California DUI Laws and Penalties

How California defines “driving under the influence” (DUI) and the consequences of a conviction.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

In California, a motorist can get a DUI for driving while "under the influence" of (impaired by) drugs (including marijuana) or alcohol or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. A person is considered "under the influence" if substantially impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of substances.

California also has "zero-tolerance" laws that prohibit underage age motorists (those under 21 years old) from driving with a BAC of .01% or more.

Jail Time and Fines for California DUI Convictions

The minimum and maximum jail time and fines you'll face for a DUI conviction in California largely depend on how many prior convictions you have. Here are the possible jail sentences and fines for a first, second, and third DUI conviction.

1st offense

2nd offense

3rd offense

Jail Time

6 months maximum

96 hours to 1 year

120 days to 1 year


$390 to $1,000

$390 to $1,000

$1,800 maximum

In California, a DUI conviction will stay on your record and count as a prior conviction for ten years.

License Suspensions for a California DUI

All California drivers who are convicted of a DUI face license suspension. The possible suspension periods for a first, second, and third DUI are as follows.

1st offense

2nd offense

3rd offense

Suspension Period

6 months

2 years

3 years

Felony DUI Charges in California

In California, DUI offenses that involve certain aggravating factors can be charged as a felony. The two most common of these is having three prior DUI convictions within the last ten years or causing serious injuries to or the death of another person while driving under the influence.

Restricted Licenses and Ignition Interlocks

Most DUI offenders are eligible for a "restricted license" for driving to and from places like work and school during at least part of the suspension. A restricted license requires the driver to use an ignition interlock device.

For a first offense, the convicted motorist basically has the choice between a 12-month restricted license or a six-month IID requirement following license reinstatement. Second offenders must complete a 12-month IID requirement and third offenders must complete a 24-month IID requirement. These IID requirements can be completed as part of a restricted license or following license reinstatement.

California's Implied Consent Laws

California's "implied consent" laws specify that all motorists agree to take a blood or breath test if lawfully arrested for driving under the influence. Motorists who refuse testing generally face license suspension of one to three years, depending on their record.

Reducing a California DUI Charge

If you're charged with driving under the influence in California, it's possible to "plea bargain" for a lesser charge. "Wet reckless" refers to a plea deal where a DUI is reduced to reckless driving charge.

In California, a motorist who's convicted of a wet reckless—alcohol-related reckless driving charge—faces up to 90 days in jail and/or $145 to $1,000 in fines. Generally, the convicted motorist will also have to complete an alcohol and drug awareness program.

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