Written by attorney Jasen Bodie Nielsen

What Makes a DUI a Felony in California?

California DUI - Only 3 Ways to be a Felony

Driving Under the Influence is generally a misdemeanor offense throughout the state of California. One's blood alcohol level has no impact on whether or not the case is a felony. There are only three things that can make a DUI a felony:

  1. An accident causing great bodily injury to somebody else;

  2. 4 or more DUIs within a 10 year period;

  3. A prior felony DUI conviction.

If a DUI does not involve any of these 3 circumstances, then it is a misdemeanor. If it does, then one may be faced with felony DUI charges, for which the punishment is much harsher in terms of jail or even prison time, license suspension, and probation. Additionally, as with any felony conviction, there are potential life altering consequences with a felony DUI outside of court, including possible employment issues.

Accident Causing Great Bodily Injury

In accident DUI cases that injure another person, one will be charged with a felony if the injuries are severe. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises will not make a DUI a felony, but may potentially result in misdemeanor DUI with injury charges. Only those cases that involve serious injury or death will result in felony DUI charges, and there is some debate as to what counts as a serious bodily injury. It must also be proven that you were at fault in the accident in order for the DUI to be a felony under this section. Many cases that under the law should be misdemeanors are initially charged as felonies.

4 or more DUI Convictions

If one has 3 DUI convictions, then any subsequent DUI within 10 years of the first will be prosecuted as a felony. The prior DUIs include convictions for alcohol related reckless driving, known as a Wet Reckless, as well as DUI convictions from out of state. Many of these cases also involve probation violations and driving on a suspended license charges. Treatment for alcohol addiction is one of the ways to minimize jail time in these multiple-offense DUI cases, if one can find a judge and prosecutor in support or treatment.

Prior Felony DUI Conviction

If one has a previous felony DUI conviction, then any subsequent DUI within 10 years will be charged as a felony. This is true even if the current offense does not involve an accident and you have a low BAC.

Felony DUI Punishment - Possible Prison Time

The punishment in a felony DUI case depends on a number of factors. In accident DUI cases, these include the severity of the injuries and number of victims, the nature and cause of the accident, as well as the background of the defendant. Prison time is possible, and becomes increasingly more so if the injuries are especially tragic. In multiple-offense DUI cases, the age and nature of the prior DUIs are important factors, along with the circumstances of the current case, and prison time is also possible.

In addition to jail time, felony DUI cases also may involve significant fines and fees, strictly monitored felony probation, extensive mandatory alcohol classes, mandatory rehabilitation or treatment programs, installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, and lengthy license suspension or revocation.

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