There are circumstances under California law where a driver convicted of DUI can have their driver’s license permanently revoked. In most cases, permanent means permanent—there is no chance of getting your license back.
However, most California DUI’s involve only a temporary suspension. We’ll look at the conditions where a permanent license revocation might apply, and how to avoid it.
Types of DUI License Suspension in California
DUI penalties are complex in California and include many kinds of license suspension, each with different rules. The basic types of suspension include:
- Administrative suspension. This is an automatic suspension that happens 30 days after your DUI arrest. This is different than all other suspension types because it happens before you’re even convicted. This kind of suspension is never permanent.
- Suspension. When we use the term “suspension” we don’t mean permanently losing your license. We mean it’s taken away for a while but you can eventually apply to get it back.
Suspension can be “hard” or “soft.” Hard suspension means no driving at all—with no exceptions. Soft suspension means you may qualify for restricted driving privileges. Often, a DUI includes a period of hard suspension followed by a period of soft suspension.
- Restricted driving. If you have served your hard suspension time and meet other qualifications, you can apply for temporary, restricted driving privileges (also known as a “hardship license”). If you’re approved you’ll get a temporary license that lets you drive to and from work and court-ordered drug or alcohol treatment. No other driving is allowed.
- Permanent revocation. For the purposes of this article, when we say a license has been “revoked” it means taken away permanently. The state of California only does this for the most serious DUI charges and some repeat offenders.
When Does California Permanently Revoke a Driver’s License for DUI?
In California, some types of DUI always carry permanent license revocation. Other types can carry a permanent revocation if the judge decides it’s warranted.
Here are the various types of DUIs where your license can be revoked:
- DUI Murder. If your DUI resulted in someone’s death, you could be charged with DUI Manslaughter or DUI Murder (explained here). DUI Murder is the most serious of these and implies a conscious disregard for human life. If you are convicted of DUI Murder your license will be revoked for life.
- 4th Offense DUI. California keeps track of your past criminal record, and DUI penalties get stricter with each conviction. If this is your fourth DUI, your license is revoked for life. This is true no matter how long it’s been since your prior DUI’s.
(Note: for commercial drivers, you could permanently lose your commercial driver’s license starting with your second )
- DUI Manslaughter. This charge is less serious than DUI Murder, but it still carries steep penalties. In some cases you will have your license suspended for three years or more. In other cases thee courts will decide to revoke your license permanently. The same thing applies to Vehicular Homicide, a non-DUI charge that is otherwise similar to DUI Manslaughter.
- DUI with Serious Injury. This charge is used when your DUI caused an accident that involved major bodily damage (explained here). Not all DUI’s that lead to injuries get this charge; some injuries are too minor. If you’re convicted of DUI with Serious Injury, the result is up to the judge. You could face at least three years of suspension or could lose your license permanently.
For all other DUI charges in California, you may suffer a long period of license suspension (sometimes up to 10 years) but you can eventually expect to get your license back.
The Manslaughter Exception to “Permanent”
There is only one situation where a permanent license revocation can be reduced to a temporary suspension. If you were convicted of DUI manslaughter and had no prior DUI-related convictions of any kind, you could qualify to have your license reinstated. You can petition for reinstatement after five years have gone by.
How to Keep Your Driver’s License after a California DUI
When your driver’s license is on the line, you should seek professional legal help. Two of the DUI charges listed above carry a mandatory permanent revocation. That means the only way to keep your license is not to be convicted in the first place. A good DUI defense lawyer may be able to get your charge reduced to something less serious so that it does not trigger a license revocation.
In other DUI charges, the judge gets to make the call. A DUI attorney can help you present the strongest case possible. You may be able to win leniency from the judge by voluntarily entering alcohol or drug treatment. Or, you may be able to work out a deal with the prosecutor that does not involve a permanent license revocation.
There is no substitute for an experienced DUI lawyer. We can connect you with the best DUI lawyers in Los Angeles—and get you a free, in depth case evaluation. Simply fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free case evaluation today.