What Makes a DUI a Felony in California?


Drunk driving is a serious criminal charge – especially as a felony offense. California DUI laws use three factors to determine whether or not the prosecutor can pursue a felony conviction: injury / death, prior DUIs, and prior DUI felonies. These factors, known as aggravating factors, can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. In some cases, felony DUI versus a misdemeanor offense can differentiate between six months in jail (for simple misdemeanor DUI) or three years in a California state prison.

Under California Vehicle Code § 23513, DUI causing injury or death can be charged as a felony criminal offense. In order to face a conviction, the prosecution must demonstrate two things: the defendant drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs; the defendant committed an additional act of negligence or traffic violation that caused the injury or death of another person.

According to California law, there are three different types of injury-related, felony DUI charges. These crimes include, "DUI causing injury," "DUI vehicular manslaughter," and "DUI second-degree murder."

Multiple drunk driving convictions can also lead to a felony drunk driving conviction. California vehicle law designates drunk driving as a "priorable" offense; in other words, subsequent DUI convictions can lead to stiff penalties, longer prison sentences, extended probation. Drunk driving and wet reckless driving are priorable DUI convictions and include out-of-state DUI equivalents. Generally speaking, you may be subject to heightened penalties after three or more priorable offenses.

Like simple DUI, past felony DUI convictions can count against you during a DUI case as well. However, even one past felony DUI can result in severe legal penalties. For example, a driver with one "DUI with injury" conviction could face an additional felony offense, even if the second DUI did not involve injuries or fatalities.

What are the penalties for Felony DUI in California?

Felony DUI is punishable by sixteen months, two years, or three years in a state prison. The specific circumstances surrounding your arrest will determine the length of your prison sentence. In addition to incarceration, felony DUI will result in fines ranging from $390 to $1,000 and up to four years of driver's license revocation. Finally, a felony DUI conviction will lead to DMV Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) designation.

How to Fight a Felony DUI

Were you charged with a felony DUI offense in Ventura or the surrounding area? Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP can help. As DUI attorneys in Ventura, we believe that a successful Felony DUI defense case starts with a plan; an aggressive strategy to combat the allegations held against you. With more than five decades of legal experience behind us, our team has the skill to help you obtain a favorable case outcome. Contact us today and request case evaluation to see what Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP can do for your felony DUI case.

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