License Suspensions & Drunk Driving Penalties in California

Drunk driving penalties range in severity. Repeat offenses, felony DUIs, and DUI causing injury to someone other than the driver has stiffer penalties than first- and even second-time regular DUIs. Penalties may include incarceration, probation, and fines. Anyone convicted of DUI or DUI that causes injury will also have his or her license suspended.

Penalties

Minimum and Maximum Penalties, explained

All offenses against the public safety have a minimum and maximum sentence by law. A judge may not sentence someone to less than the minimum or more than the maximum, nor can they impose a penalty not within the statute. The punishment must fit the severity of the crime, and a judge may not sentence someone to an unconventional punishment that is arbitrary, degrading, unnecessary, or one that society would completely frown upon. The court must state the reasons for the sentence chosen at the sentencing hearing, which may take into account particular facts such as the severity of the offense, the amount of damage it caused, the defendant’s remorsefulness, and the defendant’s likelihood of committing the same offense again. However, if the defendant is convicted of charges other than DUI, that defendant may have be sentences to multiple penalties, depending on the other charges.

For example: A driver is convicted of first-time DUI. The judge may not impose a sentence of 10 years in prison, nor may she sentence the defendant to be tarred and feathered, or to pay a fine of a million dollars. These are cruel and unusual punishment, and forbidden by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

License Suspension

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) actually suspends licenses, not the criminal court. Under the Admin Per Se program, anyone convicted of DUI will have his or her license suspended. It also doesn’t matter if the DUI happened in another state so long as the driver is licensed in California.

How long a driver’s license is suspended depends on the severity of the DUI charge. Suspensions are longer with each subsequent DUI. DUI causing injury always results in longer suspensions that DUI not causing injury. Each suspension time is set, and the driver won’t get his or her license fully reinstated any sooner than the statutory duration.

What’s the Difference between a Suspended License and Revoked License?

A suspended license is akin to a school suspension: the student is still enrolled at the school and is expected to return after a disciplinary period. A revoked license is like an expulsion from school: the student is no longer a student at that school and cannot return. The difference between a suspension and revocation is that with a suspension, the state temporary takes away most or all driving privileges from a licensed driver, whereas revocation removes all driving privileges.

Once a suspension has ended, the driver is allowed to drive without restrictions, but once a license has been revoked, the driver must reapply for new license when he or she is eligible. The court can, however, disallow reissuing a driver’s license to a driver whom it believes would pose too much a risk to other drivers and/or the public.

Probation

A person convicted of a crime may not go to jail or prison, but be released conditionally into the community. In the case of probation for felonies, the person must be

under the supervision of a probation officer. When someone is on probation, the court requires certain behaviors of the person on probation or restricts certain behaviors, such as drinking. Restricted behaviors include not breaking the law. The court may impose restrictions, such as sobriety and submitting to sobriety checks, being gainfully employed, or not travelling outside the state. If any of the conditions aren’t met or are broken, then probation ends, and the person may be taken into custody and incarcerated.

Fines and Restitution

Fines are paid to the court as punishment for wrongdoing. Restitution, however, is paid to the victims of a crime or wrongdoing to compensate them for damages incurred from the crime. Fines are set by law, and restitution depends on the actual costs to compensate victims for damage to property, injury to their bodies, and possibly other costs incurred that are directly related to the injury, such as loss of income during a hospital stay.

For example, Driver A is convicted of DUI causing injury. Driver A caused a crash with Driver B’s car. Driver B broke her dominant hand in the crash. The court requires Driver A to pay restitution for damage to Driver A’s car, her emergency room bill, her lost wages for being unable to work for two weeks.

Drug and Alcohol Education Program

All drivers convicted of any type of DUI must enter and complete a drug and alcohol education program. While this is technically a penalty, it’s a therapeutic and preventative measure to keep a driver from committing DUI again. A driver will not get his or her suspended license reinstated without enrolling in and/or completing one of these programs.

Overview of DUI Charges and Minimum and Maximum Penalties:

DUI, First OffenseStatute(s): §§23152, 23536, 23538
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension 6 months 6 months
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 4 days 6 months
Fines $390 $1000
Additional Punishment

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

DUI, Second OffenseStatute(s): §§23152, 23540, 23542
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension 2 years 2 years
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 90 days 1 year
Fines $390 $1000
Additional Punishment

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

The penalties may be higher if the driver is convicted of DUI (drugs or alcohol) , DUI causing injury , or reckless driving within 10 years after the first conviction.

DUI, Third OffenseStatute(s): §§23152, 23546, 23548
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension Revoked Revoked
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 120 days 1 year
Fines $390 $1000
Additional Punishment

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.

Driver may be designated a habitual offender.

The penalties may be higher if the driver is convicted of DUI (drugs or alcohol) , DUI causing injury , or reckless driving within 10 years after the second conviction.

DUI, Fourth or Later OffenseStatute(s): §§23152, 23550, 23552
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension Revoked Revoked
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 120 days 1 year
Fines $390 $1000
Additional Punishment Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program. Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program. Driver may be designated a habitual offender.

The penalties may be higher if the driver is convicted of DUI (drugs or alcohol), DUI causing injury, or reckless driving within 10 years after the third conviction.

Overview of DUI Causing Injury Charges, Minimum and Maximum Penalties:

DUI causing injury may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony if the driver has been convicted with DUI, DUI causing injury, or reckless driving within the past 10 years. However, if the driver has been convicted of any of these three offenses more than once in the past 10 years, DUI causing injury automatically becomes a felony charge with more severe punishments.

DUI Causing Injury, First OffenseStatute(s): §§23153, 23554, 23556
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension 1 year 1 year
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 90 days 1 year
Fines $390 $1000
Additional Punishment
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)
DUI Causing Injury, Second Offense Statute(s): §§23153, 23560
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension 3 year 3 year
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 90 days 3 year
Fines $390 $5000
Additional Punishment
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)
DUI Causing Injury, Third or Later Offense Statute(s): §§23153, 23566
Penalty: Minimum: Maximum:
License Suspension Revoked Revoked
Probation Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first. Possible, but must also pay the fine and serve time in jail first.
Incarceration 1 year 4 year
Fines $1015 $5000
Additional Punishment
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)
  • Mandatory completion of a drug and alcohol education program.
  • Restitution to victim(s)

Strategies for Lessening Penalties for DUI-related Offenses and License Suspension Before Sentencing:

If you’ve plead guilty to or are found guilty of a DUI-related offense, a judge will determine your punishment, which must be on the spectrum between the minimum and maximum penalties. However, you can try to minimize any penalties by trying the following strategies:

Plea bargain. Admitting guilt means saving the state the time and labor of a trial. If you are guilty of DUI, it may be in your best interest to agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter penalty. If you’re charged with a felony, you may be able to plea down to a misdemeanor. While your license will still be suspended, you can bargain for less or no jail time, less time on probation, and lower or no fines imposed.  

Ask for leniency. The severity of the sentence is chosen based on a spectrum between the statutory minimum and maximum. A judge uses his or her discretion to sentence someone based on a variety of factors, such as the severity of the crime, whether the defendant is remorseful, if anyone was hurt and how much, how much others may suffer (such as your dependent children) due to the punishment, your maturity and mental state, and other factors. A judge, however, will be more lenient with a person who provides a benefit to society overall and is not likely to harm again. Demonstrating that you’re a productive, positive member of society during trial or at the sentencing may help you get a lighter sentence.

Lessening Penalties and Getting Your License Back as Soon as Possible

The best way to avoid penalties for DUI is to avoid conviction for DUI or DUI causing injury. However, there are some things you can do if you are convicted:

  • Apply for a restricted license with the DMV. If your license has been suspended but not revoked, you can apply for a restricted license. This will only allow you to drive back and forth to work and your drug and alcohol education program. To get a restricted license, you’ll need to either be enrolled in or have completed a drug and alcohol education program, have proof of car insurance, have completed less than 12 months of your suspension, and pay the reinstatement fees.
  • Request an administrative hearing with the DMV and contest the license suspension. The court will order your license suspended the moment you’re convicted of DUI. The best strategy for fighting a license suspension is to not be convicted of any DUI. However, you can petition to your license back if it’s been suspended improperly. You have ten days after sentencing to request an administrative hearing with the DMV and contest your license suspension. You or your lawyer must be present. An administrative hearing isn’t like a criminal trial. The procedure is somewhat different, and there is no jury.

If you can’t get your license back through an administrative hearing, you can keep your suspension from being prolonged or turning into a revocation by doing the following:

  • Not driving with a suspended license. You can’t drive for any duration of time for any distance while your license is suspended.
  • Completing any court-ordered drug and alcohol education program. Completing this as soon as possible shows that you take responsibility for driving under the influence and are making strides not to do it again.
  • Staying sober. Have no alcohol and take no drugs except your own prescription medication as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Demonstrating that you’re financially responsible. You’ll need to demonstrate that you're financially responsible before you can get your license back. This means having proof of car insurance.
  • If you’re on probation, walking the line. Don’t break the law. Avoid people, places, and situations that could lead you to temptation or to simply being mixed up in something. If you're on formal probation, keep all of your appointments with your probation officer and do as he or she tells you.

Final Thoughts

If you’re currently facing a DUI or DUI causing injury charge, you may be wondering what penalties you could be facing. The facts in your case and how you proceed may make all the difference between a light and a harsh sentence.

If you're facing charges for DUI or DUI causing injury, or are currently seeking to get your license reinstated, speak to a criminal defense attorney who can help you get your license and your life back. Get legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer by calling Long Beach Criminal Lawyer at 562-304-5121

References


  1. Cal. Veh. Code §13352(a).

  2. Cal. Pen. Code §1170(a).

  3. Cal. Pen. Code §1170(a)(3), Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 281 (1972).

  4. Cal. Pen. Code §1170(c).

  5. Cal. Veh. Code §13352(a); STATE OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES. Fast Facts: Immediate Driver License Suspension or Revocation: Drivers Age 21 and Older. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/1983da48-3c57-433b-912c-b2db4a5cc3f2/ffdl35.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=1983da48-3c57-433b-912c-b2db4a5cc3f2 Last accessed Jul 24, 2017.

  6. See Larsen v. Dep't of Motor Vehicles (1995) 12 Cal.4th 278, 280 [48 Cal.Rptr.2d 151, 906 P.2d 1306]: [“Vehicle Code section 13352, subdivision (a)(1), imposes a duty upon the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend the license of any driver, in the case of a first offense, for a period of six months "upon receipt of a duly certified abstract of the record of any court showing that the person has been convicted" of the criminal offense of driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug. ( Veh. Code, § 23152 et seq.) Section 13352 makes no distinction between convictions arising in California and equivalent convictions arising out of state.”]

  7. Cal. Veh. Code §23538(a)(3).

  8. Cal. Pen. Code §1203(a).

  9. Cal. Veh. Code §23646.

  10. Vehicle Code, § 23152.

  11. Vehicle Code, § 23153.

  12. Vehicle Code, §§ 23103, 23103.5.

  13. Vehicle Code, § 23152.

  14. Vehicle Code, § 23153.

  15. Vehicle Code, §§ 23103, 23103.5.

  16. Vehicle Code, § 23152.

  17. Vehicle Code, § 23153.

  18. Vehicle Code, §§ 23103, 23103.5.

  19. Cal. Veh. Code §13352.5.

  20. Cal. Veh. Code §13352.5.

  21. Cal. Veh. Code §13352.5(a).

  22. See Cal. Pen. Codes §§281-283 for the crime and punishment of bigamy.

  23. See STATE OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES. Fast Facts: Immediate Driver License Suspension or Revocation: Drivers Age 21 and Older. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/1983da48-3c57-433b-912c-b2db4a5cc3f2/ffdl35.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=1983da48-3c57-433b-912c-b2db4a5cc3f2 Last accessed Jul 24, 2017.

  24.  

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