California has some of the most stringent DUI laws in America. The laws vary from those of commercial vehicle drivers to regular drivers and drivers below 21 years. Further, the statutes are dependent on the substance causing your intoxication. This means the consumption of impairment causing medicines or narcotics is punished under a different law than alcohol impairment. DUI violations are priorable in California. If faced with a DUI offense, the prosecution and the judge look at your DUI history to prefer charges or punish you for your current crime.

The penalties you would receive range from hefty fines to jail time and even probation. When charged with a DUI offense, you must engage in legal representation to fight against a conviction or to have a favorable outcome. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have represented many defendants facing similar allegations with excellent results.

California DUI Statutes

As earlier discussed, California has several statutes that regulate impaired driving. VEH 23152(a) criminalizes operating a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol. The law further gives a guide to alcohol intoxication and the levels that make it an offense.

Some of these laws are:

VEH 23152

The primary DUI law that prohibits drunk driving is found under VEH 23152. This law has various subsections that further describe the offense in detail. For instance, under VEH 23152(a), (f), and (g), the statute addresses operating of a regular vehicle while under the influence of narcotics or alcohol. Drugs, according to the law, can be prescription medications, over the counter and narcotics. Operating your vehicle impaired by prescription drugs is not an excuse for this offense.

The state has a mandate to protect its citizens from dangerous drivers. Intoxicated or under the influence, drivers are a danger to themselves and other road users. An impaired driver cannot mentally or physically control their vehicle as a sober driver would. If faced with a threat on the road, an impaired driver may find limitations on dealing with it and end up causing an accident.

VEH 23152(b) – Perse DUI

This statute addresses drivers over 21 years. Under this statute, if you are a regular motorist and are impaired, your BAC level is taken and must not be at 0.08% or more. If your BAC is at this point, whether you are impaired or not, you automatically face prosecution for violating the law.

For instance, a police officer can pull you over after noticing you have a broken tail light. As they prepare to give you a ticket for your violation, they see alcohol in your car or smell alcohol in you. This may prompt them to investigate your BAC level, even when your driving pattern was not indicative of impairment. If your BAC is at 0.08% or over, you automatically face charges for violating VEH 23152(b).

VEH 23152(d) BAC for Commercial Vehicle Drivers

Commercial drivers hold a special license that allows them to drive commercial vehicles and regular vehicles too. Commercial drivers operate their cars as a job, meaning they earn a living from driving. Due to this, the laws that govern their driving are more stringent than for regular vehicles. If you drive a commercial vehicle, you must never operate it with a 0.04% BAC or above. If your BAC is at this level or over, you automatically face charges for violating VEH 23152(d).

However, a commercial driver can also drive a regular vehicle. If stopped for intoxicated driving, it will not be a commercial vehicle driver, as long as they operate a standard car. In this case, the BAC for regular vehicle drivers is the basis of their violation.

VEH 23152(e) – Carrying a Passenger while Intoxicated

Although taxis and limousines are regular vehicles, they are considered commercial vehicles because they provide transportation for a fee. Limo and taxi drivers violate this law if they operate their vehicles while passengers and their BAC are 0.04% or more.

VEH 23136 – DUI in Underage Driving

The state of California has a policy against underage drinking. Legal BAC levels are harsher for drivers below 21 years than for adult drivers. Underage drivers are discouraged from driving while drunk or drugged. If they must go, they must not do so with a BAC of 0.01% or more. A first-time offense or violation is often treated as an infraction punishable by paying a fine. In this case, a repeat offense usually results in the suspension of your license for some time.

Penalties for Violating DUI laws

As earlier stated, a DUI offense is a priorable one. This means the penalties you would receive for committing the crime depend on any other DUI offense you may have engaged in the last ten years. As you repeat a DUI offense, the penalties keep increasing.

DUI violations are usually charged as misdemeanors if no aggravating factors exist to change the offense to a felony. However, a fourth repeat offense in ten years automatically becomes a felony. According to VEH 23152, penalties for a DUI differ from the first offense to the fourth one in ten years and with the offense's circumstances. Below, we discuss the sentences you would face under VEH 23152.

1st Misdemeanor DUI Penalties

If faced with charges for a first DUI offense, the possible penalties you would face include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation lasting from three years to five
  • County jail incarceration for not more than six months
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000 and not below $390
  • A drug or alcohol education program for three months or nine
  • Having to fit an IID in the car you drive for not less than six months. This gadget in your vehicle enables you to drive to any destination freely. However, if you opt not to have the IID device installed, the court can suspend your driving privileges for 6 to 10 months.

It is essential to understand that, when you are arrested for a DUI offense and charged for it, the arresting officer must report the arrest to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV functions or penalties for your offense are independent of the court's ruling. The officer handling your case informs the DMV of the arrest and sends them your driver's license for their action. In the meantime, the officer hands you a temporary permit to enable you to move around while waiting for your hearing at the DMV.

An important aspect to understand in DUI laws is that a DMV hearing is not automatic but must be requested. After your arrest, you are accorded ten days to request a hearing. If you fail to petition for this hearing, your license becomes automatically suspended.

On the other hand, if you request the DMV hearing in ten days, you have an opportunity to fight against the suspension of your license. Once the DMV receives your request, they communicate back by issuing you a date to present your argument on why your driving privileges should not be suspended. Your lawyer will challenge the arrest and poke holes in the arresting officer's testimony during the hearing. If your argument prevails, your license remains valid. However, most people do not prevail over this hearing and almost always have their licenses suspended.

2nd Misdemeanor DUI Penalties

As earlier stated, a DUI offense is a priorable one. If you commit the crime a second time in ten years, your penalties will be more stringent than your first DUI misdemeanor. Before a judge passes judgment, your background must be evaluated to accord your sentence according to the law. A second offense, in this case, will have the below penalties:

  • Informal or misdemeanor probation for not less than three or more than five years
  • A county incarceration sentence of not less than 96 hours (4 days), and not over a year
  • A fine from $390 to a maximum of $1,000. For a repeat offense, the fine you pay is higher than you paid in the first offense
  • Completing a California DUI program of either 18 months or 30
  • A mandatory IID installation for a year enables you to move freely, but a refusal will mean a suspension of your license to drive for twenty-four months.

3rd Misdemeanor DUI Penalties

If you repeat a DUI offense a third time in 10 years, a conviction will earn you the penalties below:

  • Informal probation lasting from three years to five
  • County incarceration for not less than 120 days or more than 365 days
  • A fine starting from $ 390 to a maximum of $1,000, but higher than in your previous sentence
  • Completing a DUI education program for 30 months that is court-approved
  • Fitting of an IID to allow you to drive to any place, but a failure will have your license suspended for thirty-six months.
  • You will earn the title of a habitual traffic offender (HTO)

DUI Causing Injury

Earlier, we discussed that DUI offenses are typically prosecuted as misdemeanors in California. This is true for the first three offenses in ten years. However, where there are aggravating factors such as causing an injury, the crime becomes a wobbler, according to California’s VEH 23153. This means even when it is your first time to commit a DUI violation, but it caused an injury to another person, the offense is not a misdemeanor but a wobbler.

The prosecutor considers the facts of your offense and your criminal past before preferring misdemeanor or felony charges.

If prosecuted for violating VEH 23153 and convicted on misdemeanor charges, your likely punishment will include:

  • Misdemeanor probation for not less than three years or more than five years
  • A minimum of 5 days county jail time to a maximum of 365 days
  • A cash fine from $390 to $5,000
  • Attending and completing a DUI program on substance abuse for three months or 18 or 30 months
  • Mandatory installation of an IID for six months to allow unrestricted driving or a year's suspension on your driving privileges
  • Paying the injured victims damages or restitution

When a violation of VEH 23153 is prosecuted as a felony, the penalties are harsher. These include:

  • State incarceration for a minimum of 16 months to a maximum of ten years. Further, you will be sentenced to an additional 1 to 6 years of prison time to be served consecutively with your preceding sentence for the injuries you caused. The extra prison time depends on how many victims suffered and the severity of their injuries.
  • You could have a strike in your criminal record based on the three-strikes law of California.
  • Paying a fine that starts from $1,015 to $5,000
  • Completing a DUI school program lasting between eighteen months and thirty
  • Receiving the title of Habitual Traffic Offender for three years.
  • Having a requirement to fit an IID device in your vehicle for two to three years to allow free driving, failure to which your driving privileges are suspended.
  • The judge will order you to pay your victims restitution or for the damages due to the injuries.

Felony DUI Offense

According to VEH 23152, the law on DUI offense states that a fourth and subsequent repeat of a DUI offense in ten years becomes an automatic felony. iThis means that even in the absence of other aggravating factors, the act of a fourth repeat or more is by itself aggravating enough to warrant a felony charge. If convicted on this charge, your penalties are steeper than in your previous charges. These penalties include:

  • California state imprisonment for sixteen months or twenty-four or thirty-six
  • A fine starting from $390 to a maximum of $1,000
  • Installation of an IID in your car, failure to which your driver's license is suspended for forty-eight months
  • You become an HTO according to the DMV

A critical point to note is that your punishment will be different if your offense results in death. The penalties for the violation almost always earn you a strike and can earn you life imprisonment.

Probation Conditions according to DUI Laws in California

Probation is typically one of the better outcomes of a DUI hearing. Besides the different punishments discussed earlier, a probation sentence always includes multiple conditions as a punishment. These conditions are taken seriously just like regular penalties, and a failure to fulfill them can result in its revocation and the retaining of jail time punishment. These terms include:

  • During your probation, you cannot drive with detectable alcohol in your blood
  • If you are stopped for a suspected DUI offense or are required to submit to a chemical test to determine your BAC level, you cannot refuse to submit
  • You mustn't be engaged in any other criminal activities during your DUI probation period
  • If your DUI was drug or alcohol-related, the judge could order you to attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholic Anonymous, respectively
  • The judge can also ask you to be part of a victim impact program in addition to or instead of
  • Paying restitution to injured victims if your offense caused an accident

Factors that can Enhance your DUI Sentence according to DUI laws of California

Besides the penalties earlier discussed, your sentence can increase if particular facts are present or aggravated circumstances during the arrest. These aggravating factors increase your punishment regardless of whether it is your first or a repeat offense. Some common aggravating factors include:

  • When your BAC levels are 0.15% and above, although in some counties it can be less
  • Declining to have a chemical test performed
  • When your DUI results in an accident
  • When in addition to driving under the influence, you were moving at increased speeds
  • If you had a minor below 14 years in your vehicle and you drove with them while under the influence. This discovery can result in you facing another charge of endangering a child according to PEN 273(a)
  • Being an underage drinker or below 21 years when you committed the offense

The increased sentences you may receive due to the aggravating factors depend on the actual circumstances of DUI arrest and your criminal background. The background is more relevant if it is DUI related.

Alternative Sentencing according to DUI Laws of California

DUI laws of California allow for alternative punishment to jail or prison time. This means, instead of serving your sentence in a county jail or state prison, you can be subjected to a different kind of punishment. These alternatives are:

  • Community service for a specified period
  • Participating in Cal-Trans roadside works
  • House arrest with electronic monitoring
  • Being ordered to reside in a place with sober-living
  • Being incarcerated in a city or private jail

Commercial Driver DUI Laws in the State of California

Commercial drivers are held at higher regard in California because of the nature of their work. This makes the laws against their intoxicated driving more stringent than those for regular drivers. A commercial driver is prohibited from operating their commercial vehicle if their BAC is at 0.04% or above.

The offense, just like a regular DUI, is priorable. The penalties increase with every repeat offense. A commercial driver's penalties are similar to those of a standard driver if it is the first offense. DUI laws on commercial drivers indicate the crime is typically a misdemeanor in the absence of aggravating factors. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction include:

  • Informal probation lasting between three and five years
  • A fine ranging from $390 to $1,000 instead of or in addition to your jail sentence
  • Attending a DUI school for a minimum of three months to thirty-six months

According to California DUI laws, if you drive intoxicated and injure another person as a commercial driver, you face felony charges.

Further, California law on commercial DUI states that the driver's license is suspended for a year in the least upon a conviction. According to the law, this suspension applies even when operating a regular car at the arrest time. Additionally, your license will be suspended if you refuse to take a breath or blood test to determine your BAC.

If you repeat the offense and become convicted for a second time, the commercial DUI law is more stringent. In this case, your license is revoked for life. This means besides the legal penalties, you will never work as a commercial driver again. For this reason, a charge on a DUI offense must be fought vigorously to avoid a conviction that carries these stringent penalties.

Underage DUI Laws in the State of California

California has two laws that deal with underage drinking. These are:

  • VEH 23136 – The zero-tolerance law prohibiting driving with a 0.01% BAC and
  • VEH 23140 – The law that prohibits driving with a 0.05% BAC of or more

Both these laws deal with underage drinking, where drivers below 21 years are considered juvenile. If convicted of violating these laws, a common repercussion is a suspension of your driving privileges for a year.

If you are below 21 years and stopped for a suspected DUI, you must submit to field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer test according to the law. If you refuse to submit to these, the law states that your license is suspended for a year.

Underage drivers can face charges for violating adult DUI laws. If arrested for driving intoxicated with drugs or alcohol, you could face prosecution according to VEH 23152(a) laws. Further, if your blood alcohol content was at 0.08% and above, you face prosecution under adult DUI law of VEH 23152(b).

An underage driver can also cause injuries due to their impaired driving. If this happens, it will not matter your age, but you face prosecution for violating VEH 23153.

If prosecuted on adult DUI laws as an underage, the penalties you earn are similar to those of an adult under similar circumstances.

Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

The state of California has stringent DUI laws designed to punish offenders or deter severely would-be offenders. A conviction for violating any of these laws can result not only in the strict legal penalties, but also repercussions that can alter your life for long. If charged with violating any of the California DUI laws, your best chance of prevailing over the allegations is hiring an experienced attorney. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand the repercussions of a conviction and vigorously defend you against an unfavorable outcome. Call our office at 714-262-4833 to further discuss your case.