Each year, countless California drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI. Unfortunately, if you are one of these individuals, you face a number of severe criminal penalties if you are convicted of the offense. In fact, with the state’s tough sentencing guidelines, California DUI penalties are some of the strictest in the nation.
Like every other state, it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle on California roads if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. As a result, any person caught driving with a BAC above this percentage is considered legally impaired—regardless of his or her ability to drive. However, state law also prohibits underage motorists (those under 21) from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system at all (a BAC above 0.00%), while commercial drivers are deemed impaired with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
It is important to know that, due to the state’s Implied Consent Law, you can also be arrested for DUI if you refuse to submit a breath, blood, or urine sample to a law enforcement officer so that he or she can determine your exact BAC—a process known as chemical testing. If you do not submit to these tests, you can expect to be arrested for driving under the influence.
Regardless of the reason for your arrest, a drunk driving conviction carries a number of penalties, including a fine, license suspension, and jail sentence. Assuming it’s your first offense, the court may impose a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000, as well as suspend your driver’s license for up to four months. Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to spend anywhere from four days to six months behind bars, attend DUI school, perform community service, and/or have a vehicle ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle (a mechanism that requires you to perform a breathalyzer each time you attempt to start your automobile).
If you think the penalties for a first-time DUI offender are tough, consider this: if you have a prior conviction on your record, a second offense carries up to a one-year jail sentence, $1,000 fine, one-year license suspension, and three to five years of probation—and these penalties only increase with each subsequent DUI conviction. You can also expect harsher punishment if you had an extremely high BAC (above 0.15%), were traveling with a passenger under the age of 14, or were driving 20 miles or more above the speed limit at the time of your arrest.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to challenge a drunk driving arrest. If the officer who stopped you lacked probable cause for pulling you over, for example, your charges may be dismissed. You may even be able to challenge your chemical test results if you suffer from acid reflux disease or used breath mints, mouthwash, or gum shortly before the test was administered.