What is the Actual Cost of a DUI Charge?

Chantal Tanner

What is the Actual Cost of a DUI Charge?

| 5 min
7 Min

When dealing with a DUI arrest, many people wrongly assume that the only expenses are posting bail and paying for an attorney. However, a DUI arrest comes with many unexpected financial expenses. A DUI arrest can lead to two separate proceedings - an administrative hearing at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a criminal case at the local court. The financial consequences that accompany these processes can turn a simple DUI arrest into a fairly costly matter.

The Cost of a DUI Charge

With a base fee of $3.50 and $2.75 per mile, the average cost of taking an Uber or a taxicab for a 10 miles round trip in Orange County, California, is $62. For a round trip that can be covered in less than an hour, $62 may seem costly. However, compared to the financial cost of a DUI charge in California, taking a cab is a very cheap affair.

A DUI arrest leads to two separate cases, an administrative hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a criminal case with the local court. The financial consequences that accompany the two cases can make even a simple DUI arrest very costly. 

In breaking down the actual cost of a DUI charge in California, it is important to note that no two DUI’s are similar. Therefore, most of the estimated cost and fees will be specific to a first time DUI offense, a misdemeanor in California. However, it is also good to note that even within the same DUI type, even simple details like the location of the DUI arrest can lead to significant cost differences. 

Some of the financial obligations that constitute the total cost of a DUI charge include bail fees, towing and impound fees, attorney fees, court costs, DUI treatment program fees, and auto insurance costs. 

  • Towing and Impound Fees

Following a DUI arrest, the law allows the police to tow and impound the vehicle. While towing and impounding fees can vary substantially depending on factors like location, expect to pay around $300 to get back your car. You must pick your car within 24 hours as the daily impound fees significantly increase after that. Other fees that may constitute the total cost include towing fees, administrative fees, and transfer charge fees. 

  • Bail Fees

Depending on several factors, including location, the judge’s decision, and the facts of the case, the cost of bail for DUI charge can vary from reasonable to expensive. Depending on the bail 'schedule' of the California County you are in, expect to pay between $5000 and $10,000 for a first-time DUI offense. However, in most misdemeanor offenses, including a first-time DUI, the police may release the offender on 'own recognizance,' meaning they will not have to post bail.

  • Defense Attorney Cost

Price factors such as the complexity of the case and the experience of the attorney mean defense attorney fees for a DUI charge can vary significantly. While an inexperienced attorney can charge as low as $1500 for a first-time DUI offense, an expert DUI attorney can cost as much as $10,000 or more. As criminal defense lawyers, DUI lawyers usually charge upfront for their services. 

  • Court Costs

For a first-time DUI offense, court costs may include fines, penalties, and assessments. In addition to California’s recommended base fine of $390 to $1,000 for a first-time DUI offense, penalty assessments, jail fees, and other extra costs may increase the court costs to around $2000 or more. In cases where the offense is a felony, including where another person is injured, court costs can dramatically increase.

  • DUI School 

After a DUI conviction, the court may order you to complete a DUI treatment and counseling program. For a first-time DUI offense, the mandatory class may be as short as 12 hours or as long as nine months. Depending on how long a DUI treatment program lasts, the cost may range from $270 to $1,850.

  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

In California, a DUI offender is eligible for a restricted license that allows him/her to drive to and from places such as work and school. However, a restricted license requires the driver to have an IID installed in their vehicle. With an average installation cost of around $125 and an average monthly cost of $80, you can expect to pay approximately $500 for five months.

  • Auto Insurance Costs

The law classifies DUI offenders as ‘high risk’ and requires them to have SR-22 insurance for a minimum of three years. The higher insurance premiums significantly increase auto-insurance costs. With an increased average cost of $2,000 per year, as a first-time DUI offender, expect to pay around $6000 over the SR-22 insurance minimum three year period.

  • License Reinstatement Fees

If the court or the California DMV suspends your license after a first-time DUI offense, expect to pay around $200 in license reinstatement fees. 

  • Hidden Costs

In addition to the legally imposed expenses, a DUI conviction also comes with other hidden costs, including payments for alternative transport in case of license suspension or revocation. Additional hidden costs may include lost income due to lost productivity or DUI related job loss, especially for professional drivers. 

Summary (Estimated average cost for a 1st DUI charge)

Towing and Impound Fees                                      $300 (can vary by location)

Bail Fees                                                                   $7000 (can vary significantly)

Attorney Fees                                                           $5000 (can vary significantly)

Court Cost                                                                $1,800 (with a base fine of $390)

DUI School                                                                $900 (for a 3-month DUI class)

Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Fees                         $500 (varies by device)

Auto Insurance Costs (for a minimum 3 years)      $4500 (varies by insurer)

License Reinstatement Fees                                    $200 (can significantly vary)

Total                                                                                         $20,200

Based on the above estimates and other factors, you can expect to pay between $10,000 and $30,000 or more for a first-time DUI offense in California. The facts of a case, including aggravating circumstances such as death or injury of another person, can dramatically increase the cost. Considering these estimates do not include additional expenses that might be incurred with motor vehicle repairs and other property damages, it is hard to estimate the actual cost of a DUI charge. However, the financial burden of a DUI charge can strain anyone.

7 Min
Oct 29, 2019
Chantal Tanner