Is a DUI a Felony in California?

Is a DUI a felony in California

The general rule is that a DUI typically isn't charged as a felony in California, especially on a first-time offense. There are certain exceptions to that rule, though. A first-time DUI is considered to be less severe than repeat offenses.

The state treats a first-time DUI as a misdemeanor but can also be charged as a felony. It's often within the discretion of the police officer or the prosecutor on whether a DUI might be charged as a misdemeanor, felony, or both. Under the circumstances, it's okay if you get both. It's something that we routinely deal with.

Fight Felony DUI Charges in California With an Experienced DUI Lawyer

California defines DUI as suffering impairment by a substance when it compromises somebody's ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. That substance might be alcohol, or it might also be prescription or illicit drugs.

There are a variety of ways to fight felony DUI charges in California. We caution you, though. Don't try to do this on your own. They all require the expertise of a quality DUI lawyer. You're risking your job, driver's license, and freedom if you try to handle a DUI yourself. Legal representation by a knowledgeable and experienced DUI lawyer is strongly recommended.

California DUI Law

California DUI law

In California, VC 23152(b) makes it illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more. VC 23152(a) even makes it illegal to operate a vehicle if your BAC is under .08. It's a misdemeanor and punishable by a year in jail and a fine of $1,000, but it could turn into a felony.

Five Ways DUI Can Be Charged as a Felony

Is a DUI a felony in California? The answer to that question is yes. A DUI might be charged as a felony. A prosecutor can file felony charges under the following factual circumstances:

  • You received your fourth DUI within the last ten years.
  • You received a DUI with a prior felony conviction.
  • You were involved in a DUI that caused an injury.
  • You were involved in a DUI, causing death.
  • You were involved in a DUI causing child endangerment, according to PC 273.

Fourth DUI Within 10 Years

California uses a ten-year look-back period for prior DUI convictions. If you're arrested for a fourth DUI during that look-back period, you could face felony charges. Penalties might include 16 months to four years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. DUI school for 30 months and a four-year driver's license revocation. You can drive with an ignition interlock device. You'll also be labeled as a habitual traffic offender for three years.

DUI With Prior Felony DUI Conviction

VC 23550.5 makes it a felony to be convicted of a DUI offense when you're already subject to a single prior felony conviction for the same offense. You need not have three or more prior convictions. A single prior felony conviction is sufficient. It's punishable by a year and a day in the county or state prison.

DUI Causing Injury

DUI causing injury

Injury is a common scenario for elevating a DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony. It's detailed by VC 23153. A trip to the hospital for neck and back pain is enough to charge a driver with felony DUI-causing injury. 

Much depends on the police officer. He might charge the individual with both felony and misdemeanor DUI. Under such circumstances, the felony DUI might be voluntarily dismissed in return for a plea on the misdemeanor charge. It's your decision. In either case, you could also face a civil personal injury case. 

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt doesn't apply to such a case. In a civil case, the burden of proof would be by a preponderance of the evidence. With that, something is more likely true than not true. It's a lower burden of proof.

DUI Causing Death

An increasing number of prosecutors in California charge drunk drivers with second-degree murder in case of a DUI death, especially if they have a prior DUI conviction on their record. 

An offender can also be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter. Should an individual be charged under PC 191.5(a), a conviction can be probational or carry four, six, or ten years in prison. 

Being a difficult charge to prove, prosecutors might rely on a lesser offense. That doesn't escape civil liability for wrongful death, though, especially since it carries a lower burden of proof. Since the criminal courts don't have the jurisdiction to award damages, the case is heard in a civil courtroom with a different judge and jury.

DUI With Child Endangerment 273A PC

A felony child endangerment charge may be filed in California if a person is accused of driving under the influence with a child in a vehicle under 14 years old.

A blood alcohol level of .15 could prompt felony enhancement of the charge by the prosecutor. The charge might also be enhanced if the driver refused breath, blood, or urine testing. A felony endangerment charge is punishable by six years in state prison.

Punishments for Felony DUI in California

Punishment for felony DUI

The penalties for felony DUI vary, depending on what a person is charged with. Repeat offenses don't require felony status. They range as follows:

  • 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.
  • A fine of up to $1,000.
  • Mandatory interlock device for at least one year.
  • Driver's license suspensions or restrictions.

DUI Causing Injury or Death

A DUI causing injury can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Much depends on the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the victim. Penalties range from 364 days in jail, a fine of $1,000 for a misdemeanor, and four years in state prison with a fine of $5,000.

Multiple DUI Convictions

Multiple DUI convictions are punishable by the following penalties:

  • Up to three years in state prison.
  • A fine of $1,000.
  • Thirty months of DUI school.
  • Mandatory driver's license suspension for up to five years.

Best Defenses to Felony Drunk Driving Case

Best defense to felony drunk driving case

There is a wide range of legal defenses to drunk driving in California. Here are a few examples:

  • The most obvious thing is that the individual was not driving. It's not necessarily against the law to be under the influence of alcohol in California.
  • The driving wasn't related to the consumption of alcohol. People make bad driving decisions every day, even when they don't consume alcohol.
  • The BAC results were in error because they were based on mouth alcohol, not blood alcohol.
  • Other BAC breath errors like belching or even having the breath testing machine too close to radio traffic.
  • The observation period for the defendant. The police officer failed to observe the defendant for 15 minutes before administering the breathalyzer.
  • A rising blood alcohol content might have been taken when, in fact, the defendant was under the legal limit and a block from home when he was pulled over.
  • There may have been other physical symptoms that gave the officer the impression that the defendant was intoxicated.
  • Improper testing of breath machines and failure to calibrate a device per statutory requirements.
  • There was a lack of probable cause to make the traffic stop.
  • There was other police misconduct.

Contact Our Skilled DUI Attorney at Hurwitz Law Group for an Initial Consultation

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Under California Law, a DUI investigation begins with a suspicion of impaired driving by a police officer. That ordinarily involves traffic violations by the driver of the vehicle. The officer makes a traffic stop and observes the driver's demeanor and physical appearance while listening closely to his manner and speech pattern. Based on his observations of the driver, the officer might want him to undergo specific field sobriety tests.

Many drivers don't realize it's perfectly legal to refuse such tests without consequences. If they refuse, though, it's down to the station for a breathalyzer test or a hospital for a blood test. It's not mandatory but be prepared for it.

Some people are even arrested for DUI after passing these tests. That's why having an experienced and trusted DUI lawyer review the facts of your case is of the utmost importance.

Contact the Hurwitz Law Group at (323)-916-9019 to arrange a free consultation and case review. We promise to listen to you carefully and advise you on the best approach to your case. We focus on results and satisfied clients so that we will exhaust all possibilities.

Contact us at Hurwitz Law Group immediately after being arrested for DUI in Los Angeles County or surrounding counties.

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