Is DUI a Felony in California?

Driving under the influence (DUI) in California refers to operating a vehicle over the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. If the police arrest or detain you for a DUI, you may face fines, imprisonment, driver’s license suspension, and be required to complete a DUI program.

The court may impose harsher penalties if the same violation occurs more than once. DUIs can have long-term effects on your life, so it’s important to have a skilled lawyer to help you through the legal process.

Mariya Melkonyan, a criminal defense lawyer, has extensive experience in misdemeanor and felony DUI cases in California. She understands what it takes to overturn your DUI charge and help protect your rights and reputation.

In California, DUIs typically begin as misdemeanor charges for first-time offenses. However, if a DUI causes injury or death, prosecutors can charge it as a felony.

For example, first, second, and third DUI offenses are charged misdemeanors with county jail time and fines. A misdemeanor charge may also result in the installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) in the drivers’ vehicles.

5 Ways DUI Can Be Charged as a Felony

More than one DUI charge can result in a felony with heavy fines, state imprisonment, and suspension of your driver’s license for several years. DUIs can also be charged as felonies if the accident causes injury or death or puts a child in danger.

The following are 5 ways that a DUI can be charged as a felony in California:

Fourth DUI in 10 Years
If you commit a fourth DUI and have other alcohol-related convictions within a 10-year period, you can face a felony charge. These convictions include:

DUI With a Prior Felony DUI Conviction
Three prior DUI convictions can increase what would have been a misdemeanor DUI charge to a felony. The fourth DUI in a 10-year period becomes a felony DUI in California. Felony DUI penalties include jail time in a county or state prison (16–36 months) and fines of up to $5,000. With court assessment fees, the cost can easily reach or exceed $10,000.

DUI That Causes Injury
If you drive under the influence and cause injury to another person, prosecutors can pursue felony DUI charges under Vehicle Code 23153. For a felony, your BAC level must be 0.08% or higher. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.04% or higher and you drive a commercial vehicle or have a passenger in the car, you could be charged with DUI.

DUI Causing Death
Under California’s vehicular manslaughter law, gross negligence may result in a felony charge. State prison sentences for this type of negligence range from 4 to 10 years. Prior convictions for intoxicated driving or vehicular manslaughter can result in 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors may also file a second-degree Watson murder if they find there was implied malice in the accident under California Penal Code 187. In 1981, the California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Watson that someone with a previous DUI conviction could face second-degree murder charges if they killed another person while drinking and driving.

The punishments for a Watson murder include the following:

  • State prison for 25 years to life
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • A strike on your criminal record under the Three Strikes law

If you receive the second strike, the state can double the sentence from your first felony conviction. A third strike can result in 25 years to life imprisonment.

DUI Involving Child Endangerment
Penal Code 273a refers to exposing a child under 18 to pain or suffering dangerous circumstances. The prosecutors may pursue a felony charge against you if you endanger a child by drinking and driving, with punishments that prison time.

What Are the CA Statutes for DUI?

California statutes pertaining to DUI charges include those found in Vehicle Code section 23152. If charged with a DUI, your case may reference the following:

  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a). CVC 23152(a) states that driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is illegal.
  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b). Section 23152(b) prohibits drivers with 0.08% or more alcohol in their blood from driving. A chemical test must determine whether a driver exceeded the legal BAC limits within three hours of driving.
  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152(c). Section 23152(c) mandates that people addicted to drugs must not operate their vehicles unless they are in narcotic treatment programs.
  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152 (d). According to CVC 23152(d), a commercial motor vehicle driver cannot operate a vehicle if their BAC levels exceed 0.04%. They must have a chemical test within three hours of driving to determine their BAC levels.
  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152 (e). Section 23152(e) makes transporting passengers with BAC levels of 0.04% or more illegal.
  • California Vehicle Code Section 23152 (f). Section 23152(f) makes driving illegal while under the influence of any drug.

California DUI Offenses and Charges

When facing a DUI offense, you must understand the potential charges you may face. These consequences can impact your ability to work, see your family, and have a stable future. DUI charges come with many possible sentencing options, including county or state prison, paying fines, or a mandated DUI treatment program.

Misdemeanor DUI
A first-offense DUI conviction in California can result in a misdemeanor DUI charge involving:

  • A county jail sentence
  • $390 to $1,000 in fines
  • Driver’s license suspension for six months

The DMV requires the installation of an IID and proof of enrollment in a court-approved alcohol or drug education program to let you drive with a restricted license. The restricted license allows you to travel to and from work, school, or your treatment program.

Second DUI
The second DUI conviction within 10 years of your first DUI has the following penalties and jail sentences:

  • County jail time
  • Fines ranging from $390 and $1,000
  • Driver’s license suspension of 2 years

You can apply for a restricted license upon the mandatory installation of an IID and proof of enrollment for an 18- or 30-month alcohol or drug treatment program.

Third DUI
A conviction for a third DUI in ten years results in these fines and jail sentences:

  • County jail imprisonment
  • $390 to $1,000 fines
  • Designation of habitual traffic offender for 3 years
  • Driver’s license suspension of 3 years

Those who have received a third DUI can apply for restricted licenses by installing an IID and showing proof of enrollment in a 30-month alcohol and drug education course.

Fourth DUI
A fourth DUI offense may result in a misdemeanor or
felony charge. A misdemeanor for a fourth DUI carries these penalties:

  • County jail term
  • $390 to $1,000 in fines
  • Driver’s license suspension of four years
  • 3-year designation of habitual traffic offender

Completing a 30-month drug or alcohol program can restore the privilege to drive again. However, if the prosecutor charges you with a felony for a fourth DUI conviction, you face county jail time country jail time for up to three years.

Injury DUI
If the court convicts you of a DUI resulting in an injury to another person other than a driver, you may face the following prison sentences and fines:

5 days to a 1-year county jail sentence and fines of $390 to $1,000 if the court grants probation
County or state prison and fines of $390 to $5,000 if the accident occurred in a 10-year period of a separate violation of reckless driving while drinking

Felony Injury DUI
A felony for a DUI involving a serious injury results in these jail sentences and fines:

  • State prison term
  • Fines of $1,015 to $5,000
  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Enrollment in an alcohol or drug program

Defending Against Felony DUI Cases in California

You can represent yourself in court for a misdemeanor DUI charge of a felony DUI case in California. During the trial, you can present evidence, file motions, and argue your case in front of the jury. Nevertheless, in a felony DUI case, you risk losing your case if you fail to follow all the required legal procedures, such as filing the appropriate paperwork and submitting evidence for prosecutorial review.

Rather than take on your case alone, work with Los Angeles DUI defense lawyer Mariya Melkonyan to defend yourself against the prosecution team. As a skilled DUI attorney, Mariya can help you in the following ways:

  • Prepare relevant evidence to develop a strategy for drunk driving defense in Los Angeles California
  • Guide you on how to avoid self-incrimination when responding to a DVRO
  • Obtain the opinions and testimonies of expert witnesses that support your claim
  • Negotiating with the prosecution to reduce your charges

Working with an experienced defense lawyer in both felony and misdemeanor cases can give you the legal guidance you need to reduce your charges or sentence and secure your right to freedom moving forward.

Ways DUI Cases Can Be Dismissed

In California, your defense attorney can focus on a number of facts to convince the court to drop your DUI case. The most common factors that result in a DUI dismissal include:

Lack of Probable Cause in a DUI Case

If the police didn’t have a good reason to stop or arrest you, the case could be dropped. For example, if you weren’t swerving, speeding, or driving erratically when the cop pulled you over, they may not have had an appropriate reason to initiate the stop.

Insufficient Evidence
The case may be thrown out if the prosecution doesn’t have enough proof that you were drunk when the accident happened. For instance, they don’t have a police report or BAC test showing you were drunk.

Test Results that Can’t be Trusted
If the results of a test, like a blood or breath test, can’t be trusted or the test wasn’t done right, the case may be dismissed. Your attorney may be able to show evidence that police didn’t follow proper procedure for taking your blood, for example.

Equipment Errors
If the machine used to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was broken or not calibrated correctly, the case could be dropped. An example might be if you noticed a crack in the device and asked the police, but they did not respond and used the broken equipment to take your BAC.

Constitutional Violations
If the police violated your constitutional rights, like by searching or seizing you without a warrant, the case could be rejected. If you asked for your lawyer immediately and the police kept asking your questions, it could be considered a violation of your right to representation.

Every case is different, and the chances that a DUI case will be dropped depend on the specific facts and legal defenses that can be used. Our team specializes in criminal cases. We can help you understand your options and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

Errors in DUI Tests
The government must follow the procedures for giving DUI breath tests according to Title 17 regulations. For instance, the police officer administering the test must have adequate training and understanding of the instruments. They must also obtain two different breath samples from a driver.

You can have your Los Angeles felony DUI defense attorney obtain the test results and investigate police and laboratory records to determine if there was a violation of Title 17 by the officer.

Sobriety Checkpoint Setup Mistakes
Sobriety checkpoints require visibility with flashing lights and police cars and must be in areas where DUI cases are high. Officers can use a neutral formula for stopping drivers, such as asking every third, fifth, or tenth driver. They must have a reasonable cause to arrest you and can briefly detain drivers who show signs of public intoxication.

Additionally, public advertisements should inform the drivers of the sobriety checkpoints ahead of time.

An experienced misdemeanor or a felony DUI defense attorney can examine photographs, witness statements, and surveillance footage to determine if the police failed to follow procedures when conducting a sobriety checkpoint. Your attorney can use the evidence to show that the police did not have a reasonable reason to arrest you.

How to Win a DUI Case in California

Whether you’re faced with a misdemeanor DUI charge or a Felony DUI case in California, it can be challenging to navigate to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

Once charges are filed, your future rests in the hands of the prosecution. You need a seasoned defense attorney on your side.

Mariya is a former deputy district attorney with 13 years of experience. Her unique background makes her well-suited to help you build a solid DUI defense.

Contact Mariya today by completing an online form to schedule a free consultation regarding your misdemeanor or felony DUI case.

California DUI FAQs

Does a DUI Show Up on a Background Check in California?

Criminal background checks will reveal a DUI conviction unless you go through the expungement process. When you complete your probation, you may file a petition for expungement with the court for a judge to review your petition.

If the judge grants the petition, you must withdraw your guilty plea and re-enter a not-guilty plea. A judge can also set aside your verdict if your case went before a jury trial.

Does a DUI Stay on Record Forever in California?

DUI convictions remain on your driving record with the California DMV for 10 years. Law enforcement and the DMV will see your driving record during that time.

Do You Lose Your License For a First-Time DUI in California?

A first-time DUI results in a misdemeanor DUI charge and the loss of your license for six months under California Vehicle Code 13352.1(a). The court notifies the California DMV, and the DMV imposes your license’s suspension.

What is the Statute of Limitations on a Felony DUI in California?

The statute of limitations for felony DUI is three years under California Penal Code 801.7. After the statute of limitations has passed, the prosecutor can no longer charge drivers with the crime.

Is a DUI a Felony in California?

When someone other than a driver sustains injuries or dies due to a DUI, the offense becomes a felony. A fourth DUI conviction within 10 years or a prior felony DUI conviction makes driving under the influence of alcohol a felony.

What is the Difference Between 23152 A and 23152 B?

Under California Vehicle 23152(a), it is illegal to drink and drive. This law means you can face a DUI charge even if your BAC level is below 0.08%. Vehicle 23152 (b) states a driver cannot operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more. If your BAC level is over 0.08%, you can face charges for violating Vehicle 23152(a) and Vehicle 23152 (b).

What is the Punishment for DUI in California?

DUI punishments range in length and amount for prison sentences, fines, drug or alcohol education programs, and installations of ignition interlock devices (IIDs). The California DMV also revokes your driver’s license.

Is Jail Time Mandatory for DUI in California?

Jail time is mandatory for a DUI conviction in California. Even if you have a first DUI with no prior convictions, a judge can sentence you to county jail for 96 hours to 6 months.

How Many DUI is a Felony in California?

California elevates a DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony when there have been three or more DUI convictions within a 10-year period.

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