All too often people facing a DUI charge choose to simply accept a guilty plea, especially if it is their first offense. However, California has some of the strictest DUI penalties in the nation. Even a first conviction can lead to jail time, mandatory alcohol education, a suspended license and potentially thousands of dollars in fines and assessment fees.

These penalties may have a devastating impact on an individual in the short term and lead to harmful consequences in the long term. Except through the selective and complicated expungement process or specific diversion programs, a misdemeanor conviction remains on record for years to come.

What are the penalties for a first DUI in California?

A first DUI conviction has minimum penalties of 48 hours in jail, a four-month license suspension and up to roughly $1800 in fines plus assessments. Those convicted must also complete a three-month educational DUI program at personal cost and may face vehicle confiscation or an ignition interlock device.

It is important to keep in mind that these are minimum penalties. Under California law, even a first offense can lead to significantly stiffer penalties if the motorist’s BAC was 0.16% or over, a child passenger was in the vehicle or if the driver refuses chemical testing.

What happens after a second DUI?

Second or third offenses within a 10-year period may carry even greater cost, with prison sentences of a year or longer and fines and assessments reaching as high as $18,000. In California, a fourth DUI or a DUI incident that involves serious injury or fatality may result in a felony conviction.

The steep financial and criminal penalties for DUI conviction may have enormous consequences for day-to-day life as well as for future employment, education and other opportunities. Consulting with an experienced attorney as soon as possible after the event may help to minimize the impact on an individual and his or her family down the road.