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Every year, statistics show that well over a million Americans are arrested and charged with a DUI (driving under the influence). Penalties for being charged with a DUI can vary from state to state and tend to be less severe if it’s your first offense. However, even for first-time offenders, the punishments can be serious and may remain on your permanent record forever.

This guide will look at what happens when you get a first offense DUI in California.

What Is a First Offense DUI?

Before looking in-depth at California DUI penalties or answering questions like “How likely is jail time for first DUI?” it’s important to have a clear understanding of what is meant by the phrase “first offense DUI”.

We can break this phrase down into two key components: first offense and DUI.

The “first offense” simply means that it’s your first time being caught and charged with a DUI. If you have any previous DUI convictions on your record, then any future DUI you get will not count as a first DUI offense.

The “DUI” part, of course, refers to the act of driving while under the influence of some sort of substance. Usually, it’s alcohol, but you can also be charged with a first DUI and face possible jail time and license suspension if you drive after using cannabis or other drugs, too.

From a legal perspective, a DUI involves the following factors:

  • The defendant’s driving was impaired by their consumption of drugs or alcohol.
  • OR, the defendant had higher than .08 blood alcohol content while driving.
  • OR, the defendant had higher than .08 blood alcohol within two hours of being behind the wheel.
  • OR, the defendant’s blood contained a certain amount of drugs or other substances above the legal limit for driving high.

how likely is jail time for first DUI

California DUI Penalties

A first DUI offense in California is typically classed as a misdemeanor, which means it’s not quite as serious as a felony. However, there are still some relatively severe potential penalties that defendants may incur for DUIs in California:

Criminal Penalties

  • Fines and fees: $390 to $1,000 in fines.
  • Probation: A possibility of three to five years of probation.
  • Jail time or alternative sentencing: A jail sentence of up to six months.

Administrative Penalties

Impact on Car Insurance

  • Increase in insurance premiums: Those with California DUI penalties on their record can also expect to pay more for car insurance in the future.
  • SR-22 filing requirement: Defendants may have to file an SR-22 insurance document when taking out insurance.

Mandatory Alcohol Education Programs

  • Overview of DUI school: Those charged with DUIs in California may also need to attend DUI school. This is where you may have to undergo various courses to learn about the risks of reckless driving. This education is designed to minimize the risks of a future DUI arrest.
  • Duration and completion requirements: Typically, a first California DUI will lead to a period of three to nine months of DUI school.

Factors That Affect the Penalties for a First Offense DUI

A range of factors may impact the severity of the penalties you receive after a first DUI, including:

  • BAC level at the time of arrest: Typically, the arresting officers will carry out a chemical test of some kind to determine a driver’s BAC level. In California, anything over 0.8% will result in a DUI charge, but if your level is significantly higher, the penalties may be more severe as the risk of serious accidents and injuries is greater.
  • Presence of minors in the vehicle: Driving with children in the car will almost always lead to a more significant sentence. Drivers are responsible for the well-being and safety of any minors in their cars. Driving under the influence with a child can even lead to a felony DUI, rather than a misdemeanor.
  • Prior criminal record: Those who have past convictions on their criminal records are also more likely to receive a more severe sentence. This is especially relevant for those with a history of dangerous or reckless driving, as well as endangerment of others or auto-related convictions.
  • Aggravating circumstances: The circumstances surrounding the DUI will also be taken into account. If your driving resulted in accidents, injuries, or damage to property, for example, that can all lead to a harsher sentence with bigger fines and more jail time, or longer license suspension and time in a treatment program.

How Likely Is Jail Time for First DUI

In general, it’s likely that most first offenders won’t have to worry about jail time, but it all depends on the circumstances of the case. If the blood alcohol level was particularly high, minors were in the car, or damage was done, the risk of jail time would be higher.

california dui penalties

Potential Alternatives to Jail Time

Often, a judge may propose possible alternatives for defendants to agree to instead of time behind bars, such as:

  • Work release programs: These programs still involve some time in jail but allow defendants to go out in order to work at their place of employment during the day.
  • Community service: A judge may also offer a defendant to do some community service rather than going to jail. This can include various duties to support the local community.
  • House arrest or electronic monitoring: In some cases, defendants may also be placed on house arrest and ordered to remain at home for a set period.

Long-Term Consequences After the First Offense

There are also long-term consequences associated with DUI charges, including:

  • Criminal record implications: A DUI will remain on your permanent record unless it is expunged with the aid of a Los Angeles DUI lawyer.
  • Professional and personal repercussions: Depending on the type of work you do, it’s possible that you could lose your job and/or find it hard to find future employment.
  • Subsequent DUI penalties for repeat offenders: If you get charged with a DUI a second or third time, the penalties will be worse, even with the aid of a defense attorney.

A defense attorney can help those charged with DUIs to defend themselves. Some of the common arguments or defenses they might use include:

  • Improper stop or arrest: The lawyer might argue that the stop was improper or unlawful in the first place.
  • Inaccurate BAC testing: They may also argue that the alcohol tests that took place were unreliable.
  • Miranda rights violation: Lawyers can also argue that an individual’s Miranda rights had been violated at the time of the stop.
  • Rising Blood Alcohol: An attorney can also defend their clients in relation to their blood alcohol results, arguing that their BAC had risen after they finished driving.
  • Poorly Administered Field Sobriety Test: They may also argue that any field tests were inaccurate or unreliable, producing results that cannot be trusted.

Role of Los Angeles DUI Lawyer in Cases of First DUI

An LA DUI lawyer can help a person charged with a DUI to understand their situation and prepare an appropriate and effective defense to minimize the risks of serious penalties.

Can My DUI Charges Be Reduced?

Yes, with the aid of a good lawyer, it’s certainly possible to avoid severe sentencing after a first DUI charge.

Being charged with a DUI can be scary, and the penalties may be severe. But, with legal aid, it’s perfectly possible for defendants to escape the harshest charges. So, if you find yourself facing DUI trouble, contact us at the earliest opportunity.

Douglas Parker