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DUI/DWI Basics

Everyone knows that drinking and driving is dangerous-and that it's against the law. How do you know when you've had too much to drink, and what happens if you make the wrong choice? In California, you are violating the law if you drive under either of the following conditions:


  • You are under the influence of alcohol or any other drug, OR
  • You have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher if you are over 21, .04% or higher if you are operating a commercial vehicle, or .01% or higher if you are under 21.

Alcohol affects everyone differently, so you could find yourself "under the influence" of alcohol even though your BAC is below .08%. However, if your BAC is above the legal limit, you are assumed to be impaired even if you have a high alcohol tolerance and do not feel drunk. That's why your best defense against a California DUI charge is simply to not drink and drive at all. If you do drink and drive, of course the worst case scenario is that you could get into an accident, injuring or even killing yourself or innocent bystanders. If you are fortunate enough to "just" get arrested instead all of that, you could be subject to the following penalties for a California DUI:


On a first offense

A possible jail term of 96 hours to 6 months and a fine ranging from $390 to $1000. Instead of going to jail you may be placed on probation for 3-5 years on a first offense-it depends on the judge and on the circumstances surrounding your case. Plus, your license will be suspended by the DMV for 6 months, and even after you get it back you may have restrictions on it. If you are offered probation, you will be required to attend California DUI classes for 3 to 6 months, and pay for them yourself. The court also has the option of requiring you to install an ignition interlock device on any vehicle you drive. As if all of that was not enough, your vehicle may also be impounded for anywhere from 1-30 days.


On a second offense within 10 years

A possible jail term of 90 days to a year, with at least 96 days spent in jail, and 3-5 years probation. You'll have fines from $390 to $1000, and a license suspension of months. To get your license back, you will not only have to pay reinstatement fees, you also have to have an ignition interlock device installed. Of course, if you get probation, you will also have to go to California DUI school.

Of course, the penalties get worse the more California DUIs you receive. However, even on a first conviction, special circumstances called "enhancements" can lead to harsher penalties. For example, if you have a child in the car with you, you will have to go to jail for a period of time, with no possibility of probation. If you violate another law in addition to driving drunk and you injure someone as a result, you will fine yourself being charged with felony DUI.

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