While many DUIs are misdemeanor criminal charges, some DUIs are considered more severe and may be charged as a felony. The penalties for a felony DUI are incredibly severe. The impact of a felony DUI conviction will be much harder to work through in both the short term and the long term.
If you’ve been accused of felony DUI, you should immediately seek professional assistance. While it can be difficult to win against a felony charge, no case is unwinnable for certain. Our lawyers can offer you a free consultation for your case when you call us at (310) 862-0199.
When a DUI Is Charged as a Felony
There are some cases in which a DUI may be charged as a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor and some in which the law mandates a felony DUI charge. A prosecutor may seek a felony DUI charge against you if:
- You have three or more prior DUIs (or wet reckless) convictions in the past 10 years
- Your DUI driving inflicted serious harm to another person
- Someone died as a result of your DUI
Prosecutors are mandated to charge you with a felony if:
- You have ever been convicted (not charged) of a felony DUI
It is not uncommon for prosecutors to choose to pursue a felony DUI charge if it might be applicable. However, when prosecutorial discretion is a possibility, your DUI defense lawyer can push for the lesser misdemeanor charge instead.
Penalties for a Felony DUI Conviction
The specific penalties you face will depend on the facts of your case and how well your DUI lawyer is able to represent you. However, a felony DUI may come with the following types of penalties:
- Between 16 months and three years in a state penitentiary
- License revocation for up to 10 years
- Three years as a habitual traffic offender, which can increase other driving offenses’ penalties
- Between 18 and 30 months of DUI education classes
- Five years of probation
- Mandatory time at an alcohol and drug treatment facility
- Fines up to $5,000
- Additional fees that may cost you $10,000 or more
The penalties you face for a felony DUI conviction can increase substantially if your actions injured or killed another person.
Felony DUI Penalties When Another Party Is Injured
In California, the penalty for a felony DUI offense when another party is injured is similar to a “simple” felony DUI. However, you face the following additional penalties:
- A minimum of one extra year in a state penitentiary for every victim you injured
- An extra three to six years in the state penitentiary for every serious injury you inflicted
For a serious injury claim, the act must have caused long-term damage and suffering to the victim. Serious injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Severed limbs
- Brain damage
- Permanent scars
Your defense lawyer can challenge the prosecution’s characterization of the injuries. Successful challenges to these claims can help in reducing the penalties you face. With enough success, the charges may be reduced to a misdemeanor.
DUI Causing Death or DUI Murder
If your DUI involved an accident that resulted in someone’s death, you may face either a DUI causing death charge or a DUI murder charge. Under a felony DUI causing death (manslaughter) charge, you face:
- Up to 10 years in state prison (or life if you have two previous DUI convictions)
- Driver’s license revocation for three years
- $10,000 in fines, plus fees that may more than double that
Under a DUI murder charge, your outlook on prison time is instead:
- A minimum of 15 years in a state penitentiary
- A possible life sentence without parole
DUI murder charges are typically reserved for individuals who have multiple DUI convictions, as they are frequently required to sign a statement acknowledging that DUIs may lead to someone’s death. First-time DUI defendants are less likely to face a DUI murder charge, unless the prosecution has evidence pointing to the driver’s reckless disregard for human life.
Reducing a Felony DUI Is Possible
While prosecutors are eager to pursue the maximum penalty for any criminal charge, it is possible to have your felony DUI charges reduced to a misdemeanor. It will vary based on the unique circumstances of your case, but reductions may be possible if:
- There is doubt that the officer followed proper protocol in stopping or arresting you
- The evidence suffers from a fatal flaw (e.g., a breathalyzer was not properly calibrated or maintained)
- You have voluntarily entered an alcohol treatment center prior to a judge’s orders
Getting a reduction to a misdemeanor is not an easy process, however. Your likelihood of receiving a reduction improves when you have a skilled DUI lawyer representing you.