Understanding California DUI Laws



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The Basics of DUI Laws in California


Driving after having one or two drinks on a Friday night may be a good idea. However, if you drive with alcohol or other intoxicating substances in your system, you may be arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI).

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream after they consume alcohol. According to the California Vehicle Code, it is illegal for individuals to drive a vehicle with the following BAC levels:

  • 0.08 percent or higher (above 21 years old)
  • 0.01 percent or higher (below 21 years old)
  • 0.01 percent or higher (individuals on DUI probation)
  • 0.04 percent or higher (drivers of vehicles requiring a commercial driver’s license)

A DUID charge can result from any amount of drugs detected in a blood test. Under California law, you can be charged with DUI if you drive after consuming prescription or over-the-counter medications that impair your cognitive function, such as cough syrup or allergy medications.

These California DUI Laws also extend to drivers operating bicycles, boats, jet skis, water skis, aquaplane, or similar vehicles.

The DUI Investigation Process


Under California drunk driving laws, law enforcement officers are authorized to stop drivers if they observe a violation of the law or a driving pattern that provides reasonable suspicion of DUI. This can include any type of erratic driving behavior, such as weaving between lanes, tailgating, running red lights or stop signs, or driving too slowly or too fast for the conditions.

Once a driver has been stopped, law enforcement officers may observe additional signs of impaired driving, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol, to determine if the driver may be driving under the influence (DUI).

If there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired, officers may administer field sobriety tests or chemical tests to further assess their level of impairment. If the driver is found to be impaired and their blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit, they may be arrested and charged with DUI under California law.

In addition, drivers who refuse to participate in preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) or other FSTs may have their license suspended or revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

However, in some instances, drivers may be pulled over even without sufficient probable cause. In such cases, the driver’s rights may have been violated, and any evidence gathered during the traffic stop can be suppressed. It is, therefore, important to hire a skilled attorney to represent you to ensure that there are no miscarriages of justice.

Types of DUI Charges: Alcohol, Drugs, and Combination Offenses

Understanding DUI charges in California requires grappling with various categories. These primarily include alcohol-related offenses, drug impairment, and combination DUIs involving multiple substances. For alcohol, a driver typically faces charges if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. However, nuances exist. For instance, commercial drivers have a lower threshold of 0.04%.

Drug-related DUIs, on the other hand, encompass illegal narcotics, over-the-counter medications, and even prescribed drugs if they impair driving. Law enforcement relies on drug recognition experts to identify signs of drug impairment, as there is no straightforward test like the BAC for alcohol.

Combination DUIs are particularly complex. They involve simultaneous use of alcohol and drugs, creating compounded effects that significantly impair driving abilities. The penalties for these offenses can be severe, reflecting the increased risk posed to public safety.

Each type of DUI carries specific definitions and penalties, making it crucial for law practitioners to understand the subtleties to effectively defend their clients or advise them on legal strategies.

California DUI Arrest


By being on the road, all drivers in California implicitly consent to a blood, breath, or urine test when stopped by a police officer who suspects them of DUI.

Upon being pulled over in California, you may be asked to perform a field sobriety test (FST) or to blow into a breathalyzer. If you fail either of these tests, you may be arrested for driving under the influence.

When you are arrested for DUI, your driving privileges may be suspended as required under California’s Administrative Per Se (APS) law.

Further, police officers may confiscate your driver’s license and issue you a temporary one to be used for thirty days. However, a temporary license is only given to individuals with a valid driver’s license at the time of the arrest.

An Oakland DUI attorney may help you request an administrative hearing with the DMV within ten days from the date of your arrest. In addition, you can immediately apply for an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)-restricted license that permits you to continue driving without limitations as long as you keep the IID in your vehicle.

The IID only allows the driver to start the vehicle after passing a breathalyzer test. It also tracks data such as failed tests and attempts to tamper with the device, which can be used to ensure compliance with court-ordered restrictions.

California DUI Penalties


Under California’s DUI laws, most first-time DUI offenses are charged as misdemeanors. However, misdemeanor DUIs may be upgraded to felony DUI charges with harsher penalties if all or some of the following aggravating circumstances are present:

  • A bodily injury has been caused as a result of the DUI
  • A minor (under 14) was involved
  • The driver has prior DUI convictions, including a felony DUI
  • It is the driver’s 3rd DUI in California within ten years

Below are the different punishments for each level of DUI in California:

  • The first DUI offense is punishable by up to six months in county jail, up to $1000 in fines, and a six months license suspension.
  • A second DUI offense within ten years is punishable by up to one-year imprisonment in a county jail, up to $1000 in fines, and a two-year license suspension, eighteen or thirty months of DUI school, and an IID for 1 year.
  • A third offense within ten years is punishable by up to one-year imprisonment in a county jail, up to $1000 in fines, and a three-year license revocation, thirty months of DUI school, and an IID for 2 years.
  • The fourth or subsequent offense is punishable by up to one year in state prison, up to $1000 in fines, and a four-year license revocation.
  • Felony DUI can result in 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison, a 5-year license suspension, and 18 or 30 months of DUI school.

DUI Offenses by Underage Drivers


Under California DUI laws, individuals under 21 years with a BAC level of 0.01 percent or more are considered legally drunk in terms of California’s zero-tolerance laws. If convicted, their driving privileges will be suspended for one year, and they will be required to complete an alcohol education program.


Contact the Law Office of Rebecca Feigelson


Perhaps this is your second DUI arrest, and you are unsure of the consequences of your arrest. We can help you answer the question ‘Is Jail Time Mandatory for 2nd DUI‘ by informing you about any potential penalties the court may apply to your case.

Our DUI lawyers know field sobriety tests are prone to error due to equipment malfunctions or contaminated substances. Therefore, faulty breathalyzer equipment will produce false results.

Our experienced lawyers will challenge the prosecutor’s case and look for gaps in the investigative process that can be used to your advantage. Further, we will fight to suppress evidence gathered during the traffic stop to secure a better outcome in your case.

Do you need a DUI lawyer in Oakland to prove that a police officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle? Then, you should contact the Law Office of Rebecca Feigelson for assistance.