You are currently viewing What’s the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in California?

What’s the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in California?

You may risk a DWI or a DUI charge if you drive when intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs. Although these three-letter codes are close, they are not necessarily the same. Here are the distinctions between a DWI and a DUI, as well as how they may differ in each state.


Though the terms are often used interchangeably, a distinction is still occasionally made between a DUI and a DWI. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or, in certain situations, driving while impaired. A DWI is typically defined as driving under the influence of drugs.

There is usually a little distinction between a DUI and a DWI charge when the state examines driving while intoxicated. This distinction depends on the state. 

DUI stands for driving under the influence. It might apply to the use of alcohol, drugs, or many other substances. If the court determines that a driver is either impaired or has an unacceptable level of alcohol in the blood, the driver may be arrested for DUI. Either is sufficient to arrest the driver, and the penalty is the same. 

Whether it’s DUI or DWI, every state imposes its own restrictions and rules on drunk driving laws. Some states have different regulations for each phrase, but others, such as California, use DUI as a catch-all title for driving while under the influence of a substance or being impaired per the state’s vehicle code of law.

There are other types of DUIs, including DUI per se, drug-related DUIs, and other similar variations. While people never wish to be charged with a DUI, knowing what it means and the consequences is crucial not just for the next time you may consider taking the keys and driving while intoxicated.

Is One Worse than the Other?

In states that distinguish between DUI and DWI, a DWI charge is usually more serious because it reflects a higher degree of impairment. In California, however, there is no distinction between the two terms, and the penalties are identical.

What Amount of Alcohol Can Get You in Trouble?

Under California law, if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher, you’re classified as DUI, regardless of other facts. If the level is less than 0.08%, you can still be penalized if your driving behavior indicates impairment, such as drifting across lines or driving the wrong way on one-way streets.

The value also depends on your weight, gender, sensitivity to substances, the type of drink you consume, and how long you have been alcohol-free. Three drinks are usually enough to get you DUI or DWI. Waiting long enough will lower your degree of impairment.

What’s the Penalty For DUI?

cheap bail bonds near me

According to California state laws, committing DUI for the first time is considered a misdemeanor, and the individual charged faces these penalties:


A first DUI can result in a fine of $390 to $1,000 or more. The amount can run into thousands of dollars or higher.


A first DUI conviction can result in a sentence ranging from 48 hours to six months behind bars. The court can issue probation, which is more usual and involves no jail time. In some cases, you may need bail bonds. There’s no cheap bail bond for felony DUI cases as they could go up to $100,000 and above.

License suspension

If you’re a first-time DUI offender, the court will likely decide to suspend your driver’s license for six months. The second time, your license will be suspended for two years, and the third DUI conviction will extend the suspension to three years. If you have a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more, DMV may extend the period for an additional four months.

After a DUI arrest, the police will confiscate your driver’s license and issue you a temporary license for 30 days. After that, the original driver’s license will be returned to the DMV.

You may appeal and request a hearing within 10 days. Requesting a hearing will prompt the DMV to temporarily hold its decision to suspend your driver’s license. However, if no request is made, the license suspension will automatically take place.


First-time DUI offenders are often sentenced to three years of informal probation that could increase to five. You may also need to complete a 30-hour DUI course. If the blood alcohol concentration is 0.20% or higher, it could go up to 60 hours in nine months.

Of course, there are certain factors that could aggravate the charges into a felony, such as:

  • Having an instance of felony DUI on your records
  • Being convicted of DUI three times in the past ten years
  • Being convicted of DUI leads to serious injury or fatality. 

Is There a Way to Reduce the Charges?

A DUI prosecution may be mitigated to a wet reckless driving charge in some situations. Wet reckless driving is a major misdemeanor, but the penalties are less severe than those for DUI, and the court may view it more positively than a DUI charge.

The following are the benefits of a wet reckless conviction:

  • A more favorable fine
  • Less jail time.
  • Less probation
  • A shorter DUI course
  • No requirement for the DMV to suspend your license
  • No legal requirement for you to wear the California IID device
  • No instance of DUI on your record

Are You Convicted of DUI? Now What?

Now you know the difference between a DUI and a DWI in California. But what’s the next step? 

Dealing with a DUI case can be difficult in court. Therefore, it requires a lot of diligence and an effective defense strategy to at least reduce the charges and get them expunged from your criminal record. In addition to a good attorney, you’ll probably need bail bonds from a reliable provider.

Since most people are looking for an affordable bail bond, it’s important to find an agency with flexible payment plans that can get the process started quickly. At Escondido Bail Bonds, we offer fair and affordable bail bond payment plan options for those who qualify.

Need help posting bail? We can help

Bail is the temporary release of an accused person awaiting trial, sometimes on the condition that a sum of money is lodged to guarantee their appearance in court.

Southern California Jails We Service: 

  • Riverside County
  • Los Angeles County
  • Orange County
  • San Bernadino County
  • Santa Barbra County
  • Ventura County
  • Imperial County

Escondido Bail Bonds have the cheapest bail bonds with great services in all of Southern California and have a network of Licensed Bail Agents within 5 miles of every Jail. Please contact us with any questions in regard to the bail process or inmate information.

*Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ.