California law covers several driving offenses charged as misdemeanors or felonies. These offenses attract stiff penalties, including lengthy prison or jail time and hefty court fines.
Some driving offenses have life-changing consequences like lost driving privileges and a damaging criminal record. The severity of your penalties will depend on the gravity of the offense and your criminal record. Koenig Law Office handles all manner of driving offenses every day. We fight alongside our clients until they obtain a fair outcome for their situation. Thus, talk to us if you face any driving-related charges in Bakersfield. We could compel the court to either reduce or dismiss your charges.
Overview of California Driving Offenses
California's constitution aims at keeping everyone safe, even while on the road. Every time you are driving, you could intentionally or mistakenly commit a crime that could change your life and/or the lives of other motorists. All driving offenses in California are serious. They attract severe penalties upon conviction. They encourage motorists to drive carefully and safely at all times. The severity of your penalties will depend on the nature of the offense committed, the danger you put other motorists, and your criminal history. Here are some of the common driving offenses in California and their possible consequences after conviction:
DUI — California VC 23152
DUI is a severe and prevalent offense in California and other states. It happens when you operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. DUI laws in California are clear, with apparent consequences for those that violate them. DUI-related offenses are many and are charged as misdemeanors or felonies, based on their circumstances and your criminal history. For instance, DUI offenses that result in injuries are felonies, attracting a lengthier prison time and heftier fines than misdemeanors.
DUI is a priorable crime in California. Every subsequent DUI is punished more severely than the previous. The first three DUIs in ten years are misdemeanors, provided they do not include aggravating factors like property damage, injuries, and the presence of a minor. A fourth and subsequent DUI is a felony and could result in more severe consequences, including revocation of your driver's license. It also leaves you with a damaging criminal record that could affect your social and career lives.
A DUI conviction attracts various penalties that could include time in jail/prison, misdemeanor or felony probation, mandatory installation of an IID, completion of a DUI school, and license suspension or revocation. You are advised to find a competent criminal lawyer if you face DUI-related charges in California. Your attorney will help you fight your charges in court for a more favorable outcome.
A first DUI occurs the first time you face a DUI arrest. The police will conduct a preliminary investigation and arrest you if they suspect you of driving while intoxicated. You will undergo DUI and BAC testing after the arrest. If the test results confirm that you were operating under the influence, you will face DUI charges in court. The prosecutor must prove these elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt for the judge to give you a guilty verdict:
- The officer had a probable cause for your DUI arrest
- You were driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Your BAC level demonstrated intoxication
The punishment for a first-DUI conviction could include:
- Six months in jail
- Misdemeanor probation for three to five years
- Completion of DUI program for three to nine months
- Courts fines and penalty assessments from $1,500 to $2,000
- Driver license suspension for six months
- Mandatory installation of an IID for six months in every vehicle you drive
A second DUI happens when you face DUI charges for the second time in ten years. The DUI process is always the same, only that the prosecutor will prove in court that you have a prior DUI conviction in under ten years. Remember that the second DUI is also a misdemeanor, attracting these penalties:
- Misdemeanor probation or three to five years
- Jail time for ninety-six hours to one year
- Court fines of up to $1,000
- Completion of a DUI program for eighteen to thirty months
- Mandatory installation of an IID for a year
- Possible suspension of your driver's license for twenty-four months by the DMV
A third DUI happens when you face a third DUI charge in ten years. The prosecutor will prove, among other offense elements, that you have two prior DUI convictions in your criminal record that occurred in under ten years from the current charge. A third DUI is also a misdemeanor, attracting the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor probation for up to five years
- One year in jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Mandatory installation of IID for three years
- Possible incense suspension by DMV for three years
- DMV designates you as a habitual offender
A fourth DUI occurs if you face a fourth DUI charge within ten years. Unlike the first three DUIs, a fourth DUI in California is a felony. You could also face a felony DUI if you cause an accident while driving under the influence and cause injuries or death. A felony DUI is punishable by:
- Three years in prison
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Installation of IID for at least one year
- DMV designates you as a habitual offender
- Possible revocation of your driver's license
If you cause an accident while driving under the influence in which many people are injured, you face separate penalties for each person that sustained injuries in the accident. Your penalties will also depend on the severity of the injuries and whether someone lost their life. You could also be ordered to pay restitution to the injured parties or their family.
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated — California Penal Code 191.5
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated happens when you engage in negligent behavior while driving under the influence and cause another person to lose their life. You could face charges for vehicular manslaughter with intoxication and with ordinary negligence or gross negligence, based on the details of your case. Here are examples of unlawful acts that could cause you to face charges under this statute:
- Texting on the phone while driving with a BAC of 0.09%, then unknowingly hitting a pedestrian and killing him on the spot.
- Driving recklessly on a busy street while under the influence of drugs and causing an accident that kills a passenger in the other vehicle
- Failing to obey a stop sign while driving under the influence of alcohol and crashing into another vehicle in which the driver is killed
The prosecutor must prove these elements of the offense for the court to find you guilty of the charges:
- You operated a car while under the effects of alcohol or drugs
- While drunk or drugged driving, you committed another offense that put the life of another person at risk of death
- You committed the said act with ordinary negligence
- Your negligent actions caused another person to lose their life
You are considered to be driving under the effects of drugs or alcohol if you violate the following statutes:
- California VC 23152(a) driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- California VC 23152(b) driving with a BAC of .08% or more
- California VC 23152(g) driving under the influence of both drugs and alcohol
- California VC 23140.6 driving with a Blood-Alcohol Concentration of .05% or more when you are under 21 (underage DUI)
Committing a crime with ordinary negligence means that you failed to use reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm.
Vehicular manslaughter, when intoxicated with ordinary negligence, is a wobbler offense in California. It means that the district attorney can charge it as a misdemeanor or felony based on the facts of the case.
As a misdemeanor, it attracts one year in jail, misdemeanor probation, or a maximum court fine of $1000.
As a felony, you could receive four years in prison and a court fine of $10,000.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
This is a separate offense under California laws, providing sentencing guidelines for anyone driving under the influence and with gross negligence causing an accident that kills another person. The offense is covered under California PC 191(a). The act of gross negligence is separate from driving under the influence and can be a misdemeanor, infraction, or other act that can cause death.
The prosecutor must prove these elements or facts of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty as charged:
- You operated a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- You committed another offense that could cause the death of another person
- You committed that other act with gross negligence
- Your gross negligence caused another person to lose their life
The main element of this offense, which differentiates it from vehicular manslaughter when intoxicated, is the aspect of gross negligence. The prosecutor must demonstrate to the court that your actions were gross negligence, and another person lost their life out of that negligence.
Gross negligence means that you acted recklessly to put another person at risk of significant bodily injury or death. The prosecutor will demonstrate that another sober person would know that acting the way you did creates that risk. Gross negligence goes beyond the error of judgment or ordinary carelessness. For example, you are speeding while driving with a higher than standard BAC.
Causing another person to die while driving under the influence can result in murder charges or charges for gross vehicular manslaughter when intoxicated. If you face charges under California Penal Code 191.5(a), you will likely face these penalties:
- Felony probation
- Prison time for four, six, or ten years
- Court fines amounting to $10,000
You could face more severe punishment if you have a prior conviction for the same offense, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and DUI causing injury. With a prior sentence for any offenses, you could receive a prison term of fifteen years to life.
Reckless Driving — VC 23103
Reckless driving entails operating a vehicle with willful and wanton disregard for people's or property safety. The prosecutor must prove these elements or facts of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be found guilty under this statute:
- That you drove a vehicle on a highway or off-street parking facility
- You did so with wanton disregard for people's or property safety
A highway or off-street parking facility is any place that is publicly maintained and open to members of the public for vehicular travel or parking. Note that private parking facilities that are not open for use by public members are not covered under this law.
Wanton disregard for people's or property safety means that you were aware that your actions presented an unjustifiable and substantial risk of danger, and you intentionally ignored that risk anyway. However, it does not mean you intended to break the law or cause damage.
Note that speeding does not always imply recklessness. The court can consider only one factor when determining if a driver was reckless.
Reckless driving is mainly a misdemeanor offense, punishable by the following:
- Jail time of up to 90 days
- Court fines of up to $1,000
Your penalties are likely to become more severe if a person sustained injuries due to your recklessness. If someone was seriously injured due to your actions, you could face a felony charge, punishable by three years in prison.
Possible Legal Defenses for California Driving Offenses
The good news is that you can fight your driving-related charges in court to obtain a fair outcome of your case. The help of a competent criminal lawyer goes a long way in ensuring that you receive a fair trial and judgment. Your layer can cause some of the legally-approved defense strategies based on the charges you face. The most common of these are:
It Was a Crime of Necessity
Sometimes a person commits a crime to avoid a more significant problem. In that case, your lawyer can convince the court that your actions were necessary at the time, even though they resulted in a crime. Remember that your action must not be more harmful than the problem you avoid. For instance, you could have driven recklessly to avoid causing harm to yourself or another motorist or pedestrian. The judge will likely dismiss your charges if your defense is acceptable in court.
The Injury was Less Severe
Your lawyer can use this defense to have the court reduce your charges from felony to misdemeanor. For instance, a DUI charge will likely result in severe penalties if it results in an injury or death. A felony conviction attracts more severe penalties, including time in prison and a possibility of losing your driver's license for a more extended period or permanently. Your penalties will be less severe if the court agrees to reduce your charges from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Your lawyer can fight a DUI-related driving charge by citing that you were not driving under the influence. If the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving under the influence, the court will dismiss your DUI charges and other charges that follow. Fortunately for you, the law provides several defense strategies that your lawyer can use to fight your DUI charges. For instance, they can tell the court that the police did not have probable cause for your arrest. Or that your BAC results were false. If you successfully fight your DUI charge, the court can dismiss subsequent charges.
Negligence is an essential element in some driving-related charges. Sadly, it is challenging for prosecutors to prove negligence beyond a reasonable doubt, whether ordinary or gross negligence. Driving requires you to make quick and rational decisions. It is hard to convince the jury that your decision was bad enough to be considered negligent, even with severe consequences. If you face charges like gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, your lawyer can fight for a reduction of charges from gross negligence to ordinary negligence. That would consequently reduce your penalties.
You were Not The Driver
You could not face a driving charge unless you were the driver at the offense. If not, the court must dismiss your charges. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving a vehicle when you committed the said offense. If someone else were driving and not you, the court would dismiss your charges.
Find a Experienced Bakersfield Criminal Attorney Near Me
Are you facing a driving-related charge in Bakersfield, CA?
California driving offenses are severe and could result in life-altering penalties, including time in jail, payment of a hefty fine, and a damaging criminal record. At Koenig Law Office, we could help you fight your charges for a fair outcome of your situation. We handle driving offenses every day and are familiar with some of the best defense strategies that could compel the court to reduce or dismiss your charges. Call us at 661-793-7222 today, and let us review your case for the best legal advice and guidance.