Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

How Does California Determine DUI and DWI Charges?


In most parts of California, cars are a fundamental part of life. However, just because you need a car to get somewhere doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to drive. People who drive while intoxicated, high, or otherwise impacted by a drug they’ve taken are dangerous to other drivers because they cannot properly focus on the road. California law is understandably strict about driving intoxicated, with significant penalties for DUI and DWI charges.

It’s important to understand what it means if you’ve been charged with a DUI or DWI. Below is a complete breakdown of DWI and DUIs in California, how they are charged, their penalties, and what you can do if you’ve been charged with one of these crimes.

What Are DUIs and DWIs?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. In some states, these names refer to different crimes, but California law treats them equivalently. A DUI is charged when someone is found to have operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “DUI” most often refers to charges for driving drunk, while “DWI” often refers to someone driving high.

How Are DUI Charges Determined in California?

The process of charging someone with a DUI in California involves multiples steps:

  • The law enforcement officer must have reasonable suspicion that you are operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Examples of reasonable suspicion include noticing you’re slurring your words at a speeding traffic stop or watching you ignore traffic laws after leaving a bar parking lot.
  • The officer may then request that you take a field sobriety test. These tests double-check your coordination and give additional grounds for asking you to take a chemical substance test.
  • If they believe you were intoxicated, they will confiscate your driver’s license, then request you take a blood or breath sobriety test. Both of these tests require you to go to the police station. You are required by law to do this.
  • At the station, they’ll use one of the chemical substance tests to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) or other intoxicant consumption.

This is when you could be charged with a DUI. If your BAC exceeds 0.08%, you will be charged with a DUI. The question is more complicated for marijuana, prescription drugs, and illicit substances. It is typically enough for these substances to be present in the blood for an officer to charge you with a DUI.

Penalties for DUIs and DWIs in California

The penalties for a DWI depend on the situation and your criminal record. A DWI can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on whether you’ve been convicted of driving intoxicated in the past ten years and if there were any aggravating circumstances.

  • First offense: The penalties for your first DUI include fines of up to $1000 and “penalty assessments” issued by the court. Your license will be suspended for six months. You may also spend two days to six months in jail or be ordered to as much as five years of probation. You may also need to take a three to nine-month DUI course.
  • Second offense: Fines remain the same for a second conviction. Jail time ranges from four days to one year, though it may be served on house arrest. Your license will be suspended for two years, though you can petition for a restricted license, and your car must be modified to include an Ignition Interlock Device (IID). You will also be ordered to perform up to five years of probation and a 30-month education course.
  • Third offense: Jail time increases to 120 days to a year for a third offense. Your license will be suspended for three years, and if you petition for a restricted license, your car will have an IID for two years. Other details are the same as a second offense.
  • Felony DUI: Four DUIs in ten years elevate your fourth and subsequent offenses from misdemeanors to felonies. This can lead to a revoked license and up to four years in prison.

Aggravating circumstances that can lead to higher penalties include:

  • Injuries: If you injure someone while driving intoxicated, you could be charged with a felony even on your first offense. You may face a prison sentence of 16 months to four years and fines of up to $5000.
  • Fatalities: If someone dies because you’re driving intoxicated, that’s a significantly higher penalty. You may receive up to 15 years in prison as well as additional charges for vehicular manslaughter.

What to Do About DUI/DWI Charges

A conviction for a DUI can change your life. At best, it will make it significantly harder for you to get around while your license is suspended. That’s why fighting back against your DUI charges matters. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Get legal help: The first thing you should do after being charged is reach out to an experienced DUI attorney to learn more about your options and decide on the best course of action.
  • Collect evidence: Gather as much information about the incident as possible, including any bar receipts and credit card charges, eyewitness testimony, and dash cam footage of the stop.
  • Dispute the charges: Your attorney will help you determine the best reason to dispute your charges, such as the officer having no grounds to pull you over, a faulty chemical substance test, or a prescription for the substance found in your blood.

These steps will help you stand up to the charges and potentially get them dismissed or reduced by the court.

Get Help from an Expert Redwood City DUI Attorney

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, there’s no time to waste. Reach out to the expert DUI attorney at the Law Offices of Gabriela Guraiib to discuss your situation. We will help you take a stand against your charges and protect your rights throughout the legal process. Call our California office at 650-227-9132 or email us to learn more about how we can help you fight your charges in court.