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If you have DUI charges in California, you are undoubtedly concerned about what might happen to you and your family.

Being frightened about the prospects of going to jail, losing your license, and paying large fines is completely understandable.

It might seem like the end of the world to you right now.

However, educating yourself about California’s DUI penalties and consequences, as well as possible defenses, can help relieve some of the stress you are under.

If you have questions, please contact the DUI defense lawyers at the Law Office of Kerry Armstrong, APLC today.

What Constitutes a DUI in California?

California Vehicle Code section 23152 establishes the crime of misdemeanor DUI. Under this section, a person could face DUI charges for:

  • Driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage,
  • Driving under the influence of any drug,
  • Operating a vehicle under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs,
  • Driving a motor vehicle while addicted to drugs,
  • Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% for more, 
  • Operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04%, and
  • Operating a vehicle with a passenger for hire with a BAC of 0.04%.

Additionally, anyone who is under 21 years of age and has a BAC of 0.01% or greater may be charged with DUI under California Vehicle Code section 23136.

Driving Under the Influence

There are two ways police can arrest you for DUI in California: if you are driving impaired or if your blood-alcohol content (BAC) exceeds a certain threshold.

First, the police can arrest you for DUI based solely on the evidence that you drove a vehicle under the influence.

Accordingly, the police can arrest you for DUI even if your BAC is below 0.08%. In other words, the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol is not necessarily tied to a numerical value (such as .08% or more). 

The police will use evidence of intoxication to charge you with DUI such as:

  • Swerving,
  • Rapidly accelerating and decelerating without any reason,
  • Failing to obey traffic laws,
  • Dangerous driving,
  • Failing field sobriety tests,
  • Having slurred speech along with glassy and bloodshot eyes, and
  • Emitting the smell of alcohol.

Even if you don’t take a BAC test, this evidence alone is enough to potentially charge you with DUI.

California’s DUI Per Se Law

Vehicle Code section 23152 also describes California’s DUI per se law. Under this law, the police can arrest you with DUI if your BAC is 0.08% or above.

You might not feel intoxicated or even display objective signs of intoxication, such as those mentioned above, but you will still violate the DUI per se law if you are caught driving with a .08% BAC or more.   

According to Vehicle Code section 23152, if you submit a breath or blood sample that measures 0.08% grams of alcohol per either 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath, then you violate California’s DUI per se law.

Vehicle Code section 23152 also indicates that you violate this section if the test result showed a BAC of 0.08% or greater within three hours of driving.

Vehicle Code section 23152 calls the three-hour rule a “rebuttable presumption.” That means you, as the person charged, can contest the accuracy of the results. 

The DUI per se law is much tougher on commercial vehicle operators and people who drive vehicles with passengers for hire. The DUI per se law limit in those instances is 0.04% rather than 0.08.

California DUI Penalties Chart

Everyone who faces a criminal charge must understand the consequences of a conviction. That means you need to know the potential penalties you could suffer after a conviction.

Understanding the possible penalties helps you determine the best defense for you. As you will see, California law increases the maximum penalties for people with prior DUI offenses.

Therefore, you need to keep in mind that the decisions you make today may have serious implications for you down the road.

Accordingly, we have assembled this California DUI penalties chart as a helpful reference guide for you.

Using this guide, however, is not a substitute for consulting a highly experienced and knowledgeable DUI defense attorney.

Under Vehicle Code sections 23536 to 23552, the penalties for a DUI conviction include:

Offense NumberPeriod of IncarcerationDui Fine in CaliforniaProbationary TermsLicense LossOther Important Information
First96 hours to six months$390-$1,000Up to five years of probation with 3 or 9 months of DUI schoolFour months or longerPossibility of installing an ignition interlock device 
Second90 days to one year in jail$390-$1,00018 or more months of DUI schoolUp to two yearsMandatory ignition interlock
Third120 days to one year in jail$390-$1,00030 months of DUI schoolUp to three yearsMandatory ignition interlock
Fourth or SubsequentOne year in jail or 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison$390-$1,00030 months of DUI schoolUp to four years but could be permanentCould be a misdemeanor or felony

California, unlike other states, does not have a lifetime look-back law. Instead, the law permits using convictions that occurred only within the last 10 years.

Additional Penalties for Aggravating Circumstances

You should understand that a sentencing judge has the discretion to impose any sentence within the bounds of the law.

Accordingly, the sentencing judge does not have to give you the minimum sentence provided. In fact, the judge can impose the maximum sentence.

The judge will examine all of the facts surrounding your DUI arrest along with your prior record to determine an appropriate sentence.

Having a skilled California DUI defense lawyer by your side can help you avoid receiving a harsher sentence than you deserve.

DUI Sentencing After a Crash

In some circumstances, the prosecution could ask the judge for a tougher sentence than the minimum.

For instance, there are situations where the prosecution could charge you with a DUI that includes aggravating circumstances.

Vehicle Code section 23153 indicates that driving under the influence or driving with a BAC of 0.08% or greater and causing an accident that results in bodily injury is a crime if the operator drove negligently.

The maximum sentence is one year in jail or prison of up to three years. But the judge could add up to one additional year in prison for each victim. And the penalties increase for subsequent offenses.

The penalties also increase significantly if someone suffers “great bodily injury.”

You face substantial consequences if someone died in an accident while you were driving under the influence.

Under California’s motor vehicle homicide law, you could go to jail for one year to as long as ten years in prison on a first offense.

California law recognizes other enhancements as well. For example, having a child in the car with you who is under 14 years of age calls for an enhanced penalty.

Moreover, having a high BAC, such as 0.15% or above, allows the judge to dole out stiffer penalties.

Chemical Test Refusal

Refusing a chemical test (breath or blood) can expose you to additional sanctions.

According to Vehicle Code section 23578, the sentencing judge can take into account a test refusal as an aggravating factor when punishing a person for DUI.

Additionally, you will automatically lose your driver’s license for at least one year. You have the right to appeal the administrative suspension of your license within 10 days.

An administrative suspension for refusing a chemical test is distinct from the court suspending your license after a conviction.

What Can You Expect To Happen After an Arrest for DUI Charges?

Your life could radically change in an instant. Therefore, you need to take control of your current circumstances by engaging a skilled DUI defense lawyer.

Your DUI lawyer will explain your rights to you and what you can expect in the court procedure. Additionally, you and your lawyer will explore any defenses you may have. 

You need to be aware of the potential collateral consequences of a DUI charge. For example, your auto insurance might be canceled or your premium increased.

You might have difficulty at work because of your inability to drive. You also need to discuss any possible immigration consequences if you are not a citizen with your attorney.

Who Should You Call for Help Defending Your DUI Charges?

San Diego DUI attorney Kerry L. Armstrong forged his reputation by vigorously defending people’s rights when facing DUI charges.

Kerry is proud of his Martindale-Hubbell 5/5.0 AV peer rating, which indicates the highest level of professional excellence.

Additionally, Kerry and his firm have tried over 100 cases in front of a jury. This experience gives him the edge you need to give you the best chance of beating your DUI charges.

Contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today at 619-332-0525 for a free consultation.

Where to Find Our San Diego, California Office

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.