When Does a DUI Become a Felony in California?
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense with severe consequences in California. But most first, second, and even third DUIs are charged as misdemeanors. So when does a DUI cross the line into felony territory?
In our experience defending clients facing DUI charges for over 15 years, a DUI becomes a felony in two key situations:
When There’s Injury or Death Involved
Under California Vehicle Code 23153, if your DUI driving causes injury to someone else, you can face misdemeanor felony charges. However, in most cases, these are charged as felonies.
If your DUI driving causes physical injury like lacerations, bone fractures, or other non-permanent wounds, it’s considered a “DUI causing bodily injury.” This is charged as a basic felony DUI.
The typical sentence if convicted? 16 months to 16 years in state prison. That’s a life-changing amount of time behind bars.
When It’s Your 4th DUI Within 10 Years
Under California law, a 4th DUI offense within 10 years is automatically a felony. It doesn’t matter if you only had minor vehicle damage or no injury at all. All DUI convictions from any U.S. state count, not just California
So if you get convicted of a 4th DUI within 10 years, you’re looking at 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison.
It’s crucial to examine any prior convictions closely to see if they should count. We’ve seen errors made in recording previous DUIs, so don’t assume they will all stick.
Penalties for Felony DUIs in California
If you’re convicted of a felony DUI in California, here are some of the penalties you’ll face:
Lengthy Jail Time
The baseline felony DUI sentence is 16 months in state prison. But with aggravating factors, that prison time can quickly escalate to 16 years. Especially if you injured multiple victims while driving intoxicated.
Aggravating factors that lead to extended sentences include extremely high BAC at the time of arrest, driving 30+ mph over the speed limit, and prior convictions for DUI or other criminal offenses.
Jail time will also be harsher if you injured a police officer, child, or elderly victim. The court looks very unfavorably upon harming vulnerable people while driving under the influence.
Massive Fines and Fees
Fines start at around $1,000 but often exceed $5,000 for a felony DUI conviction. Plus, you’ll pay victim restitution, ambulance and hospital fees, DUI program costs, court costs, probation fees, vehicle towing/impound fees, and other expenses.
Your total financial burden from a California felony DUI? Easily $10,000 or higher, especially with injuries involved. This can be financially devastating.
Multi-Year License Suspension
For a felony DUI conviction, the DMV will suspend your license for at least 2 years but often much longer – typically 3 to 10 years.
You’ll also need an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle when you eventually regain your license. This device checks your BAC when you try to start driving and will prevent you from operating the vehicle if alcohol is detected on your breath.
Years of Strict, Costly Probation
Expect 3 to 5 years of supervised probation. And those probation terms will be extremely strict: weekly alcohol testing, counseling, MADD meetings, community service, etc. All at your own expense.
If you violate any terms of probation, you’ll serve the suspended portion of your jail sentence. Probation violations are taken very seriously after a felony DUI conviction.
Long-Term Impacts Beyond Sentencing
The direct punishments above represent the immediate sentencing consequences. But a felony DUI conviction will disrupt virtually every area of your life for many years beyond your sentence.
Here are some examples of the lifelong impacts:
- Employment: Most employers, even in manual labor, will not hire someone with a felony. White collar jobs or government/medical careers? Forget it. Your job prospects are dismal.
- Government Aid Loss: Say goodbye to welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing assistance, medical coverage, and government student loans. Any form of public help is now cut off.
- Gun Ownership Ban: Felons are prohibited from buying or owning firearms and ammunition. Hunting and personal protection are now off the table.
- Immigration Issues: If you’re not a U.S. citizen, a felony DUI conviction can get you deported and permanently barred from re-entering the United States.
- Social Stigma: You’ll now carry the label “felon” for life. Good luck reintegrating into society with this black mark. Expect public judgment.
- Travel Limitations: Countries like Canada may prevent or heavily scrutinize your entry after a felony DUI. Enjoy those family vacations up north? Not anymore.
These collateral consequences will haunt you for decades to come, severely limiting your quality of life and freedom.
Don’t Go It Alone – Your Future Is On The Line
Finding out you are facing potential felony DUI charges in California is terrifying. The prospect of years behind bars plus lifelong restrictions on your freedom, career, and livelihood is truly overwhelming.
But take a breath – you don’t have to endure this situation alone. The experienced criminal defense and DUI attorneys at Kolacia Law are here to aggressively fight for your rights. We know exactly how to stand up to the state’s accusations against you.
Our firm has successfully defended countless clients facing bogus, exaggerated felony DUI charges over the past 15+ years in practice. We have the resources and determination to give you the strongest defense possible.
Don’t leave your future in the hands of an overwhelmed public defender. Call Kolacia Law now for a free consultation.