Is DUI A Felony In California?

What Circumstances Can Cause a DUI To Be Charged As a Felony?

If you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you are leaving yourself open to some significant charges and penalties. Driving “under the influence” is perilous and causes 28% (or more) of all deaths due to car accidents yearly.

Although many DUI charges are misdemeanors, In California, the penalties for a DUI conviction can be severe, especially when convicted of felony DUI.

Therefore, although a DUI charge can be a misdemeanor or felony under California law, the circumstances of your incident will usually be the deciding factor.

A first, second, or third DUI can be charged as a misdemeanor. However, your DUI could be a felony if any of the following conditions apply to the circumstances of your DUI arrest:

  • It was the fourth DUI within ten years – If you are convicted of three or more DUI prior offenses within ten years, any new DUI charge will be a felony DUI in California.
    • Any past DUI offenses could include:
    •  Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • A “Wet reckless” driving charge.
    • Any DUI conviction outside of California.
    • Any expunged convictions for any of the above offenses.
  • DUI with a past felony conviction – If you have a past felony DUI on your record, any future offense will be charged as a felony. Note that this includes even a simple DUI with no mitigating factors. Also, no ten-year look-back period limit exists for prior felony vehicular manslaughter charges.
  • DUI causing injury – If your DUI causes injury to another, the state prosecutors may charge a misdemeanor or felony charge. This can be considered a “wobbler offense.” Here, the prosecutors have discretion on what your charge might be based on the specifics of the accident.
  • Any DUI which causes a death – If anyone dies due to driving drunk, the state prosecutors can (and usually will) charge the following felony violations:
    • Gross vehicular manslaughter.
    • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
    • Second-degree murder, AKA “Watson Murder.”
  • DUI with child endangerment – California has enacted dire punishment for drivers that put children at risk. The prosecutors have two possible charging options, which are;
    • A DUI charge with a child under 14 would get you enhanced mandatory jail time.
    • Child endangerment of a child under 18. This is a dire criminal charge in addition to any underlying DUI charge.

So yes, a felony DUI charge is almost always possible, and the wisest move to make when charged with any DUI is to obtain the professional and experienced guidance of a San Diego DUI lawyer without delay.

What May Be Considered a DUI in California?

Being charged with a DUI in California can occur in many ways, impact your life  (as exemplified in California.gov/DMV/Driving Under the Influence)), and cause horrific stress. You may have “had a few drinks” or been influenced by marijuana, illicit or even prescription drugs. You may often be stopped, and even a few drinks may bring you over the legal blood alcohol limit allowed by law. Or, you may be given a DUI if the arresting officer determines you are impaired by drugs or driving in an unsafe manner due to substances in your body.

Some of the more common substances that will cause you to get a DUI are:

  • Alcohol in any form.
  • Marijuana, in any form.
  • LSD or heroin.
  • Methamphetamines.
  • Prescription medicine with a severe or obvious side that affects your driving.

The officer may obtain evidence of a DUI using breath or field sobriety tests. On some occasions, they may also request the driver take a blood or urine test.

It’s vital to note that you may often admit to drinking before driving. This should never be done, as you’re making it easy for the state to build a case against you. Always heed your DUI lawyer’s advice and use your right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination.

What Penalties Can I Get For Even a DUI in California?

In most states, first-time DUIs (with no further mitigating circumstances) will be charged as misdemeanors. Also, with the help of a skilled DUI lawyer, you could get your charges reduced further to a traffic violation such as reckless driving.

However, still, many first-offense DUI offenses may get you;

  • Up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
  • The installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
  • Suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Mandatory attendance in a DUI school for up to nine months.

If your first DUI offense is charged as a felony, your penalties can increase significantly.

If your first DUI offense caused the injury or death, your case and its penalties become much more severe, such as:

  • Up to three years in jail or prison.
  • A possible three-year driver’s license suspension.
  • Many years of probation and restitution payments to the victim (or their family).

If a death occurs due to your DUI, you may face:

  • A manslaughter or even a murder charge.
  • Up to 10 years or more in prison, and possibly $10,000 or more in fines.
  • A lengthy or lifetime driver’s license suspension.
  • Restitution payments for many years to the victim’s family or relatives.

If I Get My First DUI in California, What Are The First Steps to Take?

Even if it’s your first DUI offense, you may not be fully aware whether you’re facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. However, it would be best if you began your defense immediately. Therefore, there are definitive steps to take as soon as possible to start preparing for your defense.

The first and most critical step is to contact a San Diego DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Your skilled DUI  lawyer will work to “get ahead” of the prosecution and possibly get your charges reduced or even dismissed.

They will analyze your case and, with their extensive experience, help you determine your best defense strategy and, in a detailed manner, guide you in what to do to obtain the best case outcome.

Your law team knows precisely how to investigate and gather evidence to fight the prosecution’s case, such as:

  • Challenging any chemical test evidence obtained at the scene (including field sobriety test evidence).
  • Challenging the police officer’s training to gather any evidence at the scene.
  • Possibly challenge why you were stopped.
  • And aggressively work to prove your innocence and protect your rights.

Your lawyer’s advice, guidance, and detailed strategy will get you to mount the most robust defense possible to keep you out of jail, protect your rights, and keep your freedom.

I Have Received a DUI in California; How Can I Choose the “Right” Lawyer?

Being arrested can be the most stressful and confusing time of your life for you and your family; this is especially true if it’s your first offense, which many DUI arrests are.

First, you need a San Diego DUI lawyer who has experience and holds a record of being a proven and winning team on your side. This will provide you with a strong sense of security and confidence when facing this possible dire charge.

The San Diego-based DUI lawyers at Kersey Law know that your goal is to stay out of jail, keep your job, and keep your record intact.

Call them now at (619) 432-3712 and obtain a free consultation to discuss your case with our passionate and experienced defense attorneys. Don’t hesitate; doing nothing will significantly increase your chances of going to jail and having your life devastated.

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