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What’s The Worst that Could Happen if I Drive Drunk? Criminal and Civil Penalties for a DUI

Many people think they are “fine” to drive after drinking alcohol at a bar, restaurant, or get-together, especially if they only have a few miles to travel. They may even ask themselves, “What’s the worst that could happen?” However, this line of thinking ignores the real-world consequences of drunk driving for you and others on the road. 

There are serious criminal consequences if you get caught driving intoxicated. These consequences increase in severity if you cause an accident or have prior DUIs. Also, you may face civil repercussions for causing a crash — and be on the hook for thousands of dollars in damages to the victim.

This article explores the civil and criminal penalties you can face for a DUI.

Different Classes of DUI will Result in Different Penalties 

The criminal penalties for driving under the influence in California will depend on several factors, including:

  • Whether you have a DUI conviction in the last ten years.
  • Whether aggravating factors are present, such as whether you caused an accident that injured or killed another person.

We discuss the penalties for various DUI categories below:

First-Time DUI

When you are convicted of first-time DUI, you could potentially face the following penalties

  • Between 96 hours and six months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • A license suspension
  • Participation in a drug or alcohol program
  • Probation

Your first DUI conviction will be a misdemeanor. 

Subsequent DUI Offenses

The penalties for DUI will grow more severe for each subsequent conviction within the last ten years. You could face the following consequences for additional DUI convictions: 

  • Second-Time DUI Between three months and one year in jail; Up to $1,000 in fines; Two-year license suspension.
  • Third-Time DUI – Between four months and one year in jail; Up to $1,000 in fines; Three-year license suspension. 

These offenses also come with lengthy (and costly) DUI programs.

Felony DUI

A fourth (and subsequent) DUI conviction is typically charged as a felony. It can come with steep penalties, including: 

  • Between 16 months and three years in prison.
  • A fine of up to $1,000.
  • A four-year license suspension
  • Participation in a multi-year DUI program
  • Designation as a habitual traffic offender

These convictions can be charged as a misdemeanor under certain circumstances.

DUI Causing Bodily Injury 

The penalties discussed above involve DUIs that didn’t result in an accident with injuries. If you drive under the influence and injure another person in a crash, you will likely face serious penalties. The worst punishments are reserved for individuals with prior DUI offenses that caused a collision.

Depending on how many DUIs you have, you could face:

  • 120 days to four years in jail or prison 
  • Up to a $5,000 fine
  • A three to five-year license suspension
  • Restitution to victims

If you killed someone while driving under the influence, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter. You could face 16 months to ten years in prison or 15 years to life if you have prior DUI convictions.

You should seek representation from an experienced DUI lawyer to avoid the worst consequences of a DUI conviction. However, criminal penalties aren’t the only thing you have to worry about. 

You Could Be Sued in Civil Court By Victims of the DUI Accident

If you caused a car accident while driving under the influence, victims of the crash might initiate a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages related to the incident. If you were convicted of a DUI after the collision, the victims might be able to use the conviction as evidence that impaired driving caused the accident.

However, suppose you weren’t convicted of a DUI. Personal injury cases have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases. This means you could be found liable for a victim’s losses even if you are not ultimately convicted of a DUI. 

If the personal injury claim against you is successful, you could be responsible for the victims’ economic damages (financial losses related to the accident), including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Physical therapy/Rehabilitation
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Property damage

You could also be on the hook for the victims’ non-economic damages (personal losses without a direct financial value), such as:

  • Pain and suffering 
  • Emotional distress
  • PTSD
  • Scarring/disfigurement
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Loss of consortium

These damages can total tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If these damages exceed the limits of your insurance coverage (or the insurer denies coverage for the accident), you could be personally responsible for these losses. 

Contact an Experienced Lawyer for Help After a DUI Accident

The consequences of drinking and driving are not worth the risk. If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, you should contact an experienced DUI lawyer to protect your rights. Your lawyer can gather evidence to show that you were improperly stopped or that the sobriety, blood, or breathalyzer test was deficient. They can also negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the severity of the charges.

For more information please contact our criminal defense law firm of Ahmed & Sukaram, DUI and Criminal Defense Attorneys at the nearest location for a free consultation.

Ahmed & Sukaram, DUI and Criminal Defense Attorneys – San Jose Office
1625 The Alameda, Suite 405, San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 217-8818

Ahmed & Sukaram, DUI and Criminal Defense Attorneys – Redwood City Office
600 Allerton St Suite 201G, Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 299-0500

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