Do You Always Go to Jail for a DUI in California?

Do You Always Go to Jail for a DUI in California?
Christopher J. McCann

Facing a DUI charge is a severe situation. Drunk or intoxicated driving is a criminal offense in California and can change your life if you are convicted. If you get arrested for a DUI, you may wonder, “Do you always go to jail for a DUI in California?” Since the laws in California have changed regarding a DUI, it is wise to seek out a Santa Ana DUI defense lawyer if you are arrested for a DUI.

With proper representation, you can thoroughly understand your options and the penalties you could be facing if you were to get convicted. Nothing about a DUI should be downplayed and a skilled DUI defense attorney can help ensure your rights are protected.

What Is a DUI Charge?

Although DUI is an abbreviation for driving while under the influence in most places, the term can have a different meaning depending on where you live.

In California, a driver gets a DUI for driving impaired by drugs (including marijuana) or alcohol or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more while driving. You can be considered “under the influence” if it is clear you are substantially affected by drugs, alcohol, or any combination of substances.

Additionally, California prohibits motorists under 21 from driving with a BAC of .01% or more. This strict prohibition is called a “zero tolerance” law.

Anyone driving a commercial vehicle has a legal limit of .04%.

What Is California’s Implied Consent Law?

The implied consent law states that if a driver is legally pulled over for suspicion of DUI, they must agree to chemical testing for substances or face legal consequences. Possible consequences include an immediate license suspension, even with the first offense. Multiple offenses come with more severe penalties. A license suspension for refusing a test remains active, regardless of any future court case outcome.

License Suspension After DUI

Being charged with a DUI in California means that the driver’s license will likely be suspended for six months or ten months. The suspension will be longer on a second or third offense. While the driver may be able to apply for license reinstatement or a hardship license, these are not always granted and depend on the circumstances and the driver’s eligibility.

Jail Time and Other Penalties

When facing a DUI conviction, your penalty can vary depending on your number of prior convictions. The maximum penalties you may receive are:

  • First Offense: 6- or 10-month license suspension, $1,000 fine, and 6-month jail time.
  • Second Offense: 2-year license suspension, $1,000 fine, and 1-year jail time.
  • Third Offense: 3-year license suspension, $1,800 fine, and 1-year jail time.

Felony DUI Charges in California

While the typical maximum penalties a person might see seem straightforward, it is important to remember these maximum values do not factor in aggravating factors or any damages caused by driving while under the influence. The most common aggravating factor that can change your DUI to a felony is causing severe injury or the death of another person. Other factors include:

  • A minor being in the car
  • The DUI causing an accident
  • Property damage

A DUI Case’s Prosecution

In a DUI case in California, the prosecution has to prove two things: that the defendant drove a vehicle, and when the defendant drove, they were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.

They do this by attempting to prove the defendant was driving and they were impaired. The prosecution tries to prove the latter with a police record or some other record of the defendant’s mental or physical state at the time of arrest.

Being labeled under the influence relates to a driver’s mental or physical capacities being so impaired they are no longer able to operate their vehicle with the caution that a sober person would under similar circumstances. Sometimes, proving a driver was impaired can be difficult without a conclusive test completed during or shortly after the arrest. While the way a person drove is not proof that they were or were not under the influence, it is a factor that police and the prosecution can consider.

Defense Against DUI

Getting a DUI dismissed is difficult but still possible with a valid defense. A skilled DUI attorney will have the experience necessary to find a proper defense for your case. Arguments that the defense might use are:

  • The sobriety test was unreliable.
  • The test results were inaccurate.
  • Witnesses disagree with the officer’s observations.
  • The arrest procedure was improper or illegal.
  • There is no proof that the defendant drove the vehicle.

A qualified attorney will be able to choose the most effective defense for your situation and build the appropriate defense strategy.


Q: How Likely Is Jail Time for the First DUI in California?

A: Unlike in some states, jail time is uncommon for a first-time DUI offense in California. A first-offense conviction can result in penalties such as misdemeanor probation, DUI school, fines, and license suspension. However, jail is only typical in certain California counties or if other factors exacerbate the crime.

Q: What Is the Punishment for a DUI in California?

A: The punishment for a DUI in California depends on how many offenses you have and the time between when the violations occurred. Defendants are seen as first offenders if they have not had an applicable offense in the last ten years. Punishments for a single and multiple offense include:

  • First Offense: 6-month license suspension, $1,000 fine, and 1-year jail time.
  • Second Offense: 2-year license suspension, $1,000 fine, and 1-year jail time.
  • Third Offense: 3-year license suspension, $1,800 fine, and 1-year jail time.

Q: Does a DUI Ever Go Away in California?

A: A DUI does “go away” in California. After ten years, a DUI conviction is removed from the defendant’s driving record. During the ten years, it cannot be removed.

Although this removal resets the number of offenses the driver has, it is never wise to drive under the influence. Those who have received a DUI in the past should use caution and plan accordingly in the future when possible.

Q: Can a DUI Get Dismissed in California?

A: In California, a DUI can be dismissed with a proper and valid defense to challenge the charge. Since the prosecution has to prove that the defendant drove and was impaired while driving, there are ways to fight these claims. While it may be difficult for an untrained person to defend against a prosecutor, an experienced attorney can.

Contact Us for DUI Help

If you have been involved in a DUI, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC. We can help you understand your rights and options today.

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