Driving while intoxicated is illegal under California law. Most drivers convicted for driving under the influence usually face misdemeanor charges under CA, VC23152, but can also face felony charges in specific situations. A DUI crime remains a misdemeanor for the first, second, and third time if no aggravating factors exist. A misdemeanor DUI charge is punishable by six months imprisonment in county jail and fines not exceeding $1,000, while an aggravated misdemeanor DUI charge is punishable by one year jail term and a maximum fine of $1,000.
However, if a driver has had a previous conviction for felony DUI, caused a fatal accident that led to serious bodily injury or death, or faced a 4th DUI offense within ten years, they will be charged with a felony DUI. These circumstances increase the DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony, and the driver is likely to face more severe penalties. If you are in Bakersfield, reach out to Koenig Law Offices to help defend you.
The Elements of a Felony DUI
For you to be convicted for a felony DUI under California law, it’s the prosecutor’s task to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you should be charged for a felony DUI. Here are some of the main elements of a felony DUI:
- Your alcohol content exceeded 0.08% after the blood alcohol content test
- You had a previous DUI conviction where you caused an accident and victims were killed
- The intoxication made you cause an accident causing severe injuries or death
- You refused to take a chemical or blood alcohol content test to check the amount of alcohol in your blood
How Does the Prosecution Determine the Felony DUI Charges?
The charges and penalties of the DUI offense are determined based on the category of the offense.
Felony DUI Causing Injury
If you are arrested for a felony DUI that caused significant bodily injury, you will be prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 23153. Under this statute, it is illegal to “act in negligence while operating a vehicle due to the influence of alcohol and the negligence cause serious bodily injuries to other people.”
When this happens, you will be charged with:
- Driving under the influence and causing injury under VC 23153 (a)
- Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content above 0.08% causing injury under VC 23153(b).
Under California law, a person is intoxicated if their BAC is 0.08% or more, but if they are driving a commercial vehicle or hired passenger, a BAC of 0.04% or more will suffice.
VC 23153 is charged as a wobbler in California, meaning the judge can decide to charge it as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the accident’s severity, the driver’s criminal history, and the severity of the injuries suffered by the victims.
Felony DUI with Several Previous DUI Convictions
CA vehicle code 23550.5 increases a DUI conviction from a misdemeanor to a felony when the defendant has three or more previous DUI convictions within ten years. If you have any previous DUI conviction in California, OUI, DWI, or a similar conviction in another state, the prosecution may use that as part of three previous convictions.
In addition, the prosecution may include any plea-bargained convictions of reckless driving or wet reckless conviction where you were reported to be under the influence of drugs.
In other words, the following may be included as a previous DUI conviction:
- A conviction for wet reckless in California
- A conviction of driving under the influence in California
- A conviction for driving while intoxicated in a different state
Felony DUI for a Previous Felony DUI Conviction
If you have been previously convicted for a felony DUI and get arrested for a similar offense, you will be charged with a felony DUI under VC23550.5. In this case, you do not have to be convicted more than thrice; one previous conviction for a felony DUI will elevate the new DUI charge to a felony charge. But not the previous conviction also has to be a felony DUI.
For instance, if you were previously arrested and charged with felony DUI for driving under the influence and causing death. If you are arrested for another serious DUI offense (like cause great bodily injury or death), you will still be convicted for a felony DUI. Also, if your previous felony DUI conviction resulted from multiple DUI convictions, your next DUI charge will be a felony.
Felony DUI Causing Death
If you are arrested in California for a felony DUI that resulted in death, you will be charged under PC 191.5.
This statute has two sections, “(A) which address vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and (B), simple vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.”
The main difference between the two is that the main element in gross vehicular manslaughter is gross negligence which is not present in simple vehicular manslaughter. However, for you to be convicted for felon DUI causing death, in either case, the prosecutor must beyond reasonable doubt prove that you:
- “You operated a vehicle while intoxicated and violated vehicle code 23152, 23152, or 23153 that led to the unlawful killing of another human being with no malice afterthought, and the death was a result of an illegal act that is not a felony or an illegal act illegally leading to death.”
If you face a felony DUI charge causing death, the prosecutors may also convict you under California PC 187. A felony conviction under PC 187 is also termed as a 2nd degree Watson murder.
In Watson murder cases, if you are arrested for DUI with a previous conviction, it can constitute implied malice. (constitute the malice afterthought). In other words, you do not need to have the intent to kill, but having a disregard for human life is enough element for you to be charged under penal code 187.
You can only be charged for felony DUI under PC 187 if you have a previous DUI conviction. However, every crime is different, and the felony charge the prosecutors choose to file depends on your criminal history and factors around your case.
Sentences and Penalties for DUI Crimes in California
There are two main factors that determine the penalties a defendant receives for a DUI conviction in California. These factors include:
- Being involved or a previous DUI(S) conviction
- The injuries you caused to other people
As stated above, most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors, but a defendant could also face a felony DUI conviction. Here are some of the penalties that a felony DUI charge carries:
Penalties for a Felony Fourth DUI
If you are convicted for a felony fourth DUI, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Up to 3 years imprisonment in state prison
- Maximum fines of $5,000
- Registration as a habitual traffic offender for three years
- Suspension of our driving license for ten years
- Five years of formal probation
- Undergo a drug and alcohol treatment
- Spend up to 30 months in DUI school
Penalties for a Felony DUI Causing Severe Injuries
If you are charged with felony DUI causing severe injuries, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Imprisonment in state prison for up to 3 years
- If several victims sustained injuries, you will face an extra year for every victim
- Additional 3-6 years per victim for every victim who sustained severe bodily injury
- Spend 18-30 months in DUI school
- Registration as a habitual traffic offender for three years
- Suspension of your driving license for five years
- Undergo drug or alcohol treatment
Note that the prosecutors may decide to charge you with a misdemeanor if this is your first Dui conviction.
Penalties for DUI Murder/ DUI Causing Death
If you caused the death of another person while driving under the influence of drugs, you are likely to face vehicular manslaughter or actual murder charges.
If you are charged with a felony vehicular manslaughter, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- Imprisonment in state prison for 4,6 or 10 years
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Suspension of your driving license for three years
- If you have two previous DUI convictions, you could face life imprisonment
On the other hand, if you are charged with DUI causing death, you are likely to face the following penalties:
- 15 years to life imprisonment
- Fines of up to $10,000
Additionally, if you have been previously convicted for murder, you could face life without parole.
Possible Defenses for a Felony DUI
It is always advisable to use an experienced attorney to fight your charges before accepting any kind of punishment. Attorneys at the Koenig Law Offices can help you fight your felony DUI conviction and reduce your penalties regardless of the complexity of your case. Fighting your charges can help you avoid prison sentencing, hefty fines, and losing your driving rights in California. Here are some of the common defenses that you can use to fight your charges:
Authority Err/ Bad Stop
According to California law, the police should have a reasonable suspicion that the person operating the vehicle has committed an illegal act before pulling them over. But if the arresting officer had no reasonable suspicion to pull you over and arrest you, the arrest is termed illegal. The officer is supposed to observe the defendant for a certain period to look for any intoxication signs before pulling them over. For example, police have every right to pull over a driver weaving across lanes, driving with an expired tag, or missing a taillight. A skilled DUI defense attorney may be able to obtain testimonies from witnesses, analyze the police report and gather more evidence to determine if the arresting officer had probable cause to stop you and make an arrest.
If the pull over is not justifiable, the court may dismiss every evidence collected after the stop. I the alleged evidence to prove your intoxication is dismissed, it may be hard for you to be convicted. You can also argue that your bad driving was due to fatigue or fiddling with the car’s navigation system.
Objective Indication of Intoxication
A reddened face, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or weaving while driving are some of the reasons police officers pull a person over for drunk driving. But, these conditions cannot only occur when one is intoxicated; other situations may also cause similar symptoms. You can argue that the symptoms were caused by a certain medication, o fatigue, or allergies.
You may be exposed to dust and, as a result, have a slurred speech and bloodshot eyes; you may have been stung by an insect and reacted in such a way. There are various ways in which an experienced attorney can raise a defense for your charges.
Incorrect Field Sobriety Test Observation
When a police officer pulls you over for driving while intoxicated, the first thing they will do to determine if their observations are correct is to administer a field sobriety test. The main aim of this test is to gauge your concentration, balance, and ability to follow instructions.
The field sobriety test may include signing a piece of paper, moving your eyes uniformly with the police officer’s flashlight, counting, reciting the alphabets, and more. These tests are subjective regardless of whether you fail or pass.
For instance, as part of the sobriety test, the officer asks you to tiptoe, walk for some distance and walk back, and if you have a lower-body injury, even if you are sober, you may struggle with balancing and may end up failing the test. Other factors may also cause your failure of these tests. You may also have a slurred speech due to the inability to speak fluent English and end up failing the test. In short, you can argue that your test failure was not a result of intoxication but other relevant factors.
Flawed Blood Test or Breathalyzer
After the police administer the alcohol screening test, they will bring you to the station for a second breathalyzer. With the help of an experienced attorney, you may be able to challenge the breathalyzer test readings. The machine used may not be working as designed and may give faulty results. If there are infrequent calibrations in the maintenance records of the machine, you may have a solid defense of a flaws breathalyzer test if you can be able to prove even a tiny err in the test administration.
If the prosecutor decides to use the blood test in your case, an experienced DUI defense attorney can review the administration of the test and challenge it. The blood test goes through a chain of processes before the final results, and if the prosecutor cannot account for the entire process and how the blood was stored, you may be able to avoid the DUI felony charges.
Police tend to believe that when they administer a breathalyzer test, the alcohol level in your mouth is the same as the alcohol level in your body at that time. However, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), heartburn, or acid reflux can cause a breathalyzer test to show a high alcohol level in your mouth. Meaning you may have a higher alcohol level in your mouth than in your stomach. If you can prove that you have a similar condition, you cannot be convicted for DUI.
Additional Conditions for a Felony Dui Conviction in California
In addition to the penalties stated above, a DUI conviction in California can lead to:
- The driver may be required not to operate a vehicle while intoxicated
- The driver may also be expected to avoid committing similar offenses
- The driver is expected to comply with any chemical or blood test administered to check the alcohol level in their body
There may be other additional conditions based on the DUI circumstances. You may sometimes be required to attend seminars on drug abuse and alcoholism; an ignition device may also be installed in your vehicle for four years.
There are factors that may cause an increment in your prison or jail time, such as:
- Refusing to undertake chemical or blood tests
- Over speeding
- Driving while intoxicated with a child under 14 years in your vehicle
- A minor driving while intoxicated
If convicted of a felony DUI, the judge may also add the following to your penalties:
- Involvement in community service
- Spending a specific amount of time in a rehabilitation
- House arrest
- Imprisonment in a private jail
It is essential to have a skilled attorney by your side to help you fight your charges and minimize your sentencing.
Find a Felony DUI Attorney Near Me
You may feel as if your world is crumbling if you are facing a felony DUI charge. The Koenig Law Office has experienced and skilled legal defense attorneys ready to craft a solid legal defense and help you reduce your charges or eliminate them. We will walk you through the whole process and offer support while still doing our best to ensure that you get the justice you deserve. Call us today at 661-793-7222 if you are in Bakersfield.
Get started today by dialing (661) 793-7222.