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What constitutes drunk driving in California?

You don’t have to be drunk to be guilty of the offense of driving under the influence (DUI) in California. Under California law, DUI means either

driving while “under the influence” of ¬alcohol and/or drugs (legal or illegal) driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or greater—0.05% or greater, for people under 21 years old (VC §?23140)

Assuming there is no bodily injury or death resulting from the DUI, the minimum penalties for a misdemeanor first conviction are a fine of $390 fine plus over $1,000 in ordinary ¬penalty assessments, plus additional DUI-only assessments for a total of approximately $1,800. You will also have either a 48-hour jail sentence or a 90-day license restriction allowing you to drive to and from your work—and for work—if required, and to and from an alcohol treatment program.

You will also have to attend and complete a $500, three-month alcohol-treatment program (nine months if your blood alcohol level was 0.20% or higher. You’ll also lose your driver’s license for at least 30 days, followed by either a five-month restriction to drive to, from, and for work and to and from an alcohol treatment program, or an additional two-month restriction that allows you to drive only to and from the program

A second conviction within ten years means you will definitely serve at least ten days in jail (probably more) and have your license suspended for a year, without allowing you to drive to and from work. And those are the minimum penalties—which judges frequently exceed, especially in sentencing repeat offenders

You will almost always be better off taking the blood or breath test when it is requested by the police. See our article on What If You Don't Consent to a Chemical Test.

The prosecutor in a DUI case have to prove that

You drove a vehicle—that is, you steered and controlled it while it was moving. At the same time, you were “under the ¬influence” in that your ability to drive safely was affected to an appreciable degree by an alcoholic ¬beverage you drank, a drug that you took, or the combination of the two.

Sometimes a drunk driver and a sober (or, at least, less drunk) passenger will try to switch places in their seats just before the officer approaches the car. This tactic almost always fails to fool the officers, and can often make the situation worse if the officer later testifies in court as to all the “furtive movements” occasioned by this awkward and desperate ploy.

If the results of your chemical test showed a BAC substantially over the 0.08% limit, your chances of beating a DUI charge are slim. Defense attorneys’ statistics show that the chances of beating a drunk-driving charge by going to trial are low. If your case is rife with hopeless circumstances (for example, blood alcohol over 0.15%, dismal failure on coordination tests, etc.), you should be wary of an overly optimistic lawyer who tells you your chances are excellent while demanding more and more money as the case drags on. On the other hand, an experienced California attorney may be successful at reducing the charges and resulting penalties. At the very least, try to hire an attorney for the limited purpose of fully explaining your options to you, or perhaps to try to work out a plea bargain with the prosecutor. If you’re unable to afford an attorney, you should ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for you when you first appear in court.

That’s right, the arresting officer will take away your driver’s license and unless you can show that there’s no basis for the suspension or revocation, the DMV will retain the license until you have completed the DUI administrative and criminal proceedings at which point, your driver license will be returned after you pay a $125 reissue fee ($100 if under 21).

No matter whether your charge is lowered to a “wet reckless” or you are characterized as a first offender, or have a BAC over .2, you will have to take a DUI education program and you will have to pay for it which may cost $1,000 or more. For example, a wet-reckless conviction requires a 12-hours DUI education program; a first offender must pay for a 30-hour program and if you blow over 0.20, you must take 60 hours of classes over nine months

There are two types of license suspensions -- “hard” suspensions and “restricted” license suspensions. Assuming you did not prevail at your DMV hearing (see above), there will be a thirty-day “hard” suspension of your license (no driving at all). The 30-day period commences the day of the DMV suspension. After the 30 day hard suspensions, you may seek a restricted license by applying at the DMV provided that you file an SR-22 insurance form, and enroll into the First Conviction Program (must be the 3-month program), and the restricted license allows you to drive only to drive to and from work and to and from DUI educational classes

SR-22 (the “SR” stands for “safety responsibility”) is a document that verifies that someone has automobile insurance. The SR-22 is prepared by an insurance company and then filed (by the insurance company) with the department of motor vehicles (DMV). The SR-22 is not an insurance policy. It is evidence that you have a policy. Typically, an SR-22 is required when a driver seeks to reinstate a driver’s license after being convicted of a DUI, reckless driving, driving without insurance, or some other driving violation that’s resulted in a suspension. The SR-22 may be required whether you own a vehicle (owner SR-22) or not (non-owner SR-22). The SR-22 is usually required for a number of years – for example, five years following a DUI conviction. If the policy holder fails to pay the premiums, the SR-22 is cancelled and an SR-26 is filed with the DMV. When the DMV receives the SR-26, the policy holder’s license is suspended until a new SR-22 is filed