California DUI Defined

California DUI Defined

California DWI & DUI Laws

According to the most recent California DUI Fact Sheet, there were nearly 1,500 alcohol-involved fatalities in 2007.

That may not seem like many, considering there were more than 200,000 DUI arrests, but once you realize that 1,500 people left behind their parents, siblings, children, spouses, friends, and other loved ones, the number becomes staggering.

California DUI Defined

Per California’s driving under the influence (DUI) laws, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any of the following blood alcohol content (BAC) percentages:

  • 0.08% or higher―21 years old or older operating a regular passenger vehicle.
  • 0.04% or higher―operating a commercial vehicle.
  • 0.01% or higher―younger than 21 years old.

The state’s DUI laws include medications, too. You can’t legally drive if you’ve consumed illegal drugs or:

  • Excessive amounts of drugs with alcohol in them (such as cough syrup).
  • Prescription medication.
  • Over-the-counter medication.

DUI convictions stay on your driving record for 10 years.

Understand Your DUI Penalties

Not all DUI penalties or charges are the same. Depending on your age, license type, and any previous convictions, you could face:

  • License suspension.
  • Fines.
  • Jail time or community service.
  • DUI school.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).
  • SR-22 filing.

DUI Penalties: Younger than 21

Drivers younger than 21 years old face two kinds of alcohol-related offenses, and both affect their driving privileges: possessing alcohol, and violating the Zero Tolerance Law.

Possession of Alcohol

If you’re younger than 21 years old, you can’t possess alcohol in your vehicle unless the container is full, sealed, and unopened. You also must either:

  • Be with a parent or legal guardian.
    • or
  • Be working for a person with an off-site liquor license.

Breaking this law leads to:

  • Vehicle impoundment for 30 days.
  • Fines of up to $1,000.
  • License suspension for one year.

Zero Tolerance Law

The Zero Tolerance Law is exactly what it sounds like: California won’t tolerate any amount of alcohol (specifically, 0.01% or higher) for drivers younger than 21 years old.

The first time you’re charged with drunk driving, you face:

  • License suspension for one year.
  • The educational portion of DUI school.
  • Hundreds of dollars in fines.

Your DUI attorney and judge will inform you of the longer suspension periods, higher fines, and more stringent DUI programs you face if you have a second or subsequent offense.

NOTE: Your suspension period is based on whether you submitted to the chemical test. See “Chemical Test Refusal Penalties” below for more information.

DUI Penalties: 21 or Older

First Offense

  • Immediate license suspension per the state’s Admin Per Se policy. (See below for more information on Admin Per Se suspensions.)
  • License suspension unrelated to Admin Per Se for at least 4 months.
  • Up to 6 months in jail.
  • Up to $1,000 in fines. Keep in mind additional penalty fines and legal fees.
  • $125 fee for license reissue.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device.
  • DUI program. The length varies depending on factors like your BAC at the time of arrest.
  • SR-22 filing.

Second and Subsequent Offenses

The California Driver Handbook describes penalties for second and subsequent DUI offenses as “increased,” meaning you will face longer jail time and more expensive fines, in addition to the DUI program and SR-22 filing requirement.

Your license suspension and revocation periods change, too. For example, a second or subsequent offense within 10 years of your prior offense brings license suspension or revocation for at least 1 year.

Because penalties beyond first offenses are dependent upon the offense number, it’s best to contact a CA DUI attorney for help.

Commercial Driver DUI Penalties

Commercial drivers caught with a BAC of 0.04% or higher while operating a commercial vehicle can expect the following license suspension periods:

  • First Offense: 4 months
  • Second and Subsequent Offenses (in a 10-year period): 1 year

Note that these suspension periods are in addition to any fines, jail time, and DUI programs the CA DMV and court system impose.

Also, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Disqualification of Drivers wields a big hand when it comes to commercial drivers and the offenses that disqualify them―sometimes permanently―from having a valid CDL.

Other DUI Penalties

CA Ignition Interlock Device

You may be ordered to install an ignition interlock device (IID) into your car as part of your DUI penalties.

An IID is a small gadget wired to your vehicle’s ignition that requires breath samplesbefore you can start your vehicle, as well as periodically throughout your drive. If an IID detects alcohol on your breath, the vehicle won’t start.

The court might order an IID if:

  • You had a BAC of at least 0.15%.
  • You had moving violations prior to the DUI.
  • You refused the chemical test.
  • You’re convicted in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, or Tulare Counties.

The court provides forms and procedure instructions for monitoring the installation and use of your IID. Expect to pay various fees and related costs, including administrative service fees and restriction fees.

California provides a list of IID providers. Make sure the provider you choose is licensed in the state.

Admin Per Se Penalties

An Admin Per Se suspension occurs when the officer takes your license on the spotafter you fail or refuse a chemical test.

The officer or the DMV will issue an Order of Suspension and possibly a temporary license.

If you believe the suspension is unjustified, you may request an administrative hearingwithin 10 days of receiving the order.

Chemical Test Refusal Penalties

You face additional license suspension penalties if you refuse to submit to a chemical test upon being pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving, and you will have your license confiscated on the spot.

Younger than 21 years old

  • First Offense: Suspended for 1 year.
  • Second Offense: Revoked for 2 years.
  • Third Offense: Revoked for 3 years.

21 years old or Older

  • First Offense: Suspended for 1 year.
  • Second Offense: Revoked for 2 years.
  • Third Offense: Revoked for 3 years.

California Three Strikes Law

California’s Three Strikes Law delivers certain sentences to people who commit multiple serious and violent felonies―specifically, upon a “third strike,” a convict receives a life sentence with the possibility of parole only after 25 years.

Proposition 36 revised which crimes warrant life sentences, authorized re-sentencing, and detailed when to maintain life sentences.

Some CA DUI offenses fall under the Three Strikes Law. These include the most serious offenses―those that involve severe injuries and death. Not only do you face extended jail time, longer (or even permanent) license revocation, and higher fines and court costs, but you might also face civil lawsuits.

If your case falls under the state’s Three Strikes Law, don’t try to navigate the court system alone; seek legal representation as soon as possible.

When to Hire a DUI Attorney

Most DUI suspects must appear in court. Regardless of how you plan to plead, it’s best to hire a DUI attorney to help you get the best possible outcome, as well as provide assistance navigating your DUI penalties.

Enrolling in the CA DUI program

All DUI convictions require drivers to complete a DUI program. The course length varies based on your BAC and any previous DUI convictions.

Your judge and DUI lawyer will inform you of your DUI program requirements, but you can review the state’s DUI Fact Sheet for an overview of the various offender programs.

Applying for a Restricted License

Restricted licenses allow you to drive to and from places designated by your court, and are available for some DUI offenders.

You might be eligible if:

  • This isn’t your third or subsequent DUI offense in the last 10 years.
  • You agreed to the chemical test.
  • Your license wasn’t already suspended or revoked.

To apply for the restricted license:

  • Request the application from the DMV after the mandatory 30-day suspension is up.
  • Pay the $125 fee to reissue your license (or a $100 fee if you’re younger than 21 years old and the judge deems you can have one).
  • Enroll in the DUI First Offender Program and get the instructor to file Proof of Enrollment Certificate (Form DL 804) with the DMV.
  • Meet certain financial responsibility requirements, such as filing an SR-22 or providing a $35,000 cash deposit, surety bond, or self insurer certificate.
  • Install an IID, a possibility for some drivers.

Reinstating Your CA Driver’s License

Generally, you can reinstate your CA driver’s license after a DUI once you:

  • Pay all applicable fines and other fees (including your license reissue fee).
  • Complete any jail time, community service, or other probation order.
  • Successfully complete the DUI program, if ordered, as well as any ordered alcohol or drug treatment programs.
  • Keep your ignition interlock device for the ordered amount of time, if applicable.
  • Finish your suspension or revocation period.
  • File your SR-22 (see below) or present other state-approved proof of financial responsibility.

For more details specific to your case, contact the DMV or the court handling your case.

SR-22: Car Insurance and Proof of Financial Responsibility

You’ll likely have to file proof of financial responsibility in order to get your driving privileges back, including after an Admin Per Se suspension.

Most often, drivers rely on an SR-22 filing. An SR-22 is a type of financial responsibility certificate that proves you’re carrying the state’s required minimum liability coverage. Your insurance provider can file this form with the CA DMV.

You do have other options, though. For example, you can:

  • Post a $35,000 cash bond.
  • Post a surety bond.
  • Self insure.

You probably can see why an SR-22 is the most common choice.

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