Being convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense with considerable legal and personal consequences. First-time offenders may face severe penalties. These can include fines, mandatory educational programs, probation, department of public work service, interlock ignition device installation, alcohol monitoring devices, self-help meetings, two points on your driving record, and suspension of driving privileges.

This article will explain the legal consequences of a first-time DUI conviction in San Diego, California. The laws and penalties discussed will be those in effect as of June 2023. It's essential to remember that DUI laws vary from state to state, and penalties vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within California.

DUI: Legal Definition in California

In California, a DUI occurs when a driver is:

  • Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol; OR
  • Driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher: OR
  • Driving a motor vehicle under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs; OR
  • Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs (prescription, illegal, marijuana, etc.)

It is important to remember that California's Zero Tolerance Law applies to drivers under the age of 21. This law sets the BAC limit at 0.01%.

First-Time DUI Penalties

Penalties for a first-time DUI conviction in California can be hefty. The outcome of a DUI charge depends on the circumstances at the time of arrest, including the driver's blood alcohol content and whether there was any property damage or personal injury.

  1. Fines: The monetary penalties for a first-time DUI in San Diego typically range from $390 to $1,000. However, once you factor in penalty assessments, mandatory classes, and other fees, the total cost can exceed $3,000.
  2. Probation: The court may also impose a probation period, which usually ranges from three to five years. During this period, the offender must comply with certain conditions. These include not committing other crimes or driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system.
  3. DUI School: First-time offenders are usually required to attend a DUI education program. The program's length varies. It depends on the case. Usually, the program lasts from three to nine months.
  4. Imprisonment: Although less common for first-time offenses, there is the potential for jail time. The maximum is typically six months for a misdemeanor DUI, but circumstances surrounding the offense can influence this.


Loss of Driving Privileges

A first-time DUI conviction in San Diego can lead to losing driving privileges. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend your license for six months following a DUI conviction.

You can apply for a restricted license. There are two options for this:

  1. A restricted license for 12 months allows you to travel to/during/from the course of work and to/from court-ordered alcohol classes only.
  2. The other option is to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle for a period of either six months (if your BAC is under .20%) or ten months (if your BAC is over .20%). This option gives you unlimited driving ability if you have the IID.

It's important to note that there are two separate proceedings regarding your driving privileges: administrative and criminal. The DMV is responsible for administrative proceedings. If you fail or refuse a BAC test, you may receive an immediate suspension of your license.

What are Some Possible Legal Defenses?

Skilled legal representation is essential to defend against a DUI charge. The defenses used will depend on the unique circumstances of the arrest. However, some common defense strategies a DUI attorney may use include:

Challenging the Legality of the Traffic Stop

One of the first things a DUI attorney might look into is whether the initial traffic stop was legally justified. Law enforcement officials need a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to stop a driver. The officer must provide a valid reason for making the stop. The evidence obtained during the stop may be suppressed if they cannot.

Questioning the Accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests

Tests are subjective. Many factors can influence them, such as the driver's physical condition, nervousness, age, and type of shoes. Even the environment can affect the results. An attorney could argue that the officer failed to administer the tests correctly or that they do not definitively prove impairment.

Disputing the Reliability of Breathalyzer or Blood Tests

Breathalyzer machines must be maintained and calibrated correctly to give accurate results. The results may only be reliable if the device has been properly maintained.

Additionally, a flawed test procedure may generate inaccurate results. The attorney might examine the procedures for blood tests, including how the sample was collected, stored, and analyzed. This is to ensure correct procedures were followed.

Rising Blood Alcohol Concentration Defense

The bloodstream takes time to absorb alcohol. There can be a significant time gap between the defendant's last drink and the breath or blood test. As a result, their blood alcohol content (BAC) could have been within legal limits while driving. However, it could have increased by the time of testing.

Medical Conditions and Medications

Certain medical conditions, such as GERD and diabetes, can affect breathalyzer test results, leading to inaccurate readings of the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Medications can also skew the results. An attorney might explore whether such factors could have influenced the test results.

Doubting the Officer's Observations and Testimony

An attorney may doubt the accuracy of the police officer's observations and testimony, especially if there are inconsistencies or exaggerations in the report. Alternatively, the officer's assumptions about intoxication could be wrong; fatigue or allergies could be the cause.

It is important to seek legal advice when facing a DUI charge. Experienced attorneys can evaluate the case details and decide the best defense strategy.


A first-time DUI in San Diego can carry serious consequences. These include high fines, possible jail time, educational programs, work service, probation, and the suspension of your driver's license.

Anyone charged with a DUI should consult a lawyer to help navigate the legal process and potentially mitigate the consequences. Prevention is the best remedy. Always designate a sober driver, use a ride-sharing service, or stay overnight if you've been drinking.