You can expect several things to happen after you're convicted of a DUI in California. While serious, the penalties for your first offense will be relatively lenient compared to what you'd face after a subsequent conviction. They're also less serious than first-offense DUI penalties in many other states.
First, the license suspension period that unofficially began in the immediate aftermath of your arrest will become official. Next, you'll be asked to pay a raft of fines and fees. You'll also need to attend regular alcohol-education and driver-retraining classes, each of which may meet several times per week for months on end. Finally, you'll need to submit to a term of unsupervised probation in lieu of actual prison time. Depending upon the circumstances of your case, this term of probation may last between three and five years.
While the fines, classes and occasional inquiries from your probation officer may be annoying, you're likely to find your one-year license suspension and subsequent restriction period downright inconvenient. Unless you take swift action in the days that follow your DUI arrest, your license may be revoked for between four months and one year.
To forestall the DMV's seizure of your driver's license, you'll need to make an appointment for a "suspension hearing" within 10 days of your arrest. If you wait until after this 10-day period to try to make your appointment, the DMV will refuse your request.
Since California's DMV has a perennial backlog of DUI cases, your appointment may not take place until several weeks after your arrest. As such, you'll be granted a 30-day restriction waiver that will permit you to drive to and from work and school during the interim period. If the waiver expires before your hearing, you can reapply for another one.
At your suspension hearing, be prepared to show that driving is an essential part of your daily routine. If you live or work in an area that lacks adequate public transportation, this will be far easier for you to prove. Once the DMV grants your request for a "work restriction," you'll need to obtain an SR-22 form from your insurance company and enroll in driver-education classes.
To get your license unrestricted, you'll need to complete your probation successfully and fulfill all of the other requirements of your sentence. As a rule, you can't obtain an unrestricted license before you finish your driver-retraining and alcohol-education classes.