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Out-of-State Drivers Who Get a DUI in California

Unlike much of the east coast or Europe, California was not designed for easy commuting, especially for out-of-state visitors. Los Angeles, in particular, is the epitome of the urban sprawl transportation dilemma—to go from one place to another, you’ll need a vehicle.

California’s reliance on automobiles can cause problems for both pleasure and business tourists. If you go wine tasting, attend a business meeting, or dine out, even a few drinks could push you over the legal driving limit of .08 BAC, thus placing you at risk for a DUI.

If that occurs, what are the penalties and protocols for out-of-state drivers who get a DUI in California?

The professional Los Angeles DUI lawyers at Artz & Strum are here to help you understand your legal rights and options. 

What Is a DUI Under California Law?

Whether you’re a California resident or an out-of-state visitor, the state’s DUI laws remain the same. In California, you may be convicted of a DUI if you’re caught driving under the influence of drugs or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%+.

In such cases, you’ll likely be charged under:[1]

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) – Driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) – Driving with a BAC of .08% or more.

The specific charges and consequences levied will depend on the nature of your case.

What Happens Immediately After a DUI Arrest in California?

If you are arrested for a DUI, California’s “Admin Per Se (APS)”—administrative license suspension program—automatically revokes or suspends an individual’s driving privileges after a 30-day waiting period.[2]

During this interlude, the California DMV automatically conducts an administrative review of:

  • The officer’s sworn report
  • Accompanying documents
  • The arrest or traffic collision report

In the immediate aftermath of a DUI event, the typical protocol is for the arresting officer to remove your driver’s license and replace it with a temporary, 30-day paper license—so long as you do not have another DMV or court-imposed sanction already in effect.

That said, if you’re not a California resident, law enforcement lacks the legal authority to confiscate and destroy a license from another state.

However, the DMV does have the right to automatically suspend your California driving privileges once that 30-day waiting period has passed.

Can Out-of-State Drivers Challenge an Automatic Driving Suspension?

If you believe that you were erroneously accused of driving under the influence, out-of-state drivers have a 10-day window to request a California DMV administrative hearing to fight the automatic APS driving privilege suspension.

This administrative hearing must occur in California.

So what are your rights as an out-of-state driver?

Under California law, out-of-state motorists have the same rights as residents when it comes to administrative hearing proceedings. This includes the following:

  • Right to legal representation by a DUI lawyer or criminal defense attorney
  • Right to review evidence that was given to the DMV
  • Right to present your own evidence to the DMV
  • Right to appeal an adverse decision

According to SB1046, you can also appeal to receive a restricted California driving license so long as “the person meets all other eligibility requirements and the person installs an ignition interlock device.”[3]

Will My State of Residence Find Out About My DUI?

If you’re charged with a DUI in California, there’s a high likelihood that your home state will learn about the circumstances of your case.

California is a part of the Driver License Compact (DLC), which is an interstate agreement between 45 of the 50 states. Its motto is: “One driver, one license, one record.”

The DLC compels states to exchange driver information regarding traffic violations, suspensions, and revocations. Furthermore, under this compact, practically all traffic offenses that occur in one state will be treated as if they occurred in your state of residence.

So if you are convicted of a DUI in California, those penalties will most likely apply in your home state. Additionally, your home state may also impose its own DMV penalties, irrespective of California sanctions.

Currently, the only states that don’t participate in the DLC are Maine, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, and Tennessee.

What Are the Penalties for a DUI in California?

If a person is arrested and found guilty of a DUI, several factors go into the sentencing equation.

Depending on your driving history and the specific circumstances of the alleged DUI event, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony in the state of California. In either case, your state of residence would have no bearing on the charges.

Misdemeanor DUI

Under California Penal Codes, a first-time offender charged with a misdemeanor may face the following penalties:[4]

  • 3-5 years probation
  • $390 – $1,000 in fines and penalty assessments
  • 3-9 months of mandatory DUI school
  • A 6-month driver’s license suspension
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device 
  • A minimum of 2 days in county jail, with a maximum of 6 months

Felony DUI

Although most first-time DUI cases are changed as a misdemeanor, there could be aggravating circumstances that bump it up to a felony charge, such as BAC of .15+, reckless driving, child endangerment, or an accident resulting in bodily injury and/or property damage.

If you’re charged with a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case, penalties may include:

  • 5 years of probation
  • A fine up to $5,000
  • Restitution for victims of an accident
  • Court assessment fees up to $10,000
  • A minimum of 16-36 months in state prison
  • Revocation of driver’s license for up to 10 years
  • 3 years of mandatory DUI school
  • Mandatory ignition interlock device installation

If there is a fatality involved in the incident, a driver could be charged with a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter or felony DUI causing death. In either instance, the driver will likely be charged with even harsher penalties than they otherwise would be.

Do I Need to Appear in Court for a DUI?

The answer to this is contingent on the charges.

In most cases involving a misdemeanor DUI charge, a non-California resident can request their legal representative to appear on their behalf. So, if you reside in Arizona, but received a DUI in Santa Monica, CA, you could hire a Los Angeles DUI defense attorney to go to court in your stead.  

The same can’t be said for a DUI felony. In the vast majority of instances, the defendant must appear personally for felony criminal court proceedings.

Can My DUI Charges Be Reduced?

No matter your state of residence, there’s a strong chance that your charges can be reduced or even dismissed outright.

An experienced DUI attorney could negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor, especially if you have a clean criminal history and are being charged with a first–time DUI misdemeanor.

That said, even if you fail the breathalyzer test and face a felony DUI, a legal professional could potentially identify flaws in the prosecution’s case, such as:

  • Arresting officers failed to demonstrate probable cause
  • Arresting officers did not follow proper police conduct and procedures
  • The breath test was faulty

The right legal team could even take a difficult case to a jury trial to push to have the charges dropped altogether. 

Challenging a California DUI

After an alleged DUI incident, you can’t afford to wait to obtain legal representation, especially if you’re from out of state.

To receive a fair hearing and increase your chances of a favorable outcome, you need to enlist the services of a Los Angeles DUI attorney right away. Hiring a knowledgeable DUI lawyer early on enables them to investigate the matter and begin building your case while the details are still fresh. 

So if you’re an out-of-state driver who has been recently arrested for a DUI, call the Artz and Sturm Law Group today for a free, private, confidential consultation.


[1] California Legislative Information. Vehicle Codes: Rules of the Road.

[2] California DMV. Driving Under The Influence: Age 21 And Older.

[3] California Legislative Information. Senate Bill No. 1046.

[4] California Legislative Information. Sentencing for Driving While Under The Influence [23500 – 23675].

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