Understanding the factors that make a DUI a felony in California

Several factors will automatically constitute a felony DUI charge in California, such as having prior convictions or causing an injury or death.

Under California law, it is illegal for anyone to have a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration while driving a vehicle. Upon getting pulled over, someone could be arrested on suspicion of DUI. Those charges could range from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Knowing what the charges are is imperative to understanding the potential consequences. There are several factors that could take an incident to felony status.

What if the accident causes an injury or death?

California's Vehicle Code states that someone who is intoxicated while driving and causes an accident that leads to someone else's injuries or death will be charged with a felony. The charges could be labeled as DUI vehicular manslaughter, DUI second-degree murder or DUI causing injury. The exact charge will depend on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Do previous convictions matter?

Yes. California law states that someone who has been convicted of DUI three or more times within 10 years will be charged with a felony crime. The state does take into account convictions that took place outside California, so long as those crimes would have been considered a DUI in the state.

California code also recognizes a charge known commonly as "wet reckless." This is essentially a plea bargain charge that implies that a driver has been involved in a driving offense that involves alcohol. Wet reckless charges will count toward the three previous DUI convictions when it comes to the matter or prior charges.

Does a single prior felony DUI beget another felony charge?

Having just one felony DUI charge on someone's record will mean that the next charge, even one that would otherwise be considered a simple misdemeanor, will automatically be elevated to a felony. This typically occurs when someone either has too many DUI charges or has a previous felony DUI due to an accident that caused an injury or death.

What are the penalties?

The penalties for each of these charges can include a fine as well as substantial imprisonment time. Additionally, the person charged with DUI could face a license suspension or revocation. The California Department of Motor Vehicles states that it is required to take action on a driver's license when someone is arrested on charges of DUI when having a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration or a 0.01 BAC if the person is on probation for DUI.

How can I fight a felony DUI?

Defending against felony DUI charges is crucial for people to preserve their rights and their freedom. There are several defenses that may be invoked, including challenging evidence or the way it was collected. For example, a law enforcement officer may not have properly conducted a field sobriety test or failed to calibrate a breath test machine.

With so much at stake, developing a strong defensive strategy is essential. People who have questions about this issue should speak with a DUI attorney in California.