When is DUI a Felony in California?
In California, a person’s 4th DUI in 10 years can be automatically charged as a Felony rather than a misdemeanor. But, that’s not the only way that a DUI can be charged as a felony. There are some crimes under the California Penal and Vehicles codes that are known as “wobblers.” This means the prosecutor could charge them as misdemeanors or felonies. For example, if you were charged under California Vehicle Code section 23153 (a) and or (b), DUI causing injury, your case can be charged as a misdemeanor if they determine the injuries to be minor, or as a felony if the injuries are of a more serious nature. This can occur even if it’s your 1st DUI offense. If you are charged with a felony DUI, you are facing possible state prison time
The state of California regards driving under the influence (DUI) as a very serious offense. DUI penalties may include license suspension, mandatory counseling, jail, and even prison time. However, arresting officers and courts have to follow proper procedures in order to secure your conviction and impose a sentence. If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, make certain that your rights are protected.
What to know about California drunk driving laws
If you are convicted of a DUI offense, you will be subject to California minimum and maximum DUI criminal penalties. A judge may offer probation to lighten the sentence, but you still may have to endure a jail term, fine, and/or mandatory counseling. Following are the sentencing guidelines for conviction of a criminal DUI offense in California.
- First offense
- Attend mandatory drug and alcohol treatment programs
- Fines from $390 to $1,000
- Jail terms from 48 hours to six months and license suspension up to six months
- Second through fourth offense within 10 years: The fines remain the same, but license suspensions and jail sentences are substantially longer.
What is a felony DUI conviction in California?
A fourth DUI offense within 10 years is considered a felony in this state. The fine stays the same, but sentences can even include prison instead of incarceration in a local jail. With probation, the jail sentence can be from 180 days to one year, a four-year license revocation, and an 18-month alcohol and drug treatment program. Without probation, the county jail time could be replaced with 16 months to three years in a state prison. If someone is killed or seriously injured, the criminal penalties are substantially greater.
The procedure in a felony case is somewhat different from that in a misdemeanor. Similar to a misdemeanor, your first appearance before the court will be at your arraignment (where you plead guilty or not guilty and your attorney obtains discovery). One difference is, that with a felony, your presence is required at each and every court appearance. After arraignment, you will go back to court for a pre-preliminary hearing and then an actual preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is like a mini-trial where minimal evidence is put on to determine whether there exists sufficient evidence to hold you over on any and each of the charges against you. If the judge finds that sufficient cause exists, then you are “held to answer” and the case is sent to a trial court for pretrial and possible trial proceedings. From here, the case proceeds similarly to a misdemeanor again. A plea agreement can be reached at any stage, either prior to or after preliminary hearing, in a felony case.
A California DUI conviction will result in a license suspension
Under California’s “snatch and grabbit” law, officers who arrest a suspect for driving under the influence routinely impound the person’s California driver’s license and send it to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento. You have to act quickly to protect your rights, otherwise your license will be suspended without a hearing. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has administrative guidelines separate from the criminal sentencing guidelines outlined above. The length of a DUI license suspension depends upon age and any prior convictions for drunk driving.
You should know that California law requires drivers to take drug or alcohol tests when they are requested by an officer. Depending upon the situation, these tests could be Breathalyzers or blood tests. A refusal automatically increases the length of the suspension. Obviously, these suspensions only apply if you refused the test or agreed and failed to actually take it.
- If you are over 21, your license can be suspended for a year if you do not agree to take the test for a first offense. Second and third offenses earn two- and three-year revocations, respectively.
- If you agree to take a blood alcohol level test and the alcohol content in your blood equals or exceeds 0.08%, your first offense will result in a four-month suspension. Subsequent arrests within 10 years result in one-year revocations.
- If you are under 21 years old and your license shows the presence of any alcohol, your license will be suspended for one year on a first offense whether you agreed to take the test or not.
- In some cases, you might be able to get a restricted license allowing you to get back and forth to work or school during your suspension period.
As a licensed driver, you are most likely aware of the dangers of drunk driving. Given the number of individuals who are injured and killed in alcohol-related accidents, it’s easy to see why lawmakers enact tough laws to deter motorists from driving under the influence (DUI). Yet despite all these precautions, DUI remains one of the most common crimes in the United States—a fact that leads many drivers to assume that it’s also a relatively minor one. Unfortunately, if you are charged with a California DUI felony offense, nothing could be further from the truth.
Under state law, any driver with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered legally intoxicated and can be arrested for drunk driving, regardless of his or her driving abilities. However, underage drivers, can be charged with DUI if a chemical test detects even a small amount of alcohol in their bloodstream—in other words, a BAC above 0.00%. Commercial drivers, on the other hand, are considered impaired with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. You can also be charged with DUI if you refuse to allow an officer to determine your blood alcohol content by administering breathalyzer or other chemical test.
The penalties for driving under the influence vary based on the circumstances of your arrest. Like any other criminal offense, a DUI can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony. While most DUIs are misdemeanors, if you are a repeat offender (meaning you have three or more prior drunk driving convictions on your record), or were involved in a serious auto accident, you will most likely face felony charges.
Assuming you are not a repeat offender, three requirements must be met for your DUI to be treated as a felony: the driver must commit a traffic violation, such as running a red light or speeding; secondly, he or she must have injured a third-party; and finally, that injury must have been caused by the violation in question. If all three of these factors cannot be proven, then the offense should not be treated as a felony.
If you are charged with DUI in the state of California, the first thing you need to do is determine whether your offense is classified as a felony or misdemeanor. As a more serious charge, a felony conviction will lead to far harsher penalties than a misdemeanor, including a minimum 180-day jail sentence, $3,000 fine, and four-year license suspension. You will also have to complete an 18-month alcohol education program and face the long-term repercussions of having a felony conviction on your criminal record—a fact that can jeopardize numerous opportunities in the future.
To protect your rights and improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome for your case, it is important to discuss your charges with an experienced DUI defense attorney in your area immediately after your arrest. Submit your information online today for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case.