California DUI Law

DUI laws and penalties in California.

In California, you can get a DUI (driving under the influence) if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, regardless of whether your driving ability was actually impaired. However, you can also get a DUI for driving while impaired to an “appreciable degree” by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. Here are some details on the consequences of drinking and driving in California.

In California, what are the consequences of refusing to take a breathalyzer or blood or urine test when suspected of DUI?

The law in California says that if you are driving a vehicle, you have given your consent to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test to determine the amount of alcohol in your blood. Here are the consequences of refusal to take a breathalyzer or blood test in California, broken out by whether this is your first, second, or third offense:

1st offense 2nd offense 3rd offense
1-year suspension of license 2-year suspension of license 2-year suspension of license


In California, when do police have to measure your BAC?

In California, law enforcement officers are supposed to measure your BAC at the time of driving. However, prosecutors may be able to prove your culpability for DUI even if your BAC is taken later than this time.

What is the maximum BAC for drivers under 21 in California?

In California, the maximum BAC for drivers who are under 21 (considered minors) is .01%.

What are the minimum jail times for a DUI in California?

Here are the minimum jail times for a DUI in California, broken out by whether this is your first, second, or third offense:

1st offense 2nd offense 3rd offense
4 days 90 days 120 days


How long will prior DUI convictions remain relevant for sentencing purposes in California?

In California, prior DUI convictions stay on your record (and can be counted against you when you are being sentenced for another DUI/DWI offense) for ten years.

Can a DUI be “pleaded down” to a "wet reckless" in California?

In some circumstances, a plea bargain of "wet reckless" might be accepted by the prosecution in California. A "wet reckless," or a conviction of reckless driving involving alcohol, is usually made as a result of a plea bargain in which a charge of drunk driving is reduced to a case of reckless driving. A plea bargain of wet reckless might be accepted when the amount of alcohol is borderline illegal, there was no accident, and the defendant has no prior record. But if you are convicted for drunk driving again within 10 years, the "wet reckless" is usually considered a prior drunk driving conviction for sentencing purposes. In other words, the resulting sentence may be what's required for a second DUI/DWI conviction. If you are interested in trying to make a plea for a wet reckless, you'll need the help of a lawyer.

(Read more about reckless driving and the consequences of a conviction.)

Are ignition interlock devices (IIDs) required for convicted DUI offenders in California?

For most California DUIs, IIDs aren't required, but it's within the Judge's discretion to order use of an IID for up to three year following the end of the license suspension. However, California started a "pilot program" in 2010 which requires IIDs for all DUIs in four Calfornia Counties: Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare.  

Where can I get more information about DUI laws in California?

Nolo's DUI/DWI topic has many helpful articles, including a Drunk Driving, DUI, and DWI FAQ. For more help after a DUI arrest, see Nolo's Lawyer Directory, where you can view in-depth profiles of California DUI attorneys in your area.

For more information about the legal limit, see the  Blood Alcohol Level Chart

Last updated on 05/01/2011.

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