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Types of DUI Charges

There are a number of charges that one can face when arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI, also known as a DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated, in some states). This all depends upon the specific facts and circumstances in each individual case. For most drivers, their first drunk driving arrest will be charged as a Misdemeanor First Offense DUI, but under some circumstances, it might be prosecuted as a Felony DUI, a far more serious offense. Below is a list of some of the possible California DUI charges, and their possible penalties.

First Offense DUI

For most people confronting their first drunk driving arrest, they will face charges known as a first DUI. This comes under violation of the California Vehicle Code Sections 23152(a) and 23152(b), Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.

This states that (a) it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle; and (b) it is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.

Penalties can include jail time of up to 6 months, fines of up to $1,000 or more (once surcharges and mandatory assessments are added), a suspended driver license, and the possibility of having an interlock ignition device placed in your vehicle.

“Wet Reckless” Driving

After being arrested for a DUI, the District Attorney's Office prosecuting your case may sometimes offer a reduction in the charges, such as Reckless Driving with Alcohol Involvement. In California, this is commonly called a “wet reckless.” Vehicle Code 23103.5, can be substituted for an original charge of a violation of Vehicle Code 23152(a)(b).

There is no mandatory jail time for pleading to a wet reckless driving charge, and probation time, DUI school and fines are generally reduced. There is also no mandatory driver's license suspension. However, it is important to remember that a “wet reckless” is priorable – meaning it will count as a full DUI if you are arrested for another DUI within 10 years.

Second DUI

When you are arrested for a second DUI offense within ten years of the first, you may face a second DUI. The look back period for a prior DUI is 10 years, calculated from date of arrest to date of arrest. A second DUI is generally a misdemeanor offense.

Penalties can include mandatory jail time from 10 days to as much as 1 year, fines, penalties and assessments of over $2,000, a suspended license for 2 years, Level II DUI School, and the possible installation of a interlock ignition device placed on in your vehicle. Other penalties may depend on the specific California county where the arrest took place.

Third DUI

When you are arrested for a third DUI within ten years of the first, you may face penalties under a third DUI. The look back period for a prior DUI is 10 years, calculated from date of arrest to date of arrest. A third DUI generally remains a misdemeanor offense.

Penalties can include mandatory jail time from 120 days up to 1 year, fines, penalties and assessments of as much as $3,000, a driver license revocation for 3 years, DUI School for 18 months, and the possible installation of a interlock ignition device in your vehicle. Other penalties may depend on the individual California county in which the offense occurred.

Fourth DUI

If you are arrested for a fourth DUI within ten years of the first, the fourth DUI will be treated as a felony DUI.

Felony DUI

In California, a felony DUI generally comes under one of three situations: a fourth DUI within the 10 year lookback period; having a subsequent DUI after having a prior felony DUI conviction; or if arrested for a DUI causing injury or death.

Under the California Vehicle Code Section 23550, a person is charged if they had a DUI combined with three prior DUIs in within ten years. Under Section 23550.5, a person is guilty if they have a DUI, and had a prior DUI punished as a felony.

A driver is prosecuted under violation of the California Vehicle Code Section 23153 (a) or (b), if a driver is under the influence of alcohol or has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more when driving a vehicle, and their driving includes a violation of a law in driving the vehicle, which causes bodily injury to a person other than the driver.

Penalties related to a felony DUI causing injury or death can include a minimum jail time of 180 days, $3,000 or more in fines, penalties and assessments, a 4 year driver license revocation, and DUI school. Additionally, conviction will leave a felony conviction on their record. A felony DUI that causes bodily injury can result in more than 10 years in prison, up to $5,000 in fines, and money paid to the injured parties.

Commercial DUI

Those holding commercial driver licenses (Class A, Class B) can face added problems if arrested for a DUI. A commercial DUI is treated differently from a “regular” first DUI, has a lower blood alcohol content threshold, and can result in increased penalties. This comes under violation of the California Vehicle Code Section 23152(d).

This states that (d) it is unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

Penalties are the same as those for a first DUI, but can include loss of their commercial license for a minimum of one year. A second offense commercial DUI of any kind (regular or commercial) may can result in the permanent loss of commercial driving privileges.

Under Age 21 DUI

If a driver is arrested for their first DUI, and are under the age of 21, they face additional penalties and a lower blood alcohol content threshold. Because the driver is not old enough to possess alcohol, there is a zero tolerance policy, and they face additional restrictions. This comes under violation of the California Vehicle Code Section 23136.

This states that it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or greater, as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test or other chemical test, to drive a vehicle.

This violation can be charged in conjunction with violation under Vehicle Code 23152, 23140, or others. Even if a bottle of beer, wine, or spirits is sealed, because the driver is a minor, they can be charged with possession by a person under 21-years-old. Penalties include a mandatory one-year driver's license suspension. Depending on the driver's BAC, they may face additional time in jail, fines, probation, and mandatory DUI school.


Operating a vehicle under the influence can involve a number of other violations. These include riding a  motorcycle under the influence (charged the same as if driving a car), or operating a boat (BUI); child endangerment DUI; and a hit-and-run DUI. Each case faces unique challenges, depending on the specific facts involved.

More information on Sentencing for Driving While Under the Influence can be found in the California Department of Motor Vehicles publication here.

Experienced DUI Attorney Representation

Lynn Gorelick has over 30 years of DUI experience, and understands the various DUI charges. She understand the possible penalties, and how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chances of success, keeping you out of jail and with your driving privileges. Whether you are arrested in Martinez, Walnut Creek, Orinda, or Lafayette; Oakland, Berkeley Hayward, Pleasanton, or Fremont; or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, and the local officers and prosecutors involved.

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