What Is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in California?

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At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we get many questions from people who have never been in trouble before who get arrested for drunk driving.

One common question is, What is the difference between a DUI and a DWI in California? 

It’s understandable to have questions because California’s drunk driving law is complicated and can be confusing. 

Attorney Kerry L. Armstrong and our team of experienced drunk driving defense lawyers can review every aspect of your case and answer your questions, including why DUI and DWI mean the same thing in California.

We provide superior legal advocacy coupled with emotional support to help you get through the stress of getting charged with a crime.

And we pride ourselves on providing you with the best defenses possible. We will fight to limit your exposure to jail, probation, and other harsh consequences of a drunk driving charge.

Contact us to schedule a consultation.


DUI and DWI are abbreviations that refer to drunk driving charges. The abbreviations are derived from the statutory language used in a particular state.

Some states use both abbreviations to refer to different crimes, but California does not. DUI typically stands for driving under the influence, while DWI is an abbreviation for driving while intoxicated. 

As stated, some states differentiate these two terms, but they mean the same thing in California. 

California Vehicle Code §23152 declares that driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is a crime.

California courts are more inclined to refer to drunk driving charges as DUIs rather than DWIs because of the statutory language.

Referring to drunk driving as DWI is not wrong; however, that particular abbreviation does not track the statutory language as DUI does. 

Types of DUI Charges in California

DUI in California refers to several different types of DUI offenses. State DUI law refers to driving under the influence, DUI per se, driving while addicted to drugs, DUI drugs, DUI with drugs and alcohol, and driving a commercial motor vehicle or passenger-for-hire vehicle under the influence or with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04% or greater. 

What’s the Difference Between DUI Charges?

The type of evidence prosecutors will use to convict you is the key difference among California’s DUI charges.

In a DUI prosecution, the police officer who arrested you will testify to evidence collected at the scene, like field sobriety tests and observations that led the officer to believe you were driving under the influence.

The evidence in a DUI per se prosecution is similar. DUI per se refers to California’s “legal limit” for how much alcohol can be in your body before you are charged with a crime.

The legal limit in California is a BAC of 0.08% or higher. So if you took a chemical test, then the prosecutor will call witnesses to testify about the result. 

The prosecution might need to call a drug recognition expert to discuss driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol if they suspect you of using drugs and driving.

Fight Your San Diego County DUI Charges

We encourage our clients to ask questions like, What is the difference between a DUI and a DWI in California? We are happy to take the time to ensure you understand every aspect of your defense.

Call us today at 619-439-0912 or contact us online to speak with our award-winning criminal defense lawyers.

You are in good hands with State Bar of California board-certified criminal law specialist Kerry L. Armstrong and his team.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego 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.

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