Despite the severe criminal penalties for a drunk driving conviction, most DUIs in California are charged as misdemeanors. However, some DUIs can be charged as a felony. California Vehicle Code 23153 is the felony DUI section, and it basically states that: it is unlawful for 1) a person to drive a vehicle 2) under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, 3) while driving under the influence, the driver commits an illegal act or drives negligently, and 4) that illegal act or negligence causes injury to another person other than the driver. This is also known as a DUI causing bodily injury.
In most cases, DUI causing bodily injury is charged as a felony, however, it can also be charged as a misdemeanor as well. The main focus of this article will be on felony DUI causing bodily injury.
“Driving Under the Influence”
Driving under the influence can include alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. A driver can be convicted of drunk driving even if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is below the legal limit of 0.08%. Driving under the influence of drugs can include illegal and legal drugs, and even over-the-counter drugs if they impair the user's ability to drive.
“Vehicle Violations or Negligent Driving”
Simply driving under the influence and injuring another person may not be enough to invoke a felony DUI charge. The driver generally has to violate some traffic law or be driving negligently. Some examples of this could include speeding, following too closely, failing to signal, failing to stop at a stop sign, failing to obey traffic signals, or driving without your headlights on at night.
“Causing Injury to Another Person”
Even a minor injury may lead to a felony DUI charge if anyone other than the driver is injured. This could include another driver, passenger in another vehicle, passengers in the intoxicated driver's vehicle, cyclists, pedestrians, and others.
Felony DUI Penalties
Penalties for a DUI accident causing bodily injury always depend on the facts of the case and the driver's history. California has a 10-year lookback period for DUI convictions. If a DUI causing bodily injury occurred within 10 years of a prior drunk driving arrest, the penalties will likely be increased. With three prior DUIs, a DUI causing injury can and usually is charged as a felony.
A felony DUI causing bodily injury conviction can result in up to four years in prison, and fines of up to $5,000. The penalties may increase for each additional person injured in the accident. If the injury was severe, the driver may face additional time in prison.
In addition to criminal penalties, the driver may lose their license for up to five years and be labeled a habitual offender. They may also have to attend up to 30-months of traffic school before they can drive again.
Felony DUI Defenses
Before you plead guilty to a felony DUI charge, talk to an experienced DUI attorney. They will be able to investigate your case and identify your best defenses and fight for you in court. Defenses in a felony DUI case could include challenging the blood or chemical test evidence, showing there was no requisite traffic violation, or demonstrating that the driver was not impaired at the time of the accident.
Felony DUI Defense Attorney
A felony DUI can impact your ability to drive and a felony criminal record can impact you for the rest of your life. If you or a family member has been arrested for a felony DUI, contact me for a free consultation. At DCD Law, I personally handle all of my cases and will be at your side the whole way, fighting for you.