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What Happens During a DUI Arrest in California?

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

What's The Process Involved In DUIs In California?

A fun night out with friends quickly became a nightmare involving the cops. You drank one too many glasses of wine, and now you've been arrested for driving while inebriated (DUI). Misdemeanors, on the whole, are less serious offenses than felonies. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

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They are sentenced to substantially less time in prison. A preliminary hearing and the convening of a grand jury are not required in a misdemeanor DUI prosecution but are required in a felony DUI case. This is where a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer can assist you.

It is possible to be convicted of DUI as a misdemeanor or felony. As a result, DUI is referred to as a "wobbler" violation in legal circles. You might be prosecuted with a misdemeanor DUI if you caused a minor injury to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol. Even if it's your first violation, the police will prosecute you with felony DUI if the injuries are serious. In addition, if the motorist was carrying children under the age of fourteen or had a very high blood alcohol percentage, a DUI accusation becomes a felony (BAC).

Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the courts may upgrade a DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. For instance, if you are arrested for DUI while also breaking other laws, the courts can increase your charges. Drunk drivers who kill others in an accident nearly often face felony charges. This sort of DUI is classified as vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or second-degree murder in one of three ways.

Felony DUIs

In California, a felony DUI is defined as one of the following three offenses:

Vehicular manslaughter.

Drunk driving that results in serious injury is considered a felony. Scrapes, cuts, and bruises will not result in a felony charge. It may, however, result in a charge of misdemeanor DUI with harm. The prosecutor must prove that the victim was seriously injured. A felony DUI would be committed if you intentionally hit another car or person while inebriated. If someone dies due to your drinking, you could be prosecuted with second-degree murder or DUI manslaughter.

Multiple DUI offenses (four or more in the last 10 years).

For any further DUIs, the courts will charge you with a felony after your third conviction. Convictions for "wet reckless" driving are among his previous convictions. (A "wet reckless" charge is the outcome of a plea deal to lower a charge of drunk driving where the blood alcohol level was borderline prohibited and there was no prior record or accident.) A repeat DUI offender may benefit from alcohol addiction therapy. When convicted of a frequent DUI offender, you can use completion of such treatment to reduce jail term. Habitual DUI can be charged as a misdemeanor by the prosecution. However, this only happens in exceptional circumstances when your DUI Lawyer negotiates a reduction on your behalf.

Felony DUI conviction in the past.

If you've once been convicted of a DUI felony, each subsequent DUI offense within ten years will be charged as a felony. Even if your BAC is modest or your current DUI does not result in serious injury, you will be charged with a felony.

You can also be charged with felony DUI if you do any of the following:

  • Assault with a dangerous weapon is a serious offense (the law considers your car a deadly weapon),

  • Driving with a high blood alcohol content (.15 or more),

  • Driving with a suspended, limited, or revoked license,

  • You should not drive with children in your vehicle if you are inebriated.

DUIs can still be charged as misdemeanors by prosecutors in these circumstances. They do not charge every DUI satisfying the following conditions as a crime. They have to do more than prove that the motorist was under the influence and that harm occurred. The prosecution must establish that the motorist was inebriated when he or she broke another rule and that the extra offense was the cause of the damage, according to California Vehicle Code Section 23513.

How Do They Test for Driving Under the Influence (DUI)?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has authorized these three tests.

Standing on one leg:

The driver must exit the vehicle, raise one foot, and maintain that position for thirty seconds. The officer will make various observations as the leg is lifted. Is the driver able to drop the leg in under thirty seconds? Is the driver moving around to keep his or her balance? Is the driver bending or leaning to keep the leg elevated? It's easy to see how people could fail this test for various reasons. The officer must ask about and record any circumstances that might interfere, but under duress, drivers frequently forget to mention them. This is where we'll look for information to counter the prosecutor's arguments.

Walk-and-Turn Test:

This test requires the suspected intoxicated driver to walk nine steps straight from heel to toe. The motorist is then instructed to spin around and return to the original starting location on one foot. During the walk-and-turn test, the officer looks for various impairment indicators. Losing balance, pausing, taking too many or too few steps, turning wrongly, and stepping off the line are all indicators. We'll ask you how the exam was performed again to see if the officer followed the appropriate protocol this time. When your Criminal Defense Lawyer confronts the officer at your DMV hearing or in court, your recollection will give the clues your team needs for your case.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN):

When the motorist is ordered to follow an object held by the arresting officer, the term HGN refers to the fast movement (or jerking) of the eye back and forth. The officer is instructed to use a comprehensive set of procedures when delivering this test.

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Recognize that the instructions presented to law enforcement officials are frequently not followed to the letter during an arrest. This is critical for the preparation of a successful defense. Because the test was not administered properly, the district attorney's case is vulnerable to attack.

You've likely been requested to take tests that aren't included here. You can have also declined to take the tests. Below is a more thorough discussion of the repercussions of refusing to take a test further below.


A DUI charge can result in two types of penalties. The first type is administrative, and it results in the suspension of your license. If you fail or refuse a sobriety test, the police can confiscate your license. It will be a long time before your case even reaches the courtroom. Because license suspension is an administrative action, this step is possible. The second form of penalty is governed by criminal law. Fines or prison time are possible penalties.

There are two sorts of criminal offenses: felonies and misdemeanors.

  • A felony has far more serious consequences than a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction has a lighter penalty than a felony sentence. Misdemeanors are punished by a minor monetary fine, usually less than $1000. The defendant may be sentenced to no more than a year in prison.

  • Felonies, on the other hand, are more serious offenses that carry large monetary fines and may include a term of more than one year in prison rather than a local jail.

A misdemeanor drunk-driving offense is defined by California Vehicle Code 23152. It states that such a violation does not harm a third person physically. Even if your BAC is less than.08 percent, the police might arrest you with felony DUI. You could face charges if you're under the influence of any drug, whether over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, or illegal narcotics. You may also be forced to give reparation to the persons who have been injured. The police will almost always charge you with multiple infractions of the DUI statutes. As a result, you could face several charges.

DUI offenses in California are subject to a statute of limitations. The prosecution has three years to file felony DUI charges. So, don't feel too comfortable if you've been caught for DUI and the prosecutor is taking a long time to file charges. He or she is most likely preparing charges against you behind the scenes.

You should be aware of your legal rights, which the police frequently disregard:

  • The police should have enough data to form "probable cause." They can only stop, detain, and arrest you after that.

  • They must provide you with information about your constitutional rights. They must read your rights before questioning you, known as the "Miranda" warning.

  • They should inform you that you are not obligated to participate in field sobriety testing.

  • You should be given the option of having your blood or breath tested. If you refuse, the arresting officer must advise you of the legal repercussions.

  • The cops do not save the breath sample. As a result, the arresting officer must allow you to obtain a blood sample for further independent testing. Your CA Criminal Defense Lawyer will send the sample to a laboratory for testing, which will be used in your defense.

The majority of felony DUIs entail injuries as a result of an accident. The prosecution must believe that you caused the collision while inebriated to charge you with felony DUI. Consider the following scenario: you've had a few beers and are driving home. Another vehicle runs a stop sign and rear-ends your car as you go through an intersection. Even though you were inebriated, you should not be given a ticket because you were not the one who caused the collision.

The number of people convicted in California varies by county. In Orange County, about 85% of arrests result in convictions. In Los Angeles County, only roughly 70% of those charged are found guilty. As previously stated, a felony DUI conviction can have serious consequences for the average Californian. It may make it difficult to get professional licenses and some job possibilities. It also jeopardizes your prospects of running for public office and even jeopardizes your civil rights, such as your ability to bear arms. It can lead to deportation and can be used as a cause to keep non-citizens out of the country.

What Happens Next After You Get a Felony DUI?

Even if you have a past conviction outside of California, the court will raise the penalty, such as prison time, if you are convicted of a felony DUI. The criteria for showing a felony DUI are similar to those for demonstrating a minor DUI. However, the case must fit the three criteria outlined above. Your DUI Attorney will challenge a past felony DUI conviction if it is the basis for charging you with a felony.

If you are convicted of felony DUI for the fourth time in ten years, you will be sentenced to at least 180 days in jail. You could also face fines, probation, and penalty assessments. You will also be required to complete an 18-month alcohol education program, which is more intensive than the misdemeanor program. The court may also order you to participate in a rehabilitation program.

The IID is slightly larger than that of a cell phone. The DMV has hooked it to your ignition, and you must give it a breath sample before starting your car. If the IID detects alcohol on your breath, the vehicle will not start. You'll need to take more breath samples at regular intervals while driving. The extra samples are taken to ensure that alcohol is still not present in your system. If you share a car, the other drivers will also be required to produce breath samples.

Once your license is reinstated, the necessity to complete SR22 documents is the final part of felony DUI sentencing. SR22 is a form of financial responsibility certificate that verifies that you have the bare minimum of liability insurance. The filing of an SR22 will result in a large increase in your insurance premium.

Various factors determine the penalty for felony DUI convictions:

  • The accident's nature and causation

  • The seriousness of the accident

  • The criminal background of the defendant

  • The amount of persons that have been affected

  • The defendant's age, circumstances, and reasons for previous DUIs

DUI convictions, whether felony or petty, can deplete your financial resources and damage your career. They can also break up your family and ruin your reputation in your neighborhood. Allowing this to happen to you is not a good idea. Felony charges DUI is not a minor traffic violation; it is a serious crime that necessitates the services of a California Criminal Defense Attorney with extensive experience in complex situations. To handle a DUI felony case, you'll need a DUI Attorney with experience and knowledge.

If you are convicted of DUI in California, you will face various punishments. Here's where the crime's features and the circumstances of the case come into play. These traits are commonly referred to as "aggravating and mitigating variables." It makes no difference whether the sentence is the outcome of a jury verdict or a plea deal (discussed below). The judge may deem your offense minor, and you may be granted informal probation. The penalties (minimum and maximum) that a judge can impose for a first-time DUI conviction are determined by laws and range from probation to jail time.

The Administrative Hearing in Session

The Administrative Per Se hearing, commonly known as a DMV hearing, is your chance to show that you were wrongfully arrested. But remember that the DMV's sole responsibility is to determine whether your license should be suspended. If you wish to avoid a DMV hearing and keep your license, you can agree to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in your vehicle for a year. This will avoid the otherwise mandatory 90-day "hard suspension," which means no driving for 90 days. If you choose this option, you are delaying your case presentation to your court appearance.

Winning an Admin Per Se case needs almost as much preparation as winning a court case. To succeed at the DMV, you and your Criminal Defense Lawyer must concentrate on locating seemingly trivial details and then returning to look for more. When you combine attention to detail with a solid understanding of the law, you have a successful strategy, then add perseverance to the mix.

First-time DUI penalties include a jail sentence and a license suspension.

When you go to trial, the prosecution will go over all of the reasons you were charged with a DUI violation with the judge. After that, he or she will look at your criminal history, blood alcohol level, and driving behavior as reported by the arresting officer. The presence of youngsters over the age of fourteen in your car and if you caused an accident with no injuries are both essential considerations in the judge's decision. There are some aggravating elements that the judge will consider while determining your guilt or innocence.

Your first DUI is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail if there are no special circumstances or aggravating elements, although, in LA and nearby counties, prison time is rarely more than two days. However, the law qualifies your first DUI as a felony if there is a serious injury or death or other aggravating conditions. You could risk a lengthy prison sentence if you commit such a crime.

Of course, the most feared California DUI penalty is incarceration. However, a driver's license suspension is feared since it jeopardizes your capacity to go around in a location where driving is required for a normal lifestyle. To avoid license suspension, you must be able to convince the hearing officer that you were not driving under the influence of alcohol, as discussed above in the Admin Per Se hearing.

In most situations, if the final court result in your first-time DUI case is guilty, you will be sentenced to three years of probation with a number of conditions. You must not breach any laws while on probation, which is a crucial obligation. You'll also have to pay a fine of $390 to $1000, as well as penalties of almost $1500. However, in most circumstances, there are alternatives to paying fines and penalties, such as community service.

In addition, you must complete a thirty-hour education program during a three-month period. However, you can obtain a limited license to allow you to drive to and from employment, school, or a DUI education/counseling program. In this case, the court will defer the assignment of the final penalties to the DMV. This is because these penalties overlap those imposed by the DMV at the Admin Per SE hearing.

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As a result, once the DMV has been alerted that the defendant has been found guilty, a letter is sent mandating the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). If the guilty person chooses to avoid the IID, he or she can sign documentation stating that he or she will not be driving. This necessitates the individual not owning or driving an automobile for a period of five months.

After the five-month time, the DMV will reinstate the defendant's license, and he or she will be permitted to drive without limitations. Another alternative is to apply for a 12-month limited license that allows you to drive to and from school and work. You can also use this restricted driver's license to get to and from an alcohol treatment facility.

The First DUI Resulting in an Accident

An aggravated DUI has significantly more severe consequences than a regular DUI. If you are found guilty of causing an accident while driving drunk by the court, you will face felony charges. A conviction of this nature can result in years of imprisonment. It can also result in the suspension of your driver's license and a criminal record. You may miss out on significant educational and employment possibilities due to it. Furthermore, an aggravated DUI conviction can lead to civil liability, which means you could be sued for property damage and medical expenses paid by any individual involved in the collision.

Prosecutors are typically hesitant to lessen charges in a DUI case involving an accident. Even if it's only your automobile, this is true. The type of the other parties' injuries and your BAC level play a role in your prospects of a decrease. You will have little chance of getting a reduced charge if there is any other evidence against you in the case.

Second DUI Penalties at the Administrative Per Se Hearing

In a second DUI case, the DMV plays the same role as it did in the first DUI case. The only difference is that the consequences for a second DUI are more severe. If you have had one prior DUI or "wet reckless" conviction within the last ten years, your license will be suspended for one year (with the exceptions listed below). You must still arrange an Admin Per Se hearing within ten days of your arrest if you are charged with a second DUI.

Penalties for a second DUI

California Vehicle Code 23542 spells forth the consequences of a second DUI. In summary, a second DUI will result in a sentence of three to five years of summary (informal) probation with conditions imposed by the court. The restrictions differ by county, but they commonly include the following:

  • incarceration in the county jail

  • Enrollment, participation, and completion of a state-licensed, driving-under-the-influence program for 18 to 30 months

  • payment of a fine ranging from $390 to $1000 plus significant expenses

  • For a year, an ignition interlock device will be installed.

For a second DUI arrest, these are the minimum penalties. Excessive speed, collision involvement, a driver under the age of 21, high BAC, past DUI, denial of breath or blood test, resisting arrest, a child under the age of 14 in the car, and concealed drugs are all "aggravating factors" that will enhance the minimum penalties.

For a second DUI, judges in each county have the authority to impose additional penalties, such as community service in the form of labor, such as litter removal on county roadways. For example, a judge in Los Angeles County can require a second DUI offender on probation to engage in the "HAM" (hospital and morgue) program, which emphasizes positive behavioral change. It comprises four parts that are meant to stimulate discussion and reflection about the hazards of drunk driving.

It requires alcohol awareness training, a hospital visit to see the horrific results of alcohol-related accidents, a morgue visit to see where bodies are stored and examined after a fatal accident, and a reflective period during which the DUI arrestee must write an essay about what they learned, including a discussion of positive behaviors focused on healthy choices.

The objective is that this series of experiences will encourage people to stop drinking and driving. A convicted DUI offender can also be sent to MADD's Victim Impact Panel (VIP), which allows DUI victims to express their personal stories about how being hurt by a drunk driver has affected their lives.

Getting Charged with a 2nd DUI While on Probation for a First DUI

When you are arrested for a second DUI while on probation for a previous DUI, serious consequences are unavoidable. All of the mandatory penalties for a second DUI will apply and additional penalties for violating probation. Your driver's license will be suspended for a year, and you may be required to serve the jail sentence that was waived when you were placed on DUI probation for the first time. You will be ineligible for a restricted license and will face further fines.

Third DUI

The following is a list of the various DUI regulations that apply to a third misdemeanor DUI offense within ten years. However, it does not include heightened penalties for accidents involving injuries, refusing to take a chemical test, or having an exceptionally high blood alcohol concentration.

  • From four months to a year in prison

  • The fines and charges totaled around $3000

  • Summary (informal) probation for three to five years

  • Two-year installation of an IID in your vehicle

  • Enrollment in and completion of a 30-month DUI education program are required.

  • Three-year license suspension or revocation (but it may be possible to get a restricted license after 18 months or right away with an IID installed in your vehicle).

In addition to these state-wide minimum fines, the courts in each of California's counties may impose extra fines. MADD, community service, the "HAM" (Hospital and Morgue) program, and/or a rehabilitation program are examples of additional sanctions.

The district attorney's fundamental presumption in third DUI charges is that you are an alcoholic. They don't have much patience with people who are suspected of being alcoholics. They want to hurl the book at you and throw you in jail for as long as possible. These officials are uninterested in acknowledging that alcoholism is a disease that may be treated under the correct circumstances. So, if you can't persuade the district attorney or the judge that you weren't drunk when you were detained, we'll try to replace jail time with treatment. Most courts recognize that alcoholism is an illness and are ready to enable a convicted third-time DUI offender to seek treatment in a court-approved custodial setting as a condition of probation.

The Costs of a Third DUI Arrest

The financial and non-financial repercussions of a third DUI conviction are substantial. If you have a professional license or certificate, a conviction will impact your personal and professional life. A third DUI has an astounding financial impact: Initial fines are substantial; required alcohol education tuition is substantial; rehabilitation charges are significant; insurance premiums are increased, trigger SR22 requirements, and last for years; university admissions and financial aid decisions may be influenced; green card and visa applications may be denied, and credit reports may be harmed. If an accident occurs, the intoxicated driver who caused the accident will face long-term financial consequences. Legal fees, repair charges, and liability ramifications will all be incurred.

Find A DUI Defense Attorney in California is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a DUI Attorney best fit to handle your case. You can contact us through our 24/7 Live Chat (or complete our submission form) for a free initial case review.


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