DUI & DWI in California
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As DUI laws have gotten tougher, arrests have gone down. Since 1997, there has been a reduction in the overall number of DUI arrests in California. You can learn more about DUI statistics in the California Drivers Handbook.
When you sign for your driver's license, you give what is known as "implied consent" to having your breath, blood, or urine tested, if you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI.
If you refuse to take the test you face an implied consent suspension, meaning your driver's license will be immediately suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles (though it's the officer who physically takes it away). If you're later convicted of DUI anyway based on other evidence, you could face jail time, a higher fine, longer DUI program requirements, and ineligibility for a restricted license.
If you take the test and register 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or above, the officer will take your license away. You may request an administrative hearing within 10 days working days to lift this suspension, but the court will impose it again if you're found guilty.
Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits
A urine, breath, or blood test measures your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Illegal limits are:
- 0.08% and above for most drivers
- 0.04% for commercial driver license (CDL) holders
- 0.01% and above for those younger than 21 and those on probation for a DUI
If the officer suspects you're on drugs, you'll have to take a blood or urine test.
Even if you've just taken too much allergy medicine, you can still face DUI charges. Therefore, know the side effects of any medication you are taking before you get behind the wheel. California law doesn't distinguish among prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), and illegal drugs.
First offense DUI penalties are very stiff. You might:
- Be sentenced to up to six months in jail.
- Fined anywhere between $390 and $1,000.
- Pay a "penalty assessment" equal to approximately three times the amount of your fine.
- Six-month license suspension.
- Be required to complete a DUI program. Depending on your BAC, you might have to enroll in a program that lasts as long as nine months.
- Pay a reissue fee of $125 to have your driver's license reinstated.
- File an SR-22 (proof of financial responsibility) with the DMV.
Ignition interlock devices are required for all first-time and repeat DUI offenders in the following counties: Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare.
Subsequent offense DUI penalties (i.e., a second or third offense) mean you'll face license suspension for two to four years. Once the revocation period has ended, and you have completed a nine-month DUI course, you may be permitted to drive a vehicle as long as it has an ignition interlock device (IID) (you have to blow an alcohol-free breath into the IID to start your car). You will not be granted a restricted license allowing you to drive to and from the DUI course.
If someone gets injured or killed, you could be tried under the California Three Strikes law (meaning jail for 25 years to life), as well as be sued in civil court. You'll also have an administrative hearing with the California DMV, face higher fines, and lose your license for up to four years.
Underage DUI penalties are stiffer. Unless you are employed by someone who is licensed to sell alcohol, and are carrying a closed and sealed container in the course of your employment, it is illegal for a minor to have any alcohol in their vehicle―even in a closed container―unless you're accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Underage BAC Limits
A BAC reading of 0.01% or higher gets you arrested and your license confiscated. You'll get a 30-day temporary license and your regular license suspended for one year. This is before the court penalties that will be imposed upon a DUI conviction.
If this is your first DUI conviction and you are enrolled in a DUI program as ordered by the court, you may apply for a restricted license that will allow you to drive to and from work and to and from your DUI program classes.
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- Find Out How Much DUI and DWI Convictions Really Cost
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