Felonies are the most serious class of criminal offenses in California. DUIs are criminal offenses and are charged as misdemeanors in many instances.
However, a DUI may be charged as a felony under certain circumstances. These circumstances include:
- Repeat DUI offenses (three or more prior convictions)
- Previous felony DUI charges
- DUI causing injuries
- DUI causing death
The penalties for these offenses are well beyond the penalties you receive for lesser DUI charges, though they vary between each other.
If you’ve been accused of a felony DUI, a DUI lawyer can help. No case is unwinnable, but time is an important factor in the strength of your defense. Schedule your free consultation today by calling (310) 862-0199.
Felony DUI Penalties for Repeat Offenses
You may be charged with a felony if you have three or more offenses that are comparable to a DUI. These types of charges include:
- Previous DUI convictions in California
- DUI convictions in other states
- Any out-of-state conviction involving driving and alcohol that meets California’s standards
- Any wet reckless plea bargain convictions, whether they’re from California or not
If you have three or more of these convictions over the 10 years prior to your most recent arrest, you face the following penalties:
- A monetary fine not to exceed $5,000
- Court assessment fees and other costs that can exceed $10,000
- 16 to 36 months in a state prison
- Revocation of your driver’s license (for up to 10 years)
- Five years of formal probation
- Habitual traffic offender status for three years
- Addiction treatment
These penalties for a fourth or greater DUI conviction are the same you would face for a felony DUI conviction arising from previously having a felony DUI on your record. A previous felony DUI conviction triggers new felony charges even if the first felony occurred more than 10 years ago.
Repeat DUI Offenses Do Not Require Felony Status
While there is a requirement to treat additional felony DUIs with a felony charge, not all repeat DUI offenses require it. If you have three previous DUI offenses, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge it either as a felony or misdemeanor.
Prosecutors are not inclined to file misdemeanor charges when they have the option to pursue a felony conviction. Having a DUI lawyer speaking on your behalf can help push the prosecutor towards filing a misdemeanor charge instead.
Penalties for Felony DUI Causing Injury
Prosecutors also have some discretion about how to charge a DUI which caused injuries to another party. They may opt to file it as a misdemeanor, particularly if the injuries aren’t too serious and the incident was the driver’s first DUI offense.
However, DUIs that cause serious injuries and those that are caused by repeat offenders typically will be charged as felonies. If this is the case, you will face the following additions to the penalties listed above:
- One extra year in state prison for each person who was injured during your DUI
- Anywhere between three and six years extra in state prison for each person who received a serious injury
- Restitution to the victims of the accident
A serious injury, in this context, is any injury which required a long recovery period (e.g., broken bones) or which left permanent disfigurement (e.g., a scar or severed limb).
Felony DUI Causing Injury Requires an Extra Burden of Proof
In order to successfully get a conviction for a felony DUI which resulting in an injury, the prosecutor is burdened with proving both of these factors:
- You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- You broke another traffic law (in addition to driving under the influence) which led to the accident
If the prosecutor is unable to show this, you may be able to have your charges dismissed or downgraded to a misdemeanor DUI.
Felony DUI Causing Death
A DUI that causes another person’s death may be charged as a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter or a felony DUI causing death. If the prosecutor seeks the felony version of the charge, you face these extra penalties in addition to the other penalties for a felony DUI:
- A minimum of four years in state prison.
- Fines not to exceed $10,000 (not including court fees and other costs)
- Restitution to the victim’s family
Your penalties for any DUI causing death may be enhanced if the prosecutor is able to show gross negligence on your part. If they are able to prove that you showed reckless disregard for the safety of others, you may face up to 10 years in a state prison.
As a felony DUI causing death charge is an enhancement to a DUI causing injury charge, the prosecutor is also required to prove that you committed an additional traffic offense which led to the person’s death.
Face Your Felony with a DUI Lawyer
Many of the felony DUI charges have misdemeanor alternatives. If you can convince a prosecutor to file the misdemeanor version of the offense, it can reduce the impact of a conviction substantially.
Convincing a prosecutor to go for the lesser charge is difficult, particularly if you are representing yourself. The best way to negotiate for a lesser charge is with a DUI lawyer. A skilled DUI lawyer will point to weaknesses in the case against you or will advocate that you’ve taken steps to rehabilitate yourself as bargaining chips towards a downgraded charge.
When you’re ready to see what a Los Angeles DUI attorney can do for you, call (310) 862-0199. Your initial consultation is free and can mean the difference between a lighter penalty and spending years in a state jail.