What Are the Penalties for DUI in California?

What Are the Penalties for DUI in California?

Getting arrested for DUI in California can lead to some pretty serious consequences. The penalties get worse the more times you’re convicted of DUI, and can include jail time, fines, license suspension, DUI classes, and having an ignition interlock device installed in your car. Let’s break it down so you know what you’re looking at if you get popped for drunk driving in the Golden State.

First Offense DUI

For a first time DUI conviction in California, you can expect:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Fines up to $1,000 plus penalties and assessments
  • Suspension of your license for 6 months
  • Having to complete a 3-month DUI program
  • Having to install an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to 6 months

The jail sentence can sometimes be served as probation instead of actual jail time. But don’t count on it – judges ain’t messing around with DUIs no more. Even for a first offense you could very well end up behind bars for a few days or weeks. The fines will end up being a lot more than $1,000 once all the court fees and penalties get tacked on. We’re talking like $2,000-$2,500 when all is said and done.

Having your license suspended obviously makes life really difficult, unless you live somewhere with good public transportation. The DUI program involves enrolling in classes and counseling that teach you about the dangers of drunk driving. It ain’t cheap either, expect to pay around $500-$1,000 for the program.

The IID device prevents your car from starting if it detects alcohol on your breath. You have to blow into it before you drive anywhere. It’s embarrassing and inconvenient, but them’s the breaks after a DUI. You’ll pay around $75-$150 for installation plus around $60-$80 per month in rental fees.

Second Offense DUI

Think the penalties for a first DUI are bad? Just wait til you see what happens for a second misdemeanor DUI conviction:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • Fines up to $1,000 plus a ton more in penalties and fees
  • Suspension of your license for 2 years
  • Having to complete an 18-month DUI program
  • Having an IID installed for 1-2 years

See, they really throw the book at you for a second DUI. The jail sentence is much more likely to involve serious time behind bars. We’re talking months, not just days or weeks like for a first offense. And the fines shoot up to the $3,000-$5,000 range once the court tacks on all kinds of fees.

The 2-year license suspension is a real killer. No driving for 2 whole years? It might as well be a lifetime for most Californians. The 18-month DUI program is also double the length of the first offense one, so expect to pay upwards of $1,500-$2,000 to complete it.

Having the IID for 1-2 years means dealing with the daily hassle and embarrassment of blowing into the device every time you drive for a year or more. You’ll also be paying monthly rental fees for the device for all that time, so that’s another hefty cost.

Third Offense DUI – It’s Now a Felony

If you get convicted of a third DUI within 10 years in California, it’s no longer just a misdemeanor – it’s a felony. We’re talking serious consequences now:

  • 120 days to 1 year in county jail or 16 months to 3 years in state prison
  • Fines up to $1,000 plus many thousands more in fees and restitution
  • Revocation of your license for 3 years
  • Having to complete a 30 month DUI program
  • Possible installation of an IID for 2-3 years

See the difference when it becomes a felony? We’re talking hard time in state prison, not just county jail. And up to 3 years without a license? That’s beyond brutal. The fines shoot up to the $5,000-$10,000 range too with all the add-ons.

The 30 month DUI program and 2-3 years with an IID are no joke either. We’re talking serious investments of both time and money to comply with these penalties.

Fourth and Subsequent DUIs

You’d think any sane person would stop driving drunk after three DUIs, but some people don’t get the message. If you rack up a fourth DUI in California within 10 years, you’re looking at up to 3 years in state prison. A fifth DUI conviction will get you another 3-5 years behind bars.

Fines can be up to $18,000 for four DUIs and $30,000 for five DUIs! Yep, thirty grand for the fifth offense. Plus 3-5 years of license suspension and many months of DUI classes and IID installation.

The penalties for 4+ DUIs are so severe because the court sees these repeat offenders as unable or unwilling to stop driving drunk. So they throw the book at them with years in prison and astronomical fines hoping they’ll finally learn their lesson before they kill someone.

DUI With Injury

The penalties get even harsher if your DUI driving actually causes injury to someone else. If your drunk driving results in injury to another person, you’re looking at:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail or state prison
  • Fines up to $5,000
  • Restitution to injured parties
  • 3-5 year license suspension
  • Lengthy DUI program

Even if it’s just your first DUI, injuring someone can mean hard prison time. The fines shoot up to $5,000 plus restitution to cover the victim’s medical bills and other expenses. And say goodbye to legally driving for 3-5 years if you hurt someone while DUI.

DUI With Death

Killing someone because of your drunk driving leads to the harshest DUI penalties in California. If your DUI driving causes the death of another person, you are looking at:

  • Second degree murder charges
  • 15 years to life in state prison
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Restitution to the deceased person’s family
  • Revocation of your license for 5 years

That’s right – your DUI becomes a murder charge if someone dies. Even if it’s just your first offense, you can end up spending most or all of the rest of your life in prison. The fines shoot up to $10,000, plus having to pay restitution to the victim’s family.

And obviously you won’t be driving legally for a long time after killing someone with your car while drunk. Getting the license back after 5 years is the least of your worries.

Under 21 DUI Consequences

The penalties for underage DUIs in California are harsher than for those 21 and over. If you’re under 21 and get busted for DUI, here’s what will happen:

  • 1 year license suspension even for first DUI
  • Fines up to $2,500 for first DUI
  • Up to 1 year in jail for first DUI
  • IID installation for 1-3 years
  • SR-22 insurance requirements for 3 years

See how the under 21 penalties are tougher? Even for a first DUI you can lose your license for a full year. The fines are higher too, up to $2,500 for the first offense. And you can end up spending a year in jail rather than just 6 months.

The IID and SR-22 insurance requirements also last longer – up to 3 years. So if you’re not 21, it’s an especially bad idea to drink and drive in California.

Refusing a DUI Test

Many people think refusing to take a breathalyzer or blood test allows them to avoid a DUI conviction. Wrong! Refusing a DUI test leads to:

  • 1-year license suspension for first offense
  • 2-year license suspension for second offense
  • 3-year license suspension for third offense
  • Up to 6 months jail time

See, the suspension is longer if you refuse testing than if you fail the test. And you can still be convicted of DUI even without the blood or breath test results. Plus, refusing looks bad to the judge and often leads to harsher DUI penalties in the end.

Underage DUI of Marijuana

DUI doesn’t just mean alcohol – you can also be convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana in California. The DUI penalties for pot are the same as for alcohol. And for drivers under 21, just having any measurable amount of marijuana in your system is enough to get a DUI conviction, even if you don’t seem impaired.

Out of State DUI

Don’t think you can dodge California DUI penalties by getting convicted in another state. California treats out of state DUIs the same as in state ones. The prior DUI will count as a first, second, third offense in California no matter where you got convicted of it.

DUI Defense Lawyers

Facing DUI charges in California? Don’t go it alone. Hire an experienced DUI defense attorney to fight the charges and help minimize the penalties. A good DUI lawyer can often get charges reduced or dismissed entirely. Or at least negotiate lighter sentencing like probation instead of jail time.

A DUI conviction affects your life forever. Don’t leave the outcome to chance. Protect your future with strong legal defense. Consult with DUI lawyers to understand all your options.


California takes DUIs very seriously, with increasing jail time, big fines, and license suspension for repeat offenses. Even first time DUIs come with up to 6 months in jail, $2,000 in fines, DUI classes, and an IID. Multiple DUIs can lead to years behind bars and five figure fines.

If you’re facing DUI charges, don’t wait. Call an experienced DUI attorney right away. A good lawyer can challenge the evidence and work to get charges reduced or dismissed without a trial. Don’t let a DUI wreck your finances, freedom, and future in California.

Fight back with a top lawyer on your side! Don’t become another DUI statistic. Take action today to protect your rights and your record.


Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

California Vehicle Code § 23536

§ 23152(a) VC – “DUI of Alcohol” – California Law & Penalties

Vehicle Code 23582 VC – DUI & Added Penalty For Excessive Speed

Vehicle Code 23572 VC – DUI w/ Child Under 14 in Vehicle