Being involved in a DUI that causes an injury is a harrowing experience. You will typically be charged with a version of California Vehicle Code 23153, DUI Causing Injury, which can be charged as a felony. From this point on, defending yourself is one of the most important things you can do—and the types of injuries the other person suffered can affect your case.
Why does the type of injury matter in a DUI case?
The law draws a distinction between normal injuries and serious or “great bodily injury.” Which of these you caused affects your DUI case in two ways:
- DUI Causing Injury can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. One of the things the prosecution considers when deciding which version to charge you with is how serious the injuries were. If the injuries are serious and you are charged with a felony, you face dramatically more serious consequences.
- If you are charged with a felony DUI Causing Injury, you face extra penalties for each additional person who suffered “great bodily injury.”
The differences between a felony DUI Causing Injury and a misdemeanor are stark. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of 1 year in local jail; a felony carries up to 3 years in state prison, and potentially 6 more years in prison for each additional victim with great bodily injury.
Disputing the seriousness of the injuries can change the entire course of your life.
What counts as a serious injury or “great bodily injury”?
The law leaves this somewhat unclear. Some states offer guidelines to define great bodily injury, but in California the Penal Code only offers this definition:
Significant or substantial physical injury
As a result, the ultimate arbiter of what counts as serious injuries is the jury. Generally, a serious injury or “great bodily injury” will include:
- Any injury that nearly killed the person, or put them in risk of dying
- Any injury that leaves the person permanently disfigured
- Any injury that results in long-term (not necessarily permanent) impairment or disability
- The loss of any body part or organ
Additionally, juries may consider the amount of pain the person was in due to their injury.
These guidelines leave a lot of room for interpretation. For example, if a person needed pins put in their leg and now has a scar from the surgery—but only on their leg, not on their face or anywhere else highly visible—are they “disfigured”? Or, if a person has a broken arm that takes 4 months to heal, but heals to 100% health, was that a long-term impairment, or not?
Prosecutors are quick to see “serious” injuries in any accident. But disputing that assessment can save you years of prison time, or even reduce your charge to a misdemeanor. It can be a strong defense.
How do I use non-serious injuries as a felony DUI defense?
Disputing someone’s injuries can be uncomfortable, but it does not have to involve the victim. Normally, this discussion takes place only between your defense lawyer and the prosecutor. Your lawyer will privately make a case that the injuries don’t count as great bodily injury, and that a jury will never buy it. The prosecutor doesn’t want to risk losing in court and may consider reducing the charge.
Your lawyer may prepare for this negotiation by:
- Requesting the medical records of the victims in question
- Reviewing the victim’s own statements and the statements of other witnesses
- If necessary, hiring a private investigator to find out how the victim is recovering and whether they are impaired in their day to day life
- Comparing the victim’s injuries to past jury decisions involving similar injuries
Prosecutors do not want to put the victim’s injuries on trial. If your lawyer pushes hard, they may simply offer you a deal. This could mean reducing the felony DUI charge to a misdemeanor DUI Causing Injury. This could keep you out of prison, save you thousands of dollars in costs, and help you get your drivers license back years earlier.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.