What are the Penalties for a First Time DUI in California?

1st DUI in California Penalties

Driving under the influence (DUI) charges should never be taken lightly, even if it’s your first offense. In California, a DUI conviction involves strict penalties that can disrupt your daily life and carry long-lasting consequences.

At Kolacia Law, we know how devastating a DUI charge can be. That’s why we make it our mission to provide each client with compassionate counsel and aggressive representation to mitigate penalties. A DUI accusation does not have to define you or ruin your future.

In this article, we’ll break down the major penalties you may face for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction in California. Understanding these repercussions is the first step in developing a strong defense strategy.

License Suspension

One of the most immediate penalties for a DUI conviction is the mandatory suspension of your driver’s license by the California DMV.

For a first-offense DUI with no aggravating factors, your license will be suspended for 4 months. This suspension takes effect 30 days after your arrest or citation. Those 10 days allow you time to request a DMV hearing to contest the suspension, which we strongly recommend.

Once the suspension is in effect, you cannot drive at all. The only exception is you may apply for a restricted license that only allows driving to/from work and DUI programs after a 30-day hard suspension.

Getting your full license privileges reinstated after a DUI suspension requires filing an SR-22 form and maintaining proof of financial responsibility through an insurance company. You’ll also have to provide proof of completion of DUI programs and pay license reissue fees.

For most first offenders, the soonest you can regain an unrestricted license is 4 months, but it may take up to a year, depending on your individual compliance. The process to regain your driving privileges after a DUI suspension can feel unnecessarily drawn out. But with proper guidance, you can take the right steps to comply with the DMV’s requirements in a timely manner.

DUI Classes

On top of having your license taken away, you’ll also be required to complete DUI classes even after your first offense.

In California, you must complete a 3-month DUI program licensed by the state. This involves enrolling in a certified program and attending classes once a week. 

The classes provide education on the dangers of drinking and driving through lectures, group discussions, workbooks, and other activities. Some programs may have additional requirements, like community service.

DUI programs want to see participants take accountability and commit to making better choices. Completing your program is mandatory for getting your license back after a DUI suspension.

The classroom environment and strict rules of DUI programs can seem imposing and stressful at first. But looking at it as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement can make the process feel more empowering. With an open mindset, you can gain valuable insights from the program.

Some people resent having to attend DUI classes after their arrest. But maintaining a positive attitude and embracing the tools you gain will serve you well. This is not a punishment but rather a chance to reflect and build strength.

Fines and Fees

Facing thousands of dollars in fines and fees is another reality after a DUI arrest. Even without aggravating enhancements, a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction in California brings heavy financial penalties.

You can expect to pay $1,500-$2,000 in fines.  Your specific fine amount depends on the county where your DUI occurred. Some counties impose much steeper fees than the minimums.

The financial stress of DUI fines can seem crushing, especially for those struggling to get by paycheck to paycheck. But alternatives like payment plans, community service credits, and fine reductions may be available, so don’t lose hope.

If there were any injuries or property damage as a result of your DUI, you may face additional restitution fines. The court will order you to pay for any victim’s medical bills, lost wages from missed work, repairs or replacement costs, etc. There is no cap on criminal restitution amounts. This financial responsibility can linger for years even after your sentence is complete.


It’s likely you’ll be placed on probation for 3-5 years after a first-time DUI. In addition to obeying all laws, common probation terms include:

  • Completing a DUI program
  • Maintaining an SR-22 insurance form
  • Installing an interlock device in your car
  • Paying all fines and fees
  • Completing community service hours
  • Attending AA meetings or substance abuse counseling

You must strictly adhere to the conditions of your probation. Even minor violations could land you in jail or extend your probation period. Extensive probation monitoring can make it feel like the DUI punishment never ends.

However, if you demonstrate good behavior and diligently comply, it is possible to end probation early after 1-2 years. We can petition the court on your behalf to show you’ve earned early termination. Ending probation is a huge relief and allows you to move on from the DUI more quickly.

The probation terms aim to reinforce responsible habits, not overwhelm you. View them as an opportunity to grow rather than a punishment to endure. With commitment, you’ll get through this.

Interlock Devices

California requires most DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in order to drive after their suspension ends. Interlocks analyze the driver’s breath and prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected.

You may be exempt from an IID requirement if you did not have an excessive BAC at the time of arrest. Otherwise, you’ll need the device for 5-6 months. Out-of-pocket costs for leasing, installing, and maintaining an IID typically add up to $200-$500 altogether.

Having this in-car breathalyzer does not allow you to drive freely. The DMV still won’t reinstate your license until you meet all other DUI requirements. Interlocks are inconvenient, but a small price to pay to earn back driving privileges after a DUI.

Jail Time

For many California drivers, the possibility of jail time is the biggest concern after a DUI arrest. The good news is serving jail time is not mandatory for a first-offense DUI without injuries or aggravating factors.

However, it is still a possibility at the judge’s discretion. Offenders can receive up to 6 months of jail time. Aggravating factors like an extremely high BAC of over 0.15%, refusing chemical testing, or committing additional traffic offenses make jail time much more likely.

In some cases, alternatives like electronic house monitoring or work release programs allow you to maintain employment rather than sit in a jail cell.

While jail is rare for a straightforward first DUI, it is prudent to be prepared for the possibility and fight hard to avoid it. 

An experienced DUI lawyer can advocate for alternatives to incarceration and develop a compelling defense to keep you free. The stigma and disruption of serving jail time could derail your goals, so we will passionately argue on your behalf to preserve your freedom.

How Age Impacts DUI Penalties

The penalties for a first-time DUI in California can vary depending on your age at the time of the offense.

For drivers under 21, the legal BAC limit is much stricter at 0.01% compared to 0.08% for those 21 and over. Any detectable alcohol can lead to a DUI charge. Underage drivers also face an additional license suspension of 1 year.

Those under 18 face the harshest consequences. A DUI conviction will remain on your record for 10 years versus 3 years for adults. Minors are typically required to complete 9 months of DUI classes rather than 3 months. Fines and jail time may also increase for those under 18.

Don’t Face Your First DUI in California Alone – Let Kolacia Law Fight For You

If you or someone you love has been arrested for a first-time DUI offense, the experienced California DUI defense attorneys at Kolacia Law are here to help. For years, our firm has assisted hundreds of clients facing drunk driving charges across the state. We have an intimate understanding of the complex DUI laws and court processes in California.

With compassionate counsel and aggressive representation, we can guide you through this difficult time and develop an individualized strategy to mitigate penalties. Our #1 goal is preserving your freedom and future. We have successfully reduced charges, avoided jail time, and limited license suspensions for many past clients.

Don’t let a DUI derail your goals. Call Kolacia Law today for dedicated legal representation. This experience does not have to define you – we will passionately fight by your side each step of the way toward redemption. Have hope, and let us help you down the road to success.

Author Bio

Daniel Kolacia is the CEO and Managing Partner of Kolacia Law Firm, a Rancho Cucamonga, CA, criminal defense law firm. As a former prosecutor with more than 15 years of experience in criminal defense, he is knowledgeable about both sides of the courtroom, an advantage he uses to help defend his clients. He has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including white-collar crimes, misdemeanors, felonies, traffic cases, and other criminal charges.

Daniel received his Juris Doctor from the Southwestern University School of Law and is a member of the California Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work and has worked on several high-profile cases featured on Dateline, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, and various local publications.

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