If you are facing a DUI charge in California, you are already looking at potentially severe and long-term consequences upon a conviction; but when the DUI charge you are facing is a felony, the potential punishments are even more daunting. The bottom line is this: you simply cannot afford to be without the best possible legal defense when facing a felony DUI.
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, our team of experienced DUI defense attorneys are intricately familiar with the California Penal Code, and thus, we understand the serious nature of felony DUIs. We also have a detailed knowledge of local, Los Angeles court processes and a firm commitment to the best interests of our clients. These are the elements that have helped us to win numerous felony DUI cases in the past, and we can put them to work for you as well.
For a free legal consultation and a quick beginning to work on your case, call us anytime 24/7 at 424-281-3020.
Misdemeanors vs. Felonies in California
Most DUIs in California are charged as misdemeanors, but when specific aggravating factors apply, a felony is either automatic or an option for the prosecutor.
It can make a great difference whether your DUI is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. First, the general sentencing guidelines vary as follows:
- For misdemeanors, one year in jail is the maximum, while for felonies, a year of jail time is the minimum. And long terms in state prison are also possible with felony convictions.
- Misdemeanors usually have fines of less than $1,000, whereas, felonies can carry fines of $10,000 or more.
- Both misdemeanors and felonies can include probationary periods, but in the case of felonies, the terms may be stricter and the consequences of violating those terms more severe.
- Felons lose the right to vote while in prison or out on parole, lose the right to own a firearm for life, and do not qualify for state-issued hunting/fishing licenses.
- The chances of being refused employment based on a past criminal record is much higher with felonies, and you legally must inform potential employers of your past felony when applying. If you don't inform them, they will likely run a background check and find out anyway.
3 Kinds of Felony DUIs
There are only three basic categories of felony DUIs in California: DUI with injury or death, 4th offense DUI, and felony DUI based on already having a past felony DUI conviction.
To be a DUI to begin with, the defendant must have had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher (.04% for commercial drivers and .01% for underage drinkers), be demonstrably "under the influence" of alcohol though your BAC be under .08, or have any detectable amount of an intoxicating drug (be it illegal, prescription, or over the counter) in your system if it impairs your ability to drive as safely as a sober person normally would.
When any of the three aggravating factors mentioned above are added to the basic qualifications of a DUI just listed, a felony DUI is possible. In the case of having a prior felony DUI on your record, it is automatic that a new DUI will also be a felony. In the case of a serious injury/death or a 4th-time offense, it is likely you will face a felony charge.
DUI with Injury or Death
Under California Vehicle Code Section 23513, if a person other than the driver him or herself suffers bodily injury or is killed in a DUI-related automobile accident, it is a "DUI with injury" and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. The more severe the injury and the more negligent the alleged actions of the defendant, the more likely a felony DUI will be filed.
To gain a conviction on DUI with injury, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt the following four elements of the crime:
- The defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or an intoxicating drug and/or with a BAC of .08 or higher.
- Another person suffered physical injury or death in an accident the defendant was involved in while committing the DUI.
- The defendant violated a traffic regulation or other law besides DUI laws or he/she drove the vehicle in a negligent manner.
- The illegal act or negligence of the defendant was the cause of the injury or death of the victim.
If DUI with injury is charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction will bring the following sentencing elements:
- From 5 days to 12 months in county jail.
- 3 to 5 years of summary probation.
- A fine of $390 to $5,000.
- Full financial restitution to all victims.
- 3 to 30 months of mandatory DUI School.
- A 1 to 3 year driver's license suspension.
If DUI with injury/death is charged as a felony, the sentence will be even more severe. Sentencing elements include:
- From 2 to 4 years in state prison, and 5 to 10 years in prison if "great bodily harm" was suffered by the victim. An extra year in prison for each additional person injured (up to 3 extra years for there being multiple victims.)
- A fine of $1,015 to $5,000.
- Full restitution to all victims.
- Either 18 or 30 months of DUI School.
- A loss of your driver's license for 5 years.
- Registration as a Habitual Traffic Offender for 3 years.
- A strike on your record under California's "Three Strikes" law if great bodily harm was suffered by a victim.
Also note that a second DUI with injury in a 10-year look-back period can lead to increased punishment, and a third DUI with injury in 10 years is an automatic felony.
If your illegal or negligent act that led to the injury or death of another qualifies as "gross negligence" (an act that a reasonable person would know was likely to result in the injury/death of another), then the DUI can be charged as vehicular manslaughter under PC 191.5. If the DUI results in the death of another and the defendant has already attended DUI School and/or been formally warned that a future DUI could lead to murder charges, second degree murder under PC 187, or "Watson Murder," may be charged. If the defendant not only injured another while DUI but also committed a hit and run accident, additional punishments will apply.
Finally, note that being served a sentence for DUI with injury does not absolve one from also being liable for all damages inflicted on the person and property of others. Thus, a separate tort lawsuit is also possible.
4th Offense DUI
The sentence for a DUI becomes gradually more severe based on how many past DUIs are on one's record. When you already have three prior DUIs, a new DUI is normally charged as a felony.
For the purposes of establishing it is your fourth DUI, any of the following count as "priors" (prior offenses):
- A DUI conviction, whether felony or misdemeanor
- A wet reckless conviction
- A vehicular manslaughter conviction
- Any out of state conviction that is equivalent to any of the above
- Any expunged convictions for the above offenses
To gain a conviction for a 4th-time DUI, the prosecutor not only must prove you committed a DUI but must also prove you really have the three priors (within the previous 10 years). This will mean gathering past DMV and court records, certificates from completed DUI classes that were part of your sentence, and other documentation.
In some cases, a good defense lawyer can challenge the evidence of one or more of the previous DUIs and get it stricken from the record based on procedural or clerical errors. If this can be done, it can reduce a felony DUI to a misdemeanor DUI.
Possible sentencing elements for a 4th DUI conviction include:
- From 16 months to 4 years in state prison.
- A fine of from $390 to $1,000 plus additional fees.
- Registration as a Habitual Traffic Offender for 3 years.
- Loss of your California driver's license for 4 years.
DUI with Prior Felony DUI
No matter if your current DUI charge is free of all aggravating factors in itself, if you have even one prior felony DUI conviction on your criminal record (in the past 10 years), it is a non-negotiable felony DUI.
The punishment guidelines for this class of felony DUI are the same as for the 4th offense DUI sentence listed just above. As with other felony DUIs, however, the sentence can vary based on the specifics of the case and on your DUI defense attorney's ability to negotiate a favorable plea.
Common Defense Strategies
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we handle numerous DUI cases, including many felony DUI cases, on a routine basis. Over our many years of practice, we have seen virtually every type of DUI case and are familiar with what are the most successful DUI defense strategies.
While we always build each defense "from scratch" based on the specifics of the particular case, here are some of the most common basic classes of defense we frequently use:
- Violations of your rights: If police violated your rights in any way during the traffic stop or arrest, the evidence prosecutors wish to use against you may well be thrown out as illegally gathered. This typically leads to the case being dismissed. Examples of police violations include: making a traffic stop or arrest without probable cause, failing to read you your Miranda Rights, interrogating you before informing you that you are under arrest, and falsifying or planting "evidence."
- Unreliable test results: Many assume that a BAC result over .08 is an end-all piece of evidence, but this is simply not so. If police did not administer tests and store blood samples according to protocol, they violated Title 17 and rendered the test results suspect. Acid reflux, use of mouthwash, ketosis in diabetics, and taking certain medications can throw off breath tests, and exhaustion or confusion could cause one to fail the field sobriety tests. In some cases, an independent BAC test can render a lower result and eliminate your DUI.
- Still-rising BAC: If you tested barely at or over .08, and there was a significant gap in time between being pulled over and taking the BAC test, the results could be faulty. If your blood alcohol level was still rising at the time the test was conducted, it would have been lower while you were behind the wheel — possibly under .08.
- Injury not caused by defendant: To use an example specific to one class of felony DUI, a common defense is to question the cause of the injury if one was injured in an accident involving someone driving DUI. Although the suspicious naturally exists that the alcohol or drugs caused the defendant to drive poorly and cause the accident, this is not always the case. Other reasons, like a person being a poor driver in general (not because of intoxication), the other driver causing the accident, or bad weather/driving conditions leading to the accident, may have been the real cause.
Contact Us Today
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we know how to build you a solid defense for your felony DUI case and how to win you the best possible outcome. We always fight hard to win a dismissal or acquittal, but in instances where such is not possible to obtain, we fight on and secure for you a favorable plea with a reduced charge or sentence.
Do not hesitate to contact us anytime 24/7/365 to learn more about defending against felony DUIs or for a free legal consultation on the details of your case. Call us today at 424-281-3020.