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Is DUI A Felony in CA? – Three Ways It Can Be

By San Diego Attorney on August 31, 2016

In the state of California, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08% or greater. If you violate this law, you could be charged with the crime of driving under the influence (DUI). While most DUI offenses will be charged as a misdemeanor,there are three different circumstances under which this crime could be elevated to a felony. These include:

  • You have injured or killed another person in a DUI accident
  • You have been convicted of three DUI conviction within ten years
  • You have previously been convicted of a felony DUI offense

#1: Causing a DUI Accident that Results in Injury or Death

If you have caused a DUI accident because you a) drove under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and b) committed an additional vehicle code violation or drove in an otherwise negligent manner, you could be charged with felony DUI. Depending on the specific nature of your case, the prosecution could either charge you with DUI causing injury, DUI vehicular manslaughter, or DUI second-degree murder. While each of the aforementioned crimes would be prosecuted as a felony, the penalties will vary. Under California law, they are as follows:

  • DUI Causing Injury: Up to 4 years in prison, between $1,015 and $5,000 in fines, license revocation for 5 years and mandatory enrollment in a 30-month alcohol education program.
  • DUI Vehicular Manslaughter: Up to 4 years in prison (an additional 3 to 6 years may be added if a surviving victim suffers great bodily injury) and $10,000 in fines.
  • DUI Second-Degree Murder: The penalties are the same as those imposed for second-degree murder without DUI, which include 15 years to life in prison and $10,000 in fines.

What is the difference between DUI vehicular manslaughter and DUI second-degree murder? Drivers with prior convictions for DUI on their record who cause a fatal accident while drving under the influence will likely be charged with DUI second-degree murder. If this was the driver’s first DUI offense, he or she will be charged with manslaughter.

#2: Being Convicted of Three DUI Offenses Within Ten Years

If you have been convicted of three or more alcohol-related offenses within a ten-year period of time, a fourth or subsequent offense could be charged as a felony. This includes three or more prior offenses for driving under the influence (DUI), wet reckless or out-of-state DUI. If you were to be convicted of felony DUI, any subsequent DUI arrests would automatically result in felony charges—regardless of whether or not the crime would have otherwise been charged as a misdemeanor. Under California law, the penalties would be as follows:

  • Fourth Misdemeanor DUI: This crime is punishable by either a) up to 3 years in prison or b) up to 1 year in jail, a 4-year revocation of your driver’s license and $390 to $1,000 in fines.

#3: Having a Prior Felony DUI Conviction on Your Record

Once you have been convicted of a felony DUI offense in the state of California, any subsequent drunk driving arrests would result in felony DUI charges. Regardless of whether or not the crime itself rises to the level of a felony, the prosecution would have the right to push for enhanced sentencing if you have a prior felony DUI conviction on your record. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you enlist the help of a San Diego criminal lawyer before you find yourself in this position. Depending on the nature of your case, you may even acquire a “strike” on your criminal record.

Trust in a Firm with more than 30 years of experience

Facing felony DUI charges in California? If so, it is imperative that you discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney from JD Law as soon as possible. When you contact our firm today at (760) 630-2000, you can schedule a confidential consultation with our Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist.

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