DUI: Misdemeanor or Felony?
An enjoyable night out with friends turned into a terrible nightmare involving the police. You had one too many glasses of wine, and now the police have arrested you for driving under the influence (DUI). You might be wondering: How much trouble am I in? Am I now a felon? In general, misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. They carry much shorter prison sentences. A misdemeanor DUI does not need a preliminary hearing or the convening of a grand jury, but a felony DUI case would.
Getting either a misdemeanor or felony conviction for DUI is possible. For this reason, people in legal circles refer to DUI as a “wobbler” offense. If you caused only minor injuries to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with a misdemeanor DUI. When the injuries are serious, the police will charge you with a felony DUI even if it’s your first offense. Also, a DUI charge becomes a felony if the driver was transporting children under the age of fourteen, or if he or she has a very high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The courts can enhance a DUI charge from a regular misdemeanor DUI to a felony DUI depending upon the circumstances of your arrest. For example, if you are detained for DUI while breaking other laws, the courts can increase the charges. Drunk drivers who kill others by accident are almost always charged with a felony. This type of DUI will fall under one of three categories: vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or second-degree murder.
The following three offences constitute a felony DUI in California:
Vehicular manslaughter (unintended killing of another person with a vehicle): Drunk driving that causes severe injury is a felony. Scrapes, cuts, and bruises won’t make your incident a felony. However, it may trigger a charge for misdemeanor DUI with injury. The prosecutor has to show that the victim suffered severe injuries. If you hit another vehicle or person on purpose while intoxicated, that offence would be considered a felony DUI. You may be charged with second-degree murder or DUI manslaughter if someone dies due to your intoxication.
Habitual DUI offenses (four or more within ten years): After a third conviction, the courts will charge you with a felony for any additional DUIs. Previous convictions include those for “wet reckless” driving. (A “wet reckless” charge results from a plea bargain to reduce a charge of drunk driving when the BAC was borderline illegal, and there was no accident or prior record.) A habitual DUI defendant may want to consider alcohol addiction treatment. Completion of such treatment can be used as a way to cut jail time when one is convicted as a habitual DUI offender. The prosecution has the right to charge habitual DUI as a misdemeanor. But that only happens in rare cases when your lawyer negotiates such a reduction on your behalf. The legal team at Hurwitz Law Group has had considerable success with such negotiations, especially when little or no damage was caused.
Prior DUI felony conviction. If you have already been convicted of a DUI felony, the courts will charge you with another felony for any other DUI conviction within ten years. You will get a felony charge even if you have a low BAC or the current DUI does not cause serious injuries.
The police can also charge you with felony DUI for the following:
- Assault with a deadly weapon (the law considers your car a deadly weapon),
- Driving with elevated BAC (.15 or more),
- Driving with a revoked, restricted, or suspended license,
- Driving with children in your vehicle while you are drunk.
Prosecutors still have the option to charge DUIs under these conditions as misdemeanors. They do not charge every DUI meeting the above criteria as a felony. They have to do more than prove that the motorist was under the influence and that an injury occurred. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23513, the prosecution must show that the driver, while intoxicated, violated another law and that the additional violation was the cause of the injury. (See felony DUI definition below.)
Two types of punishment can result from a DUI charge. The first type is administrative and results in your license being suspended. The police can take your license at the moment you fail or refuse a sobriety test. That will be long before your case even goes to court. This measure is possible because license suspension is an administrative action. The second type of punishment falls under criminal law. Penalties include fines or prison time.
Felonies and misdemeanors are two types of criminal offenses. A felony involves a much greater consequence than a misdemeanor. The punishment for a misdemeanor is less than what accompanies a felony conviction. The law punishes misdemeanors with a small monetary fine usually less than $1000. The defendant may receive a jail sentence of no more than a year. Felonies, however, being more significant crimes, result in substantial monetary fines and may include a sentence longer than one year in a prison rather than a local jail.
Both felonies and misdemeanors will go on your criminal record and can seriously affect your future. But there are many defenses available to counter a drunk driving allegation. The experienced team of DUI lawyers at Hurwitz Law Group will help you build a solid case. They have been very successful at disproving DUI felony charges and securing excellent plea bargains.
“Awesome Attorney! Reduced my DUI charge to a Wet Reckless. . . . He (Brian Hurwitz) was very professional and knowledgeable.” – Iliana M.
Felony DUI Definition: The California Vehicle Code 23152 defines a misdemeanor drunk-driving violation. It states that such a violation does not cause physical damage to a third party. Vehicle Code 23153, however, states:
“Any person who, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or under the combined influence of intoxicating liquor and any drug, drives a vehicle and when so driving does any act forbidden by law or neglects any duty imposed by law in the driving of such vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than himself, is guilty of a felony.”
The police can charge you with a felony DUI even if your BAC is under .08%. You can be charged if you’re under the influence of any drug, including over the counter medicines, prescription pharmaceuticals, or illegal substances. You may also be required to make restitution to the injured victims. In almost all cases, the police will charge you with separate violations of the DUI laws. Therefore, you could be facing several convictions.
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The State of California has a statute of limitations for DUI. The prosecution has three years to file charges for felony DUI. So, don’t get too comfortable if you’re arrested for DUI and the prosecutor is taking a long time to file charges. Most likely he or she is working behind the scenes to prepare charges against you.
You should be aware of the legal rights you have – rights which the police often ignore:
- The police should have enough facts to constitute “probable cause.” Only then can they stop, detain, and arrest you.
- They must inform you of your constitutional rights. Known as the “Miranda” warning, they must read you these rights before they question you.
- They should tell you that you are not required to submit to field sobriety testing.
- They should give you a choice between blood and breath testing. The arresting officer must inform you of the legal consequences if you refuse.
- The police do not save the breath sample. Thus, the arresting officer must give you a chance to get a blood sample for later independent testing. Your attorney will send the sample to a laboratory for use in your defense.
Most felony DUIs involve injury resulting from an accident. To impose a felony DUI charge, the prosecutor must believe that you caused the accident which occurred while you were intoxicated. For example, let’s say that you had a few beers and you were driving home. As you proceed through an intersection, another driver runs a stop sign and rear-ends your car. Even though you were drunk, you should not be issued a ticket because you did not cause the accident.
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DUI Felonies in California: California conviction rates vary from county to county. Almost 85 percent of arrests result in convictions in Orange County. Only about 70 percent get convicted in Los Angeles County. As mentioned earlier, a conviction can be devastating for the average Californian. It may close the door to professional licenses and some employment opportunities. It also ruins your chances of holding public office and even threatens your civil rights, including the right to own a firearm. It leads to deportation and can be used as a reason to exclude non-citizens from entry into the United States.
What Happens When You Get a Felony DUI? The court will increase the penalties, such as time in prison, if you are convicted of a felony DUI even if a prior conviction took place outside of California. The requirements for proving felony DUI are like those of misdemeanor DUI. But the case must meet the three conditions listed above. If the grounds for charging you with a felony is a prior felony DUI conviction, your Hurwitz Law Group attorney will challenge it.
If your felony DUI charge is your fourth offense in ten years, the sentence is at least 180 days in prison. You also face penalty assessments, hefty fines, and probation. In addition, you will have to enroll in an 18-month alcohol education program which is more intensive than that for misdemeanors. The court might also order you to enter a rehabilitation program. Felony DUI is a serious matter that requires the most knowledgeable and experienced counsel. Hurwitz Law Group can provide such help.
A felony DUI conviction allows the state to suspend your driver’s license for four years. In most cases, you can apply for a restricted license after three years. DUI fines range from $390 to $1000. The judge is likely to penalize you at the high end of the range because of the seriousness of a felony DUI charge. Extra fees and court costs can bring the total paid to as much as $4500. The court may also order you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle. This device senses your alcohol level and is able “lock” your engine.
The IID is a little bit larger than a cellular phone. It is wired to your ignition by the DMV, and you have to give it a breath sample before starting your vehicle. The vehicle won’t start if the IID discovers alcohol on your breath. You will need to provide more breath samples at intervals while you drive. The additional samples are taken to ensure that alcohol is still absent from your system. If your vehicle is shared, the other drivers will also have to provide breath samples.
The final aspect of felony DUI punishment is the requirement that you file SR22 documentation once the DMV reinstates your license. SR22 is a type of financial responsibility certificate which proves that you carry minimum liability insurance coverage. An SR22 filing will cause a significant rise in your insurance rates.
The penalties associated with felony DUI convictions depend on several factors:
- The nature and cause of the accident,
- The severity of the accident,
- The defendant’s criminal history,
- The number of people affected,
- The age, circumstances, and causes of the defendant’s prior DUI cases.
Both felony and misdemeanor DUI convictions can drain your financial resources and ruin your career. They can also tear apart your family and destroy your reputation in your community. Don’t let this happen to you. Felony DUI is not a simple traffic offense but a charge that calls for a law firm with significant experience in the handling of complicated cases. You need someone with skill and savvy to handle your DUI felony case. That is why it is essential that you work with Hurwitz Law Group to ensure that your rights are protected. You deserve fair treatment even if you’re guilty of the DUI charges filed against you. Brian Hurwitz, at Hurwitz Law Group, will come to your aid immediately to ensure that you receive the quality representation you deserve. Contact Hurwitz Law Group now to schedule your DUI consultation.
“Brian Hurwitz seamlessly handled my situation with the most professionalism and care. I was facing a DUI and he was able to reduce it. . . . So happy to not have to install an interlock device. I am thankful I had Brian to represent me.” Richard P.