Drunk driving should always be viewed as a serious charge as it can result in jail time, massive fines, prevent you from being able to drive and leave you with expensive insurance deductibles even once you do get your license back. But some driving under the influence cases are even more serious and can even be charged as felonies. When it comes to whether a DUI in California will be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, there are a few situations that could leave you in prison for years. This is why it is so important for anyone facing DUI felony charges in San Diego to call a lawyer as soon as possible.
When is a DUI a Felony in California?
In California, most drunk driving offenses are charged as misdemeanors, but there are three distinct circumstances that can make a DUI a felony:
- While under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you violated a traffic law or drove in a negligent manner, and in doing so, you injured or killed another person.
- You have three or more prior DUIs on your record from within the last ten years.
- You previously received a felony DUI conviction within the previous ten year period.
In any of these situations, the offense may still be charged as a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor. With the help of a skilled felony DUI attorney in San Diego, you may be able to negotiate a plea bargain that will allow for you to be charged with a less serious misdemeanor accusation.
DUI with Injury or Death
Even if you this is your first California DUI charge, you only exceeded the speed limit by a few miles an hour and the victim of the accident was barely injured, you can face felony charges. A person who says his head, back or neck hurts has been injured sufficiently to result in a felony DUI charge.
On the other hand, if the injury was serious, you could be sentenced to an additional three years in prison for causing great bodily injury (GBI). A felony DUI that includes GBI is also a strike under the state’s three strikes law. When one or more parties died as a result of your driving, you could even be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter.
The three largest factors affecting disposition are 1) the extent of injuries, 2) the blood alcohol level and 3) the prior record of the defendant. Self help including meetings and rehabilitation efforts can also weigh heavily in the outcome.
When it comes to an injury or death related to a drunk driving case, the prosecution must be able to prove that you were 1) intoxicated above the legal drinking limit, 2) that you either drove recklessly or broke a traffic law, and 3) that another person was injured or killed as a result. If they cannot prove any one of these factors, they must charge the offense as a misdemeanor. Occasionally when this occurs, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to have the charges dropped completely.
Three or More, or Prior Felony DUI Convictions
If you have three prior DUI convictions in the last ten years, this can make your case a felony. In these cases, it is important to realize that even a related offense such as a wet reckless or a drunk driving conviction from another state can still be considered a prior offense that will be counted against you. Similarly, even if you had previous received a felony conviction for a minor accident that resulted in a minor injury when you had a BAC of only .08, you may still face felony charges for any future DUI.
Penalties for Felony Drunk Driving Charges
Felony DUI charges are very serious and can result in up to three years in a state penitentiary. If someone suffered great bodily injury in a DUI accident, the penalty will be extended by another three years for each victim who suffers such serious injuries. In cases where someone has lost their life, the penalty can be as long as ten years in state prison.
Aside from time behind bars, you will also face massive fines and the loss of your driver’s license for up to four years (although you may be able to get a restricted license after a year). You will also most likely be required to install an ignition interlock device in your car, go through 18 or 30 months of DUI school and pay drastically higher insurance rates for years to come. Judges are more inclined to avoid imposing jail or prison terms if a DUI defendant gets serious alcohol treatment and wears an alcohol monitoring device for a significant period of time. That being said, even if your DUI defense attorney is able to have your felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor DUI, you will still be subject to a one year license suspension.
If you are facing a felony DUI charges in California, please contact criminal attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 and schedule your free consultation.