Los Angeles DUI:
Understanding DUI Laws,
Charges & Penalties in California

Call (310) 935-3100 for Expert Help with Your DUI

A criminal DUI charge can be a serious, life altering event. Attorney Hart J. Levin has helped over 6,000 clients charged with Los Angeles DUI offenses and has earned a reputation as a highly effective and aggressive Los Angeles DUI attorney

It’s critical to understand California DUI laws and the potential punishments for each type of DUI offense. 

A California DUI Conviction Can Result in Severe Consequences:

  • Loss of reputation
  • Costly fines
  • Required attendance at alcohol-education classes
  • Suspension or revocation of your driver’s license 
  • Increase in or cancellation of your auto insurance 
  • Placing an ignition interlock device (IID) in your car
  • Jail or prison in some cases.

In Southern California, where most commuters travel the freeways, and public transportation is generally lacking, losing the privilege to drive can be devastating to a person’s career, as well as one’s personal life. 

Los Angeles Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties

The penalties for LA DUIs or a DUI in California range from minimal punishment to severe punishment, including state prison. Each LA DUI case is different and the severity of the case will determine the possible outcomes. Also significant is the driver’s history – a record of previous DUIs (especially within ten years) greatly increases the punishment someone faces upon getting another DUI arrest.

Los Angeles County DUIs represent the majority of all DUI cases in California. California has two primary DUI laws, both of which are commonly used to charge drunk driving cases:

1. Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC, which makes it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol 

2. Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC, which makes it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or greater.

Additional charges may also be included under Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC, which addresses driving under the influence of drugs. 

Received a DUI? Here’s How The DUI Process Works in LA

When you get a DUI in Los Angeles, there are several important things to be aware of. Los Angeles County is massive and has many different police agencies that enforce the law and make DUI arrests. CHP or the California Highway Patrol account for most of the DUI arrests. Upon getting arrested for a DUI in Los Angeles, the police will prepare a police report with the details of the arrest. They will then submit it to the LA District Attorney’s office to formally file charges against the driver. 

Depending on where the DUI arrest occurred in Los Angeles, many DUIs will go to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office instead of the DA’s office. The police also submit the reports to the DMV so that the DMV can suspend the driver’s license of the suspected DUI driver.

There are nearly a dozen driver safety offices in Southern California that oversee the DMV hearing process and issue driver’s license suspensions. Because LA is so vast, there are many smaller prosecuting agencies that prosecute people for DUIs. 

For example, Long Beach has its own city prosecutor, as does Hermosa Beach. They have their own prosecutors to file and charge LA DUI offenses against people suspected of getting DUIs in their region of Los Angeles.

California DUI Penalties: First, Second and Third Offenses

First Offense DUI

In general, a first offense DUI in Los Angeles is the least serious of all DUIs, considering the driver has a clean record when it comes to drunk driving. Common penalties on a first offense DUI in Los Angeles include:

  • Alcohol classes ranging from three to nine months in length
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Community Service
  • Labor (Cal Trans)
  • MADD class (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
  • Working at the Hospital and Morgue (HAM)
  • Weekly AA meetings
  • Driver’s License suspension
  • Occasionally jail

Second Offense DUI

Second offense DUI law in Los Angeles is significantly more serious than a first offense. In addition to the possible punishments listed for a first offense LA DUI, punishment includes:

  • Mandatory jail (minimum of 96 hours and a maximum of one year in jail)
  • An 18-month alcohol class known as SB 38
  • Longer probationary period
  • Higher fines
  • At least one year of driver’s license suspension
  • SCRAM ankle alcohol monitor
  • IID or the Ignition Interlock Device in a vehicle (known as a breathalyzer).

Third Offense DUI

A third offense DUI in Los Angeles or in California is very serious. If a driver receives a third DUI within a period of ten years, they face all of the previously listed punishment, AND:

  • Much longer jail sentence (minimum of 120 days in county jail)
  • 18-month class or 30-month alcohol class
  • Habitual Traffic Offender declaration can mean a revocation of the driver’s license for many years
  • Huge fines
  • Five years of probation
  • Court order to abstain from all alcohol and a prohibition on going into bars or places where alcohol is sold as the “chief item of sale” (bars, wineries, liquor stores, etc)

Underage DUI

There are several different types of underage DUIs. Anyone under the age of 21 is not allowed to drive with any alcohol in their blood at all. Instead of the legal limit being .08, the limit is .01 – meaning any alcohol reading in the blood alcohol is illegal.

  • If a driver is under 21 and receives a DUI with .08% BAC or above, they will be charged with full misdemeanor DUI charges as well as enhancements for being under age which leads to additional punishment.
  • If a driver has a BAC of .05% to .079%, the driver faces less punishment than drivers above .08% but still receives at least a one-year driver’s license suspension.
  • If a driver has between .01% and .049% BAC, the case is usually charged as an infraction meaning it’s not a criminal offense but leads to hefty fines, punishment, and a severe driver’s license suspension.
  • Driver under the age of 18 who receive a DUI are subject to different rules and have much more supervision by the court.

Felony DUI

There are typically three different ways to be charged with a felony DUI in Los Angeles, which is the most serious of all possible drunk driving charges.

  • A DUI with a collision that causes injury is generally charged as a felony. The severity of the charges and punishment depend on the severity of the injuries. The more severe the injury, the greater the punishment. This includes a DUI resulting in a fatality.
  • Getting four DUIs within ten years is an automatic felony where the punishment is typically state prison.
  • Having a prior felony DUI conviction and then getting another DUI (even if there is no accident) will result in the new DUI being charged as a felony with state prison likely.

Los Angeles DUI Checkpoints

Los Angeles DUI checkpoints are commonplace and happen nearly every weekend. The US Supreme Court has ruled that checkpoints are legal as long as they abide by certain rules. The difference between a checkpoint DUI in LA and a typical DUI in LA is that with a checkpoint DUI, there is no bad driving to speak of, no vehicle code violations – the driver didn’t do anything wrong. But the police have the authority to somewhat randomly pick cars and demand that they be checked for closer inspection to determine if the driver is impaired.

  • Checkpoints are common around holidays when there are higher rates of suspected drunk drivers.
  • The law allows for people to turn away from checkpoints but many times the police are hiding on side streets waiting to pull people over who try to turn away.
  • If you go through a checkpoint, you are required to provide your driver’s license to the police. Failing to do so will result in the police forcefully removing you from your vehicle and citing you for possibly the DUI but also resisting or obstructing a peace officer’s lawful command.
  • Law enforcement agencies are required by law to publish the location of a checkpoint in a newspaper ahead of time.

What to Do When You Get a DUI

If you are pulled over for a DUI in Los Angeles County, the best thing to do is to be completely respectful to the officers. Do not argue or become aggressive as it will only cause the situation to become much worse.

  • When pulled over, provide your license and registration.
  • Politely decline ALL field sobriety tests (unless you are on DUI probation.
  • In most cases, it’s best to request a blood test instead of a breath test.

If you are polite to the officers, they will notate it in the report. The best thing to do is to not fight with the officers. Let us fight in court instead. They will issue you a notice to appear in court and then the clock is ticking for the urgent DMV hearing deadline. 

Upon being released from jail, the best thing to do is to call us immediately so we can advise you on your rights and the best options moving forward to protect your livelihood.

Contact Our Los Angeles DUI Lawyers For a Free Consultation

As former Los Angeles district attorneys specializing in Los Angeles DUI cases, we are here for you. The process is frightening and complicated and going it alone is the worst possible decision. Hiring an expert Los Angeles DUI lawyer will guarantee you the best possible result and save you much heartache down the road. 

Levin Hart has trained police officers, attorneys, and even judges on proper DUI protocol. He knows the ins and outs of each courthouse, each prosecutor’s office, and how to best navigate them in order to get optimal results for each client. He has been named as SuperLawyer Rising Star every year since he began and has an attorney rating of “10.0” on avvo.com.

When you contact our office, you will speak with an expert attorney directly, not a sales associate whose only goal is getting people to sign up by the dozen. We will walk you through the necessary steps and recommend an aggressive defense strategy to win the case or to minimize any possible punishment and charges. 

Let our vast experience and excellent reputation be your guide through this difficult process. Nothing makes us happier than seeing someone facing a life-altering arrest being able to live a normal life again. You can call us for a free consultation anytime, 24/7. If cost is a concern, as is often the case, we will work with you on a flexible payment plan to meet your financial needs. Call now to get the help you deserve.

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