What Happens When You Get a 2nd DUI in California?

A 2nd DUI in California is a serious offense that will often cost you over $2,000 in total plus jail time, DUI school, and a license suspension.
Written by R.E. Fulton
background
If you’re convicted of a second
DUI in California
within 10 years of the first offense, the potential penalties include a minimum of 96 hours in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. You’ll also face up to five years of probation, 18 months of DUI school, and a two-year license suspension. 
  • A first-time DUI conviction in California carries heavy penalties, but repeat offenses within a 10-year “lookback period” can result in jail time, license suspensions, and an ignition interlock device (IID) requirement. 
  • After a first-time conviction, second DUI penalties get more severe. Aggravating factors can further increase fines and jail time.
  • A second-time DUI conviction in California could carry a cost exceeding $10,000—not to mention future penalties like high
    California car insurance rates

What is a 2nd offense DUI in California?

You can be charged with
driving under the influence
of alcohol or drugs in California if: 
  • You’re 21 or older and have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher
  • You’re under 21 or on DUI probation and have a BAC of 0.01% or higher
  • You have a
    commercial driver’s license (CDL)
    and have a BAC of 0.04% or higher
Under California Vehicle Code, a DUI conviction stays on your record for a 10-year period in California. 
If you’re arrested for a DUI within 10 years of a first offense (including out-of-state convictions): Your arrest will count as a 2nd DUI in California. 
If you’re arrested for a 2nd DUI in California after 10 years have passed since your previous DUI: The arrest will legally count as a first offense. The prior DUI conviction is no longer on your record after 10 years. 
Key Takeaway: If you’ve been convicted of a first DUI within the last 10 years, you can be charged with a 2nd offense DUI in California. 

What is the punishment for a 2nd DUI in California?

A 2nd DUI in California carries two types of penalties: 
  • Administrative penalties: Imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and automatically follow any DUI arrest
  • Criminal penalties: Can be assigned by a court following a conviction
As soon as you’re arrested for a second DUI, the DMV will
suspend your California driver’s license
. In most cases, the driver’s license suspension for a 2nd DUI will last for one year if you fail a blood alcohol test—but if you refuse the test, the suspension of driving privileges is doubled to two years. 
If you receive a second DUI conviction in California, the criminal penalties are much more serious. 
Possible penalties for a second DUI offense include: 
  • 96 hours to one year in jail
  • $390 to $1,000 in fines (not including fees and penalty assessments)
  • Three to five years on probation
  • 18 months of DUI school
  • A suspended license for up to two years (including the administrative suspension)
Each of these penalties is up to the discretion of the court that issues the conviction. If your only offense was driving under the influence and your BAC was under 0.15%, you’ve got a better chance of staying on the lower end of those penalties. 
In some cases, you may even be able to have some or all of your jail time converted into community service, house arrest, or time in rehab. But in others, courts will be inclined to impose harsher penalties. 
You may have to serve a longer jail sentence or pay steeper fines for a 2nd California DUI if you display any of the following aggravating factors:
  • BAC that is twice the legal limit (i.e. 0.15% or above)
  • Refusal to submit to BAC/breathalyzer chemical test
  • Convicted as a minor
  • Driving under the influence with a minor passenger
  • Excessive speed at the time of arrest
  • Causing accident or injury while under the influence
Key Takeaway: The base penalties for a 2nd DUI in California include 96 hours of jail time, a $390 fine, and a one-year license suspension. Aggravating factors lead to additional penalties. 

How much does a 2nd DUI in California cost in the long run?

After your drunk driving conviction, you’ll need to live with the consequences. While jail time might seem like the most serious penalty, don’t discount the impact of fines, DUI school, probation, and your mandatory license suspension—plus the ongoing effect a DUI can have on insurance costs. 
Taking all these long-term consequences into account, your 2nd offense DUI could cost you over $10,000. Let’s break it all down. 

Fees, penalty assessments, and DUI school

Although the limit on base fines for a 2nd DUI is $1,000, you’re likely going to have to pay $2,000 or more. 
That's because you’ll be responsible for fees and penalty assessments on top of the primary fine—and those can add up fast. You’ll have to cover the cost of mandatory DUI school, which is typically around $1,800 for a second offense. 

Alternative transportation

With your driver's license suspended for a minimum of one year following a 2nd DUI in California (or at least until you’re eligible for a restricted license), you’ll need to rely on alternative transportation. 
If you can get rides from friends and family or use public transportation, this may not be a major disruption—but the costs of ride services can add up, especially if your limited transportation options cost you work opportunities. 

Increased car insurance costs 

You can expect your car insurance premium to go up by an average of 80% following any DUI conviction. 
Apply that to the state average of $2,439 per year, and you’re looking at paying an extra $1,950 every year to maintain just the minimum required insurance per
California's car insurance laws
Adding it all up: Taking into account fines, fees, assessments, DUI school, IID costs, and increased insurance premiums, the total five-year cost of a 2nd DUI in California could be as high as $11,020! 

How to avoid jail time for a 2nd DUI in California

Unfortunately, a 2nd DUI conviction in California is a
driving violation that lands you in jail
. While you can't avoid it, it is possible to limit your time and bring down the steep costs of a conviction: 
  • Hire a criminal defense attorney: Bringing down jail time in a 2nd DUI conviction is difficult, and you’ll need a skilled DUI lawyer on your side to navigate this situation. 
  • Plead guilty to a “wet reckless” charge: This lesser offense carries lighter penalties and can help you avoid jail time.
In theory, jail time is a mandatory penalty for any 2nd-offense DUI in California, if you’re convicted. But a skilled defense attorney can argue that the arresting officer failed to follow the correct procedures and could get the charges dropped. 
An alternative to a DUI conviction is
a so-called “wet reckless” plea deal
, which replaces the DUI charge with a lesser conviction for reckless driving with a note that alcohol or drugs were involved in the offense. 
Although insurance companies will treat a wet reckless the same as a DUI, the penalties of this conviction are limited to: 
  • 5-90 days in jail
  • $145 to $1,000 in fines
  • Six weeks of DUI school
Unlike a 2nd DUI conviction, a wet reckless conviction doesn’t include any court-ordered license suspension or mandatory IID installation. Although you may still need to serve a short jail sentence, the long-term costs of a wet reckless conviction are significantly reduced. 
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FAQs

No. A 2nd offense DUI in California is considered a misdemeanor.
In general, a minimum of 96 hours in jail is a mandatory penalty for a 2nd DUI in California. However, it’s possible to get your jail time substituted for house arrest, community labor, or even rehab.
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