Is drunk driving a felony? In California, a driver can be deemed guilty of felony DUI if they commit their fourth DUI within 10 years or if they are involved in a severe car accident resulting in death or serious injury. It’s important to note that DUIs can be charged as felonies if they cause injury.
Under California’s Vehicle Code 23152, driving under the influence is typically classified as a misdemeanor. This applies not only to the first offense but also to the second and third offenses, provided there are no aggravating factors.
For standard misdemeanors, the maximum penalties include six months in prison and a fine of $1,000. However, if the misdemeanor is considered more severe, the offender may face up to a year of jail time and a fine of $1,000 or more. It is worth mentioning that, under specific circumstances, a misdemeanor DUI in California can be elevated to a felony.
Felony DUI Causing Injury
Prosecutors in California who are pursuing DUI felony charges due to injury caused by the crime will charge this crime under Vehicle Code 23153 VC. This statute makes it illegal to:
- Under the influence of alcohol, driving a vehicle is prohibited. This includes doing any act that is forbidden by law or failing to perform a duty required by law when driving the vehicle.
The driver will be charged with the following in this situation:
- Vehicle Code 23153(a), driving while under the influence of alcohol causing injury.
- Vehicle Code 23153(b), driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% and higher that causes injury.
Intoxication is defined as a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, unless the defendant was driving a commercial vehicle, or was a passenger on hire.
Vehicle Code 23153 is a charge that can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor, commonly known as a “wobbler.” The determination of how it is charged depends on various factors, such as the gravity of the accident, the extent of the victim’s injuries, and the driver’s criminal history.
Felony DUI Causing Death
California prosecutors pursuing DUI charges resulting in a fatality will file the charge under Penal Code 191.5 PC. Subsection (a) of this statute deals with gross vehicular manslaughter when intoxicated, while subsection (b) addresses simple vehicular death while intoxicated.
The crime of simple vehicular murder is now referred to as gross vehicular homicide, which incorporates an element of grave negligence. To secure a conviction for felony DUI causing death, the prosecution must establish the following:
Under California Penal Code Section 187, prosecutors are authorized to charge DUI crimes resulting in death as a felony. The specific felony charge is known as second-degree Watson murder, named after the corresponding California Supreme Court decision.
For a conviction under Penal Code 187 for second-degree murder to occur, this element must be present in the crime. When the defendant has a prior DUI conviction, prosecutors will pursue a felony DUI causing a fatality charge under Penal Code 187.
Felony DUI With Multiple Prior DUI Convictions
California Vehicle Code 23550.5 (VC) upgrades a misdemeanor DUI to a felony if the defendant has accumulated three or more DUI convictions within the past ten years. The prosecution is allowed to consider DUI convictions from California, as well as DWI or OUI convictions, or other similar convictions, to establish multiple DUI offenses.
The prosecution can also include wet reckless convictions. This is a plea-bargained reckless driving conviction under Vehicle Code 23103 where the defendant had been under the influence. In summary, drunk driving offenses can include the following:
- A California conviction for driving under the Influence,
- A conviction for wet reckless in California,
- A conviction for drunken driving in another state.
Felony DUI Due to Prior Felony DUI Conviction
The California Vehicle Code 23550.5 elevates a misdemeanor DUI to a felony offense if the defendant has a previous felony DUI conviction. The defendant doesn’t need to have three or more DUIs to be charged with felony DUI.
If the defendant has a prior felony DUI conviction, even a single subsequent DUI can be classified as a felony. This means that having one previous DUI conviction as a felony is sufficient to elevate any subsequent DUI offense to a felony as well. Additionally, if a previous DUI conviction resulted in injury or death, it may have been filed as a felony. Alternatively, if the defendant has multiple DUI convictions, the charge may be consolidated into a single felony charge.
Punishments for Felony DUI in California
The defendants charged with felony DUI if they have multiple DUI convictions or a previous felony DUI are:
- Up to 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state jail, plus an up to $1,000 fine, a mandatory interlock device of at least 1 year, and any other possible license suspension or restriction.
- The punishment for a felony DUI that causes death can be up to life imprisonment.
A felony conviction can also result in various collateral effects, such as being prohibited from possessing or using firearms for the remainder of your life.
While on parole or in county jail, you are prohibited from voting.
If you have been sentenced to California state prison, you are unable to expunge your conviction.
Best Defenses to Felony Drunk Driving Case
As mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that driving under the influence can lead to felony charges in California.
These circumstances include DUI crimes resulting in death or bodily harm, the defendant already having a prior felony DUI at the time of the new offense, or the defendant has committed a fourth DUI within the last ten years. Prior DUI convictions can be utilized to challenge felony DUI charges.
Prior DUI convictions that fall outside of the 10 years or were not DUI offenses committed by the defendant may not be considered toward the required number of convictions. Defendants charged with felony DUI resulting in death have the opportunity to contest the legal and factual cause of death.
Contact our firm today to discuss all the legal options and specific details of your DUI case.
DUI defendants may argue that they were not intoxicated or that their level of intoxication did not meet the required threshold. It may be possible to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor.
We may also be able to identify any legal mistakes made by the police or weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, which could potentially lead to the dismissal of your case. For example, did the police have sufficient probable cause to initiate the vehicle stop? Were you stopped at a sobriety checkpoint?
It is essential to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were responsible for the accident. We can potentially demonstrate that the other driver was at fault for the accident.
If necessary, we can hire an expert in accident reconstruction to determine fault. They may be able to provide evidence that the other party was responsible for the accident.
Conclusion – Is Drunk Driving a Felony?
In California, a DUI can be charged as a felony under some situations, such as causing an injury.
The act of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs puts not only the driver’s life at risk but also endangers the lives of innocent pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers on the road.
Recognizing the potential harm caused by drunk driving, lawmakers have implemented strict penalties, including felony charges, to deter individuals from engaging in this dangerous behavior. By treating drunk driving as a felony, the legal system aims to send a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated, holding individuals accountable for their actions and emphasizing the importance of responsible and sober driving to ensure the safety of everyone on the road.
Protect Your Rights: Tenina Law – Your Trusted Personal Injury Attorneys
When personal injury strikes due to drunk driving, you need more than sympathy – you need Tenina Law. As your dedicated Personal Injury Attorney, we’re determined to deliver justice, advocate for your rights, and make those accountable pay.
Drunk driving isn’t just an offense; it’s a violation of your right to safety, and we aim to uphold that right. At Tenina Law, we shoulder your legal burdens so you can focus on recovery. We tirelessly fight for the full compensation you deserve to cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering. Don’t let the aftermath of a drunk driving incident take over your life. Let Tenina Law stand by your side, empowering you to reclaim your life.
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