Felony DUI Defense Lawyers
The district attorney might choose to charge someone with a felony DUI:
1. There was bodily injury to a person other than the person being charged.
2. The person being charged is on their 4th DUI (or more) within a period of 10 years.
3. The person being charged has at least one prior felony DUI charge on their record.
Understanding California Felony DUI
Most of the felony DUI cases we see in our offices relate to the first situation of bodily injury detailed in California Vehicle Code Statute 23153 – Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Drugs Causing Injury. In fact, this statute often gets referred to as "Felony Drunk Driving." However, that designation is misleading; just because someone was injured does not mean the person arrested for DUI will be charged with a felony.
In order to be charged as felony DUI, the prosecutor must believe that the person arrested for driving under the influence caused the accident. For example, if a drunk driver proceeded lawfully through an intersection, and her car was struck by another vehicle running a red light that resulted in injury of the person running the red light, the drunk driver most likely would not be charged with a felony DUI. However, even if the intoxicated driver was not at fault, district attorneys have been known to overcharge and still file for a felony DUI. "Who is at fault" might be one line of argument by a DUI defense attorney.
While most people have a common-sense definition of what constitutes bodily injury, California law in definition and practice is not so straightforward. While bodily injury has to involve more than a "shaking up," it does not necessarily require any medical attention or loss of work. Depending on what county you are arrested in, the district attorney will have their own standard for determining if the level of injury rises to a felony DUI charge. For this reason, it is important to consult with a DUI defense attorney who knows the courts and prosecutors in the area.
The other two situations that might result in a felony DUI charge are fourth DUI and prior felony DUI, which are referred to as "wobblers". These two situations are described in California Vehicle Code statutes 23550 and 23550.5. As "wobblers", the district attorney can choose to file in these situations either as a felony DUI or a misdemeanor DUI. In practice, most district attorneys (most of the time) will charge felonies under these situations. However, as "wobblers" they often create an opportunity for a defense DUI attorney to plea bargain down to a misdemeanor.
DUI Causing Injury
California Vehicle Code 23153 Vehicle Code defines the crime of "DUI causing injury" as driving under the influence and causing bodily injury to another person as a result. Prosecutors may charge Vehicle Code 23153 DUI causing injury as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Under California law, a DUI with injury can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony generally depending on the severity of the injury caused. Also, the prosecutor will consider specific facts of the case such as the blood alcohol level and the person's driving record. The penalties for a DUI with injury are understandably more severe then a regular DUI, with up to a year in the county jail or possible prison time in an extreme case. An experienced DUI attorney can make a huge difference on the outcome of a drunk driving causing injury, oftentimes obtaining a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor.
It is important to note that unlike a standard DUI, a Vehicle Code section 23153 requires two additional elements. First, a violation of "a duty imposed by law", such as a vehicle code violation. Second, that the violation caused the injury. An experienced lawyer will focus on the details of the accident and how the injury was caused. This will oftentimes require consulting with an accident re-constructionist to determine if the accident was actually the driver’s fault. It is very important to hire a qualified DUI attorney as soon as possible before critical evidence is lost or destroyed.
4TH DUI WITHIN 10 YEARS, Vehicle Code 23550
California Vehicle Code section 23550 states:
1. If a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 and the offense occurred within 10 years of three or more separate violations of Section 23103, as specified in Section 23103.5, or Section 23152 or 23153, or any combination thereof, that resulted in convictions, that person shall by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code, or in a county jail for not less than 180 days nor more than one year, and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000). The person’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle shall be revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles pursuant to paragraph (7) of subdivision (a) of Section 13352. The court shall require the person to surrender the driver’s license to the court in accordance with Section 13550.
In a nutshell, Vehicle Code section 23550 factors any prior drunk driving conviction into a defendant’s current driving in an under the influence charge. Vehicle Code section 23550 states, in part, that this code section may be charged where a person, “is convicted of a violation of section 23152 and the offense occurred within 10 years of three or more separate violations of section 23103, as specified in section 23103.5 [reckless driving as a result of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere in place of an original charge of driving under the influence], or section 23152 [driving under the influence] or 23153 [causing bodily injury while driving under the influence], or any combination thereof.” It is important to note, that drunk driving priors resolved while the defendant was a juvenile may not be used under Vehicle Code section 23550.
MISDEMEANOR DUI WITH PRIOR FELONY DUI CONVICTION, Vehicle Code 23550.5
If a driver has been convicted of a prior felony DUI under any circumstance, and is subsequently arrested for another misdemeanor DUI within a ten-year period, then the subsequent misdemeanor DUI will be automatically elevated to a felony DUI.
It is important to note, that Vehicle code 23550.5 is a "wobbler". A "wobbler" is a crime that is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. So, a person convicted of Vehicle Code 23550.5 can be punished by up to a year in the county jail or possible imprisonment in the state prison.
At Nor Cal Criminal Defense we try not to unduly scare people, but if you are convicted in California for felony driving under the influence, you face the possibility of significant jail or even prison time and lengthy license suspension without a very aggressive and complete defense. For many careers, a felony DUI on your record will create lifelong consequences. If you have been charged or think there is any possibility that you might be charged with a felony DUI, time is critical and you should probably stop searching around on the Internet for information and contact an experienced DUI attorney immediately. Rest assured, we have successfully handled countless felony drunk driving matters including DUI murder and manslaughter and know how to obtain the very best results for our clients. We don’t charge for the initial consultation, so feel free to call us with any questions you may have at 530-265-0186