What Makes a DUI a Felony?

The majority of DUIs are misdemeanors; however, under certain circumstances even a first DUI offense can be prosecuted as a felony offense. A felony DUI can involve a lengthy prison sentence for the accused. If this is your first brush with the wrong side of the law, you are probably very nervous about what the future will bring. First off, the majority of DUIs in California are prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses.

However, when this is your fourth DUI conviction in the last 10 years, or if your case involves a DUI accident involving serious bodily injury, or vehicular manslaughter, then you can be charged with a felony DUI.

There is no question that facing felony DUI charges are very frightening, especially because if someone was injured, you probably had no intention of causing any harm. However, the law is more concerned with the fact that someone was harmed in the first place than the fact that it was an accident. Considering the amount of public awareness about drunk driving, the general public and the courts expect people to drink responsibly. When they fail to drink responsibility (e.g. calling a taxi or using a designated driver) and injure or kill someone else as a result, then the courts come down hard on them.

In the state of California if a person is convicted of DUI they can expect the following penalties: 1 year or longer jail or prison sentence, hefty monetary fines, lifetime driver’s license suspension or revocation, mandatory attendance at a DUI school, drug/alcohol counseling/rehabilitation, the installation of an ignition interlock device, vehicle impoundment, up to 5 years probation, parole, sky high insurance premiums, a permanent criminal record, a “strike” on their criminal record under California’s “Three Strikes” law, and points on their DMV record.

In less severe cases where the drunk driver caused minor injuries to someone else, their case may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. These cases are called “wobblers” under California law. An example would be in a drunk driving case where a drunk driver caused injuries to another, but their injuries were relatively minor, then they could be charged as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, if the accident caused broken bones, brain injuries, or hospitalization, then it would most likely be charged as a felony.

Aside from causing bodily injury, when a drunk driver is arrested for their fourth or subsequent drunk driving offense within a 10 year period they face felony charges even if no accident occurred and no one was hurt. When a drunk driver causes death to another person, it’s almost always prosecuted as a felony. These cases fall under the category of vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter, or second degree murder. Regardless of the circumstances of your case, it’s absolutely critical to retain the services of a highly qualified attorney. An attorney can tailor a defense strategy on your behalf which could result in a favorable outcome in your DUI case. When an attorney is successful getting your charges and penalties reduced, it can make all the difference for you and is well worth the time and expense invested in a good defense.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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