What Happens When You Get a DUI in California?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

No matter where you live, driving under the influence is a serious offense with lasting consequences. In most states, a DUI is both a serious traffic violation and a criminal offense. If you cause major property damage or seriously injure a third party while you're driving drunk, you may be charged with a felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence.

Although they're not to be taken lightly, California's DUI penalties are actually not as harsh as some other states'. For your first offense, you'll be assessed total fines and fees of between $1,500 and $2,000 and required to spend two days in jail. In practice, this jail-time requirement is often commuted to a community-service sentence or negated by the time that you've already served in detention. You'll also be required to attend an alcohol-awareness course that may take several months to complete.

Once your case has been processed, you'll be sentenced to between three and five years of probation. For relatively "minor" first offenses, courts typically recommend an "informal" term of probation that doesn't require regular visits with a probation officer. While you'll still meet with your caseworker on occasion, you'll correspond largely by phone or mail.

Of course, you'll need to inform the authorities of any planned out-of-state trips or changes of address. In addition, your probation officer will reserve the right to make an unannounced visit to your home or place of employment. If they can't find you, you may find yourself in a heap of trouble: In California, individuals who violate their probation often wind up in jail.

As a "binary offense," your DUI case will require you to deal with two separate legal entities. In addition to facing criminal charges in your local county court, you'll need to appear before the state's Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of your arrest to request the reinstatement of your driving privileges until you've been formally convicted. If it's only your first or second offense, the DMV will probably grant your request.

Your DUI conviction will continue to haunt you even after your license has been reinstated. The cost of your car insurance may double or even triple: After just one DUI conviction, the average Californian sees their premiums increase by an average of $2,500 per year. Even worse, your crime will show up on employer-conducted background checks for 10 years or longer.

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