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​Is jail time mandatory after a California DUI?

An arrest for drunk driving is the first run in with the law for many drivers in California. Having never been arrested before, people are unsure of what to expect after an arrest, if they will be held overnight or face possible jail time. The good news is that for most people arrested for a first-time DUI in California is that they will not have to serve jail time.


If you have any questions about drunk driving penalties and jail time in California, contact East Bay criminal defense attorney Lynn Gorelick today.

Will I be sentenced to jail time after a California DUI?


While most drivers can avoid jail time for a first-time DUI, it is important to understand that any DUI can result in a jail sentence. This includes drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs, a “wet reckless”, multiple DUIs, or DUI causing an accident. The possibility of jail time can depend on the charge, the driver's criminal history, and even the specific judge.


Even where there is “mandatory” minimum jail time for a DUI, that time can be suspended or served through a Sheriff's work program. Talk to your DUI lawyer about your case and negotiating with the prosecutor to avoid having to serve time in a prison cell.

How long will I have to sit in jail after an arrest?

After an arrest, the police will generally take you to the police station or Sheriff's station for processing, including taking a mugshot and having the driver submit a breath or blood test. The amount of time you have to wait in jail may depend on a number of factors.

For most misdemeanor DUIs, there is no bail necessary and the individual can be released shortly after they are processed. If arrested during the day, they may be released the same day. If arrested late at night, it may take until the next day to be released.  In some jurisdictions, the police will allow you to call a sober driver to pick you up. 

If you are not to be released without bail, it may take your family some time to get together the money or go to a bail bond company to get you released.  

What are the jail penalties for California DUI charges?


The maximum and minimum jail sentences for a DUI will depend on a number of factors, but generally fall into the following:

DUI Charge

Minimum Jail Time

Maximum Jail Time

1st DUI

48 Hours

6 Months

2nd DUI

96 Hours

1 Year

3rd DUI

120 Days

1 Year

4th DUI (Felony)

16 Months

3 Years


How can I avoid jail time after a DUI arrest?


Defendants may be able to avoid jail time by taking a plea deal that does not include jail time. Alternatively, fighting a DUI charge and getting a “not guilty” verdict will also mean you avoid jail time and a criminal conviction. Talk to your California DUI lawyer about the best options in your case. You may have a stronger case than you know and can avoid all the penalties of a DUI conviction.

What is the Sheriff's Work Program Alternative?

Some individuals may be able to serve their jail time through a Sheriff's work program. The Sheriff's Work Alternative Program (SWAP) is an alternative to jail time where participants can perform 8 to 10 hours of work in place of 1 day of jail. This alternative is generally available to low-risk offenders with jail sentences of not more than a year.

To participate in a SWAP program, the individual has to be referred by the sentencing court. The “work” available generally consists of work in the community, including manual labor, such as cleaning parks and streets.

California DUI Defense Lawyer


East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 37 years of DUI experience and understands that the prospect of sitting in jail or being sent to prison can be frightening. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success and avoiding jail time. Contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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