Third-Offense DUI in California: Drunk Driving Laws & Consequences

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The consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI, are quite serious in the state of California and can include loss of driving privileges, revocation of a driver's license, fines and even imprisonment. The penalties assessed for a second DUI offense are greater than for the first DUI, but a third offense in a 10-year period carries even more severe legal consequences. A driver in California should understand the DUI laws on this issue.

DUIs in California

In California, the laws making drunk driving illegal are found in the Vehicle Code, primarily Sections 23152 and 23153. However, the placement of drunk driving laws in the Vehicle Code does not mean that DUIs are simple traffic tickets that result in a fine that can be paid by mail. Rather, a driver arrested for a DUI is being charged with a crime and risks both administrative and criminal penalties that will count on your criminal record.

The consequences of a DUI conviction increase for a driver with a prior history of drunk driving. This offense is called "priorable" since a driver with prior DUI convictions will face higher fines and a longer period of incarceration than a first-time offender. The legal consequences increase as a driver acquires additional DUI convictions. For example, a driver with a third DUI conviction risks more fines and jail time than a second-time offender, while a fourth DUI conviction in a 10-year period will be charged as a felony.

DMV Administrative Suspension

The first consequence a driver faces when faced with a DUI arrest is an administrative one – a suspended license. This is not unique to a third DUI; it happens with any DUI arrest, but the length of time of suspension is different. For a third DUI arrest, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspends the license for a period of three years.

Administrative penalties for a DUI arrest flow from the power of the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend a license to drive. Since the agency grants the license, it has the legal authority to suspend it and can do so even before the person is found guilty.

When someone is arrested for a DUI, the police officer confiscates the driver's license and returns it to the DMV. When the driver is released from police custody, they are given a temporary license, valid for 30 days from the date of the arrest. The driver can request a DMV hearing before the agency and try to convince the DMV not to suspend the license. Absent this, the suspension automatically occurs 30 days after the arrest even if the driver has not yet had their day in court and been found guilty.

Criminal Penalties for Third DUI Offense

Criminal penalties are more serious than administrative penalties and can include a jail sentence. But criminal penalties can only be imposed in a DUI case once a driver has had an opportunity to appear in court and defend against the charges. Most first offense, second offense and third DUIs are charged as misdemeanors in California, the less serious type of offense with a maximum punishment of a year of mandatory jail time. A driver charged with a misdemeanor has the right to ask for a jury trial and can hire a DUI defense lawyer to defend them against the charges.

In order to convict a driver of a DUI in California, the prosecutor must establish that the person was driving a car either under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or with a blood alcohol content (BAC) that exceeds legal limits. The legal limit is generally 0.08 percent in California, but commercial drivers and those driving passengers for hire have a lower legal limit of 0.04 percent. The BAC is determined by a chemical test, using either a breath test, a blood test or a urine test. Special rules apply to those under the age of 21.

DUI Penalties for a Third Offense

While the penalties imposed for a third DUI conviction will depend on the circumstances, typical consequences can include probation and jail time. The standard penalty varies from county to county, but the range for informal probation is usually between three and five years, while the range for county jail time is between 120 days and 365 days.

In addition, a third DUI conviction typically carries about $2,000 in fines and other monetary penalties, although this can be higher if property was damaged and restitution ordered. A driver is usually also required to attend a 30-month substance abuse education program or DUI school approved by the court.

The convicted driver may also have their license suspended for up to three years, or they may be ordered to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle for two years. The IID is a mini-breathalyzer device that allows the car to operate only if the driver's breath is free of alcohol. The driver must pay for the installation of the IID, as well as a daily fee for its use.

Factors That Increase Penalties

These penalties describe the range of legal consequences for a third DUI without aggravating circumstances, but any number of factors can increase the penalties. For example, if the drunk driving caused bodily injuries to another person or killed another person, the case will likely be charged as a felony DUI. That means that incarceration in state prison is usually a part of the punishment. The court's sentence will depend on how many people were injured and how severe the injuries were. Likewise, if the driver has another felony on their record, the third DUI may be charged as a felony.

But even if nobody suffered bodily injury or death because of the drunk driving behavior, the range of fines, time in county jail and the required amount of substance abuse education can go up significantly if the driver's BAC was 0.15 percent or higher. This is also true if the driver was speeding or suspected of reckless driving when arrested. Refusal to take the BAC test is another aggravating factor.

Refusal to Take a DUI Chemical Test

Under California's implied consent law, any driver operating a vehicle in the state is deemed to have agreed to take a BAC test when stopped by the police officer on suspicion of drunk driving. Failure to do so is itself a crime and can bring additional legal consequences.

One of these consequences is a longer period of administrative driving license suspension upon conviction of a DUI. For California drivers facing a third-time DUI charge, the license suspension will be for three years. Unlike others convicted of DUIs, drivers who refuse the breath, blood or urine test cannot get a restricted license during any part of the three-year suspension period. Likewise, they cannot limit the suspension period by getting an IID device installed.