for a night of drinking don’t turn your $50 bar tab into a $16,000 mistake.

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  • Don

    One thing you didn’t add, was that not only will the insurance cost be much higher, the liability limits will also be much lower, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars lower. The actuarial cost of higher risk exposure to the driver (particularly one with any assets) is a very real and very high number/cost even if no accident ever occurs during the SR-22 period. This will happen no matter what.

    Additionally, what may or may not happen (but often does) is professional license damage, work performance vs workplace peers (who aren’t going through that stress and pressure) ie lost possible promotion(if not the whole employment itself). With these factors, 25k/50k/100k+ can quickly be reached for some people

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  • Eva

    The estimate seems accurate. I wonder what the difference is in cost with and with out an attorney.

  • DUIBlog

    Thank you for your question, Eve. It’s a question often asked but rarely understood.

    First, according to one estimate in an article entitled “The Real Cost of a DUI in California” on dmv.org, a conviction will costs as follows: increased car insurance over time, $40,000; towing and storage, $685; DUI classes, $650; attorneys fees (varies widely)l license reinstatement, at least $100; etc. The total cost is estimated to be around $45,435, plus fines (roughly $2100) and attorney’s fees (see below). This is an estimated minimum for a first offense misdemeanor.

    Second, the costs for an attorney vary widely. The fee depends upon the attorney’s experience, reputation and specialization — as well as upon the nature of the offense making it more difficult and time-consuming to defend (prior convictions, accident, injuries, high speed, children in the car, high blood-alcohol level, etc.). The fee can also vary by whether the attorney includes such things as costs of an investigator, blood-alcohol expert, independent blood tests, subpoena costs, DMV hearing transcripts, jury trial; some of these can be included in the fee or may be charged separately.

    For a first offense, attorneys in California generally charge roughly as follows:

    $2000 – 3000 – minimal experience and competence, little time spent on the case, no costs covered
    $2500 – 3500 – some experience, competence and time given to the case, minimal costs covered
    $4000 – 7500 – experienced DUI specialist, good reputation with prosecutors and judges, extensive time given to the case, most costs covered short of jury trial

    I hope this helps, Eva….

    Lawrence Taylor

  • Eva

    one more question because this DUI stuff is confusing. what happens if you lose your DUI hearing with the DMV and then start attending the DUI class and on the criminal side the person takes a plea deal of wet and reckless now my question is what class does this person need to take? or do they have to take both ? thanks

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