Skip to main content

I Got a DUI in California: Now What?

woman inside her car failing a breathilizer test and getting a DUI in california

Getting charged with a DUI in California can be a really scary experience if you don’t know how to deal with the consequences. You may be worried about the penalties and the financial impact, especially when it comes to car insurance. Find out what happens when you get a DUI for the first time in California. Knowing what to expect will alleviate some of the anxiety.

Consequences of a DUI in California 

If you’re convicted of a first-offense DUI in California, you will face 48 hours to six months in jail. Fines range from $390 to $1,000, and your license could get suspended for four months. Let’s take a closer look at the consequences – and some of the DUI solutions – in California.

Probable Cause in California

The California Vehicle Code states an officer must have probable cause, which is a reasonable suspicion you are committing a crime, before pulling you over. This includes driving behavior indicative of someone who has been drinking (or is under the influence of drugs), such as swerving or not staying in your lane.

You can be pulled over by an office for breaking any traffic law, such as speeding, not signaling, throwing out trash or any number of others, or for simply pulling over and parking on the side of the road (the officer may say they were checking to see if you need help). Once you are pulled over, the door is open for an arrest.

An officer needs to have probable cause before arresting you for DUI. This goes beyond an officer having a reason to suspect you have been using drugs or alcohol, which includes slurring, visible alcohol in the vehicle, the smell of marijuana and more. If they observe anything that leads them to believe you are driving under the influence, they can take it to the next step – probable cause for arrest. This includes:

  • Failing a voluntary breath or BAC test
  • Failing one or more field sobriety tests
  • Admitting you have been drinking

Keep in mind that you can refuse to take a breathalyzer test if you have not been arrested. However, if you are arrested and then refuse to take a chemical or BAC test, your penalties may increase substantially. In California, as in most states, the implied consent law is part of getting a driver’s license.

Testing for DUI

If you are suspected of driving under the influence, you will be asked to voluntarily blow into a breathalyzer (a device that measures blood alcohol concentration). You may also be asked to perform field sobriety tests, such as walking heel to toe in a straight line and others. If you fail these tests, you may be arrested.

The legal limit for a BAC in California is under .08% for regular drivers over the age of 18. Commercial drivers have a limit of .04% and those under the legal drinking age have a limit of .01%.

Once you are arrested, you no longer have a right to refuse a breathalyzer or chemical test (blood sample test). There are major consequences of refusing to take a test after being arrested. This includes extra jail time and a driver’s license revocation.

Going to Jail after a DUI in California

The idea of going to jail is terrifying. If you got arrested for DUI in California, you’ve likely already spent at least one night in the county jail – and that was enough! Fortunately, you’re likely to get probation for a first offense, meaning you won’t have to go to jail. The probation will likely last for 36 months (about 3 years) and will include conditions that you must follow. These might consist of attending driving under the influence school or substance abuse treatment. You will also need to avoid drugs and alcohol during probation. 

License Suspension in California 

If you get a DUI in California, the DMV will suspend your license 30 days after the arrest. You can challenge the suspension if you wish, and you must do that within ten days. Also, you might be eligible to get a restricted license if you install an ignition interlock device. Ignition interlock devices prevent you from driving while intoxicated. You will have to pay for the cost and the installation if you go this route. Even with the device, you can only drive to and from work or school. 

You’re not eligible to get a restricted license if you refused a chemical test, are under the age of 21 or are already on probation. 

Young woman blows into a breathalyzer with a police man

Criminal Penalties for Driving Under the Influence in CA

California Vehicle Code 23152 or 23153 determines the criminal penalties for this offense. Your consequences will take into consideration if this is your first offense, how high your blood alcohol content was and aggravating circumstances, such as a wreck or injuries. In most cases, this will be considered a misdemeanor, and will include fines, possible jail time that increases with the addition of each offense, suspended driver’s license, community service and treatment.

If it is upgraded to a felony (4th offense or injury or death), you will be facing jail, or prison, time, fines, driving privilege revocations and alcohol or drug treatment. If someone is killed, you could be facing a 25 years to life sentence in prison.

DMV Administrative Hearing

According to California DUI laws, you have the right to ask for an administrative review to halt your driver’s license suspension. You must request this DMV hearing within 10 days of your arrest. The DMV DUI hearing is not the same thing as your criminal court case. It is only to take action on any pending revocation order that affects your driving privilege. If you don’t request a hearing, your license will be suspended automatically for 30 days.

The court will review the specifics of your arrest, including whether the arresting officer followed the proper procedures in the police report, whether you refused a blood alcohol content (BAC) test or took and failed a field sobriety test and any aggravating circumstances surrounding your arrest.

The judge will take this information into consideration and you will either have your driving privileges restored or have your license suspended or revoked.

Hiring an Attorney After a DUI Arrest in California

Many people wonder if hiring an attorney to represent you in court is worth the expense. If you have a good reason to fight your charges, you plan to plead not guilty in court or you were not driving under the influence, you may need the help of legal advice.

If you are hoping an attorney can get your charges downgraded, as was possible in the past, you are out of luck. Recent laws in all 50 states in the United States have made it mandatory for intoxicated drivers to face DUI charges.

Keep in mind that hiring an attorney is more expense on what is already going to be a financial toll if you are convicted. You may be assigned a public defender if you can prove you do not have the means to hire an attorney.

Going to Court in California

As the defendant, you will be tasked with proving yourself innocent – or not guilty – of the offense. The state will be represented by a prosecutor. As the defendant, you have a right to be judged innocent until the prosecutor can prove you are guilty. In most cases, your attorney will bring up any mitigating circumstances surrounding your arrest, including whether or not the police followed proper procedures. You may end up reducing your consequences if you, your attorney and the prosecutor agree to a plea bargain with a guilty plea.

If you have criminal records from prior offenses, they may or may not be brought up in court. 

Reinstating Your California License

Once your suspension term is up, you can have your license reinstated. You must pay the DMV a $125 fine and have an insurance company file proof that you have at least the basic required car insurance. This refers to an SR-22 certificate that proves you have car insurance. 

If you do not have a car any longer, you’ll still need to file proof of insurance in the form of non-owner SR-22 insurance.

Is a DUI a Felony in California?

Most first-time DUI convictions in California are considered a misdemeanor. However, if there are aggravating circumstances, for example an accident, injuries or even death, you will most likely be facing much more serious charges that may reach the level of a felony.

Repeat DUI convictions will almost certainly be considered a felony.

What Does a California DUI Cost?

Most estimates put the total somewhere around $25,000. When you examine the “real” financial cost, you must take into account:

  • Car towing and storage ($200 to $500)
  • Fines and fees associated with court ($2,000 to $5,000)
  • Attorney’s fees ($2,500)
  • Possible rehab or other court-ordered courses ($500 to $1,000)
  • Car insurance increase ($3,000 to $5,000 annually)
  • Loss of income: You will be without a driver’s license for a while. Will this affect your ability to earn a living? How much will that cost? Add it on!

What’s harder to put a number on is the loss of relationships and status you once had, prior to your conviction. Most people will be sympathetic, especially if you are young and this is your first serious mistake behind the wheel. Other people can only think about what might have happened if you had met up with their loved one while you were driving drunk.

You’ll be left feeling ashamed and guilty. And, if you did injure or kill someone, that guilt may become crippling.

How Long Will a DUI in California Stay on Your Driving Record?

A DUI in California stays on your driving record for a ten-year period from the date of the arrest. At the end of that period, if you have continued to follow your court-ordered rules and have not gotten into any more trouble, it will go away. You can also improve your chances of driving safely by seeking help when it comes to drinking.

Since insurance companies typically go back three to five years as one of the factors for deciding your insurance rates, you may be able to find cheap car insurance in California then.

Getting Back on the Road

Facing a DUI in California is stressful, but it won’t be long before you’re back on the road. However, because of the conviction, some car insurance companies might charge you lots of money for a basic policy. Instead of buying the first policy you see, contact a licensed insurance agent, so you can compare car insurance quotes. When you compare plans, you can find something affordable, even though you have a conviction on your record. Then, you can begin putting your life back together.

Find Affordable DUI Insurance in California Today

Get the support you need after a conviction with Freeway Insurance. Start your free car insurance quote online, over the phone at 800-777-5620, or at one of our California offices near you. We can help when no one else will. Don’t wait any longer.  

Ready to Get a Quick Quote?