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When it comes to DUI, California is serious about deterrence. The Golden State has increased its DUI consequences over the years to get unsafe drivers off the roads. Learn about changes to California DUI laws, current penalties, and what to do if you get charged with drunk or drugged driving.

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While you may know that your blood alcohol content (BAC) can get you a DUI, California has strict limits for drugged driving, too. The current legal limits on drunk or drugged driving include:

  • BAC of .08 percent for adult drivers
  • BAC of .01 percent (suspension) and .05 percent (DUI arrest) for drivers under 21 (known as ‘zero tolerance’)
  • BAC of .01 percent for drivers on DUI probation
  • BAC of .04 percent for commercial drivers or for drivers with passengers-for-hire in the vehicle
  • Presence of any drug (illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter) which impairs your ability to drive

Simply testing above the limit can result in a charge even if you don’t feel impaired–known as a DUI ‘per se’. You can also be charged with a DUI if you test under the limit but you’re unable to drive safely. Penalties are enhanced at two BAC thresholds: .15 percent and .20 percent.

Discouraging DUI: California Legislative Changes

Are you aware of the new DUI laws in California? 2022 brought increased penalties for many charges. Here are five things to know about current California DUI laws:

1. Prior Convictions Count

Sometimes, court proceedings drag on and it takes time for the state to convict you of a DUI. If you are convicted of a second DUI before you’re convicted of the first DUI, both count as convictions for purposes of sentencing you for a DUI. California does not want repeat offenders to escape enhanced punishment on a technicality.

2. DUID: Driving Under The Influence Of Drugs

California has made it official: It is illegal to drive under the influence of any drug. This includes any over-the-counter or prescription medication that makes you unsafe to drive, even if you did not abuse it.

3. Blow Before You Go: IID Requirement

Every person convicted of a DUI must install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their car for a specified period of time. The law states 60 days will be added to the period of time if someone tries to start the car with alcohol on their breath within the first 60 days of installation.

4. Enhanced Penalties For Driving Drunk With Minors

If your DUI was otherwise considered a misdemeanor and there was a person under the age of 14 in the car at the time of arrest, you may face enhanced penalties such as higher fines, mandatory jail time, or a 2-year license suspension.

5. Getting To The Root Of The Problem: Treatment Program Requirement

Courts can order people convicted of DUIs to undergo treatment programs. These range from 3 months for first-time offenders to 18 or 30 months for fourth and subsequent convictions.

Every state has an ‘implied consent’ law which states you give your consent to a chemical BAC test if you’re arrested on suspicion of a DUI simply by being a licensed driver in the state. California’s law goes further by requiring blood and urine tests if you’re suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. You can’t consult with a lawyer before the test and if you refuse, your driver’s license will be suspended.

California DUI Penalties

DUI charges result in administrative and judicial penalties. Administrative penalties deal with license suspension and may require civil hearings at the Department of Motor Vehicles. License reissue fees range from $100-$125. The penalties are imposed at the discretion of a judge or DMV official:

First Conviction

  • $390 to $1,000 in fines
  • 48 hours to 6 months in jail
  • License suspension: 6 months (judicial), 4 month (administrative), restricted license possible
  • 3 years informal probation, 3 months DUI school (9 months DUI school for BAC .2 and higher)

Second Conviction

  • $390-$1,000 in fines, plus penalty enhancements
  • 96 hours to 1 year in jail (house arrest possible)
  • License suspension: 2 years (judicial), 1 year (administrative), restricted license possible, IID for 12 months
  • 3-5 years informal probation, 18-30 months DUI school

Third Conviction

  • $390-$1,000 in fines, plus penalty enhancements
  • 120 days to 1 year in jail
  • License suspension: 3 years (judicial), 1 year (administrative), restricted license possible, IID for 3 years
  • 3-5 years informal probation, 30 months DUI school

Felony DUI

  • $390-$5,000 in fines, plus penalty enhancements
  • 16 months to 4 years in prison (up to 15 years if accident resulted in fatality)
  • License revocation: 4-5 years (judicial), restricted license possible, IID required
  • 3-5 years probation, 30 months DUI school possible for fourth DUI

Aggravating Factors Of DUI: California Felony Charges

While first, second, and third offenses are charged as misdemeanor DUIs, California considers DUIs felonies in four situations:

  • DUI involving accident with fatality
  • DUI involving accident with serious injury
  • Fourth (or more) DUI conviction in 10 years
  • Prior felony DUI conviction on record

A prior conviction for operating a water vessel such as a jet ski, boat, or aquaplane under the influence stays on your record and is considered in the penalty phase of a subsequent motor vehicle DUI.

Possible Defenses

A lawyer can help you fight a DUI charge, but if you can’t afford one, the state will provide one at no cost to you. Together, you and your attorney can determine which defenses may help you avoid conviction. Common defenses include:

  • Your BAC test was more than two hours after your stop
  • The BAC testing methods were incorrect or test improperly given
  • The field sobriety test results were incorrect or the tests were improperly given
  • The officer lacked ‘reasonable suspicion’ of impairment when pulling you over, known as an unlawful traffic stop
  • You weren’t driving the vehicle
  • The officer didn’t read your Miranda warning (“read you your rights” at arrest)

Facing Drunk Or Drugged Driving Charges in California?

Put the brakes on a potential drunk driving conviction. If you’ve been arrested and charged with a DUI, California legal help is available.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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