Felonies are the most serious kind of criminal charge. In California, a DUI can sometimes be considered a felony. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, it’s important to know what kind of charge you face, and what this means for your case.
But first, you should know the difference between the two types of charges.
The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor
Felonies and misdemeanors are both criminal charges, but misdemeanors are less serious. In both kinds of cases, you have a right to an attorney to represent you, and you will face a trial by jury. Felonies, however, involve more complex trials and heavier penalties. They also have effects that last long after your case is over.
Here’s a side by side comparison:
Misdemeanors: Misdemeanors carry a maximum of 1 year in jail, served in your local county jail. They may carry additional penalties, such as fines, typically $1,000 or less. (The total fines and fees for a misdemeanor DUI can be much higher, however.) Additionally, you may have to serve probation.
Felonies: Felonies carry a minimum of 1 year of jail time. They may carry a longer prison sentence, which is served in state prison. Fines tend to be well in excess of $1,000—often tens of thousands of dollars total for a DUI case. Your sentence may include parole as well as probation.
Additionally, felonies have long term effects:
- Once convicted of a felony, you lose your right to bear arms. You cannot own firearms legally, for the rest of your life.
- You cannot qualify for a hunting or fishing license if you are a convicted felon, and face limits for other types of licenses.
- You must disclose your felon status when you apply for jobs. Many industries will consider this sufficient reason not to hire you. This is legal for them to do.
- You temporarily lose you right to vote once convicted of a felony. You cannot vote in any election while you are serving your prison sentence, including parole. Once you are finished with prison/parole, you may once again register to vote (even if you’re still on probation).
Clearly, facing a felony DUI charge is much more serious—and costly—than a misdemeanor. So how do you know which type of DUI you face?
Three Types of Felony DUI
Whether a DUI counts as a felony depends on the situation. There are three situations where a DUI counts as a felony:
- Someone was injured or killed. If your DUI involved an accident where anyone was hurt, it could count as a felony. Prosecutors have the option to try is as a misdemeanor instead, and may do so if the injuries were minor or if there were mitigating factors.
- You have 3 or more prior DUI’s. Once you hit your fourth DUI charge, it can be tried as a felony. Note that certain other past charges, like “reckless driving” involving alcohol, will count as prior convictions even though they are less serious than DUI. Again, the prosecutor can choose to pursue a felony charge or not, and a good DUI lawyer may be able to help reduce it to a misdemeanor DUI.
- You have a prior felony DUI conviction. Regardless of the above factors, if you already have one or more felony DUI’s on your record, your new charge will be a felony as well. Prosecutors cannot waive this—it will automatically proceed as a felony charge.
So, generally speaking, if this is your first DUI or similar charge, it’s only a felony if someone was hurt. In most other cases only a fourth (or more) DUI is a felony.
How a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer Handles a Felony DUI
A felony DUI will never be an easy charge to face, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose your case. A good DUI lawyer knows how to fight to downgrade the charge against you. They may reduce the fines and jail time, keep you out of prison, or even potentially win your case for you.
Felony cases are complex. They involve multiple stages at which the charges can be disputed, and the defense has more time to prepare. These are opportunities that a good DUI lawyer will use to strengthen your case. They may be able to toss out evidence against you, find holes in the prosecution, and change the course of your life for years to come.
If you’ve been arrested for DUI, we can match you with a lawyer who’s right for your case—free. Fill out the form to your right to receive a 100% free consultation from a qualified Los Angeles DUI lawyer.