Penalties for First-Time DUI Convictions in California

The penalties related to DUI offenses vary depending on how many times you have previously been charged with DUI. If you are facing a first-time DUI California conviction, it’s essential to understand the laws surrounding DUI charges and the penalties they bring. 

Here, we’re focusing on a first-time offense DUI conviction and what that means to you. We will also discuss what you can typically expect in DUI cases in California.

California DUI Penalties

To understand the penalties that come with first-time DUI in California, we first need to discuss the laws regarding driving under the influence. For example, DUI means Driving Under the Influence by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. Every state has its own laws dictating what happens when you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In California (and every other state), the legal limit is .08% BAC. BAC is your blood alcohol content, and some tests can determine this level in people. The most common is a DUI breathalyzer test, and another is a blood test.

So if you are charged with DUI in California, you will have submitted to testing that checked your blood alcohol content. California DUI checkpoints regularly check drivers to ensure that everyone is driving sober. 

This is an easy way to set up a web that checks in on everyone who drives through a particular area. Of course, you can also be tested if a police officer believes you are driving recklessly. Whatever the case may be, if it’s your first time getting arrested for drinking and driving, it’s only a misdemeanor DUI.

Now that we have a basis for how DUIs are determined, let’s examine the ramifications that come with them. The penalties for your first DUI conviction may include:

  • 3 to 5 years of informal misdemeanor DUI probation (usually three years)
  • DUI school 3 to 9 months (usually three months)
  • Fines and fees that total $1,500 to $2,000 (depends on county)
  • The driver’s license will be suspended for six months due to DUI conviction plus four months if you lose your DMV hearing (although people may be able to obtain a restricted driver’s license or drive immediately as long as there is a DUI interlock installed in the vehicle)
  • Jail time of up to 6 months
  • Participate in a victim impact group
  • Indirect consequences such as increased  insurance premiums 

Court and DMV Hearing

Drivers arrested for drunk driving or drug use will face two sets of legal proceedings in California. The first is a jury or bench trial in criminal court, and the other is a DMV hearing to set your license suspension.

The California DMV cannot impose a fine on you or put you in jail. It can only revoke your license. And unless you make a request in time and win the hearing, the DMV will automatically suspend your license.

Moreover, getting a DMV hearing is not automatic. Instead, you must request within ten days of your arrest. In addition to the DMV suspending your license, the court can also order it so. What’s more, the court can do this even if you request a DMV hearing and win the appeal to keep your license from getting suspended.

While it’s understandable if it sounds like you have an uphill battle ahead of you, know that you can fight your arrest and suspension. When you have a qualified DUI lawyer in your corner, you stand a far better chance of getting a more favorable outcome.

What to Expect When You Drive Under the Influence

As we just mentioned, getting arrested for drunk driving in California will result in at least a court hearing and DMV hearing. If the DMV suspends your license, that’s the only penalty they can impose upon you.

What’s more, the DMV’s actions do not affect any criminal penalties from the court. Please keep in mind that obtaining a DMV hearing does not happen automatically (nor is it required). So if you want to challenge the automatic revocation of your license after your first drunk driving conviction, you must request a hearing.

On top of that, you only have ten days to request a DMV hearing after your arrest. If you do not request a hearing within ten days, your driver’s license will be revoked for four months. This is true if you lose at the hearing and fail to prevent your suspension — you’re still looking at four months.

Just note that if you do win your request, the court can step in and impose its own suspension. To stop this from happening, you need an experienced DUI attorney to show you aren’t guilty, or you can plead no contest. 

You Must Show Up to Court

Unlike DMV license suspension hearings, criminal court cases are not optional. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the defendant and the crime. Once the defendant is charged, their lawyer must participate in all proceedings. This includes subpoenas, where the defendant will plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

Some other notable differences between the DMV’s hearing and the court’s hearing. For starters, unlike the DMV and in addition to revoking the license, the court can also impose criminal penalties. Such penalties may include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation
  • Fines

Moreover, as mentioned above, the victory (or failure) at the DMV hearing has no impact on criminal court proceedings. The reverse, however, is usually true. For example, let’s say the DMV suspends your license, but you are later found not guilty in court.

The DMV should then unsuspend your license once it gets the results of your trial. Please note, though, that the DMV will look to see whether you won on an acquittal and not a technicality.

Could You Get Probation Instead of Jail Time?

As a first-time offender, this is very likely. The repeat offenders and those who have increased BAC above reasonable levels tend to face imprisonment. But there are conditions to probation that you must follow if you want to ensure that you stay out of jail. For example:

  • You will have to agree to take a chemical test if you are arrested again for DUI
  • You may not commit any new crimes while on probation
  • Install an interlock in your vehicle for six months
  • You must not drive with any measurable BAC

What Is the Legal Limit for Blood Alcohol Content?

In every state, the legal limit for BAC is 0.08%. However, for certain drivers, stricter BAC standards apply. Commercial drivers can be arrested for a DUI for driving with a BAC of .04% or more. And California has “zero tolerance” laws making it illegal for underage drivers (those under 21 years old) to get behind the wheel with a BAC of .01% or more.

The fines also differ from state to state. Examine the examples below to get an idea of the penalties each state imposes for DUI.

DUI Fine Alaska: Jailed for at least 72 hours + a minimum $1,500 fine + 90-day driving suspension.

DUI Fine California: $390 to $1,000 fine + possible jailing for 48 hours to 6 months.

DUI Fine Maryland: Up to $1,000 fine + up to 1 year in jail.

DUI Fine Texas: Up to $2,000 fine + up to 180 days in jail (3-days mandatory) + suspension up to 1 year. 

Please note that these examples are for first offenses and under the “increased penalties” limit. As discussed above, your fines and jail time will increase exponentially if you become a repeat offender or show a higher blood alcohol content.

As you can see, the drunk driving laws vary wildly by state. If you are facing DUI charges, it is vital to secure the legal counsel of a qualified DUI attorney. Your lawyer will ensure that you get the representation you deserve.

What Happens to Your License Following a First-Time DUI?

After being arrested for drunk driving, the arresting police officer will confiscate your driver’s license. The official will then give you a 30-day pink temporary permit while your original license gets returned to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. And as detailed earlier, the DMV will suspend your license. 

You then have ten days to request a hearing to challenge the suspension. As long as this request is made promptly, the DMV may place a temporary hold on your license suspension. If you don’t ask for a hearing, the DMV will automatically suspend your license.

However, you should keep in mind that you might be able to obtain a restricted license to commute to and from work or an IID license to drive elsewhere on a limited basis. 

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