DUI Felony Crimes

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Driving under the influence is one of the charges under the Penal Code most likely to lead to an arrest. Drunken driving arrests are common, but the vast majority of those are misdemeanor cases against first-time offenders. While serious, misdemeanors DUI cases rarely lead to significant jail time.

The same is not always true for felony DUI. While these offenses are less common, felony DUI convictions have the potential to carry significant penalties. In some cases, a DUI conviction could lead to years in prison, heavy fines, and the loss of your right to drive a vehicle.

If you are facing a felony DUI charge in Kern County, it is never too early to begin building your defense. You have the right to hire the attorney of your choice, and your decision could dramatically impact the outcome of your case. An experienced DUI defense attorney could provide you with insight and guidance throughout the course of your case. To discuss your options, schedule a free consultation with the DUI defense attorneys at the Hennessy Law Group today.

Felony DUI Crimes in California

By default, a DUI charge in California is a misdemeanor under state law. However, there are three important “aggravating factors” that could empower a prosecutor to charge a DUI as a felony. These factors include:

  • DUI accidents that cause injury or death
  • Drivers with multiple past convictions
  • Drivers with one prior felony DUI

While these factors differ, the outcome is the same. A felony can dramatically impact your life, your career, and even your freedom. Discuss your case with a skilled felony DUI defense attorney before attempting to resolve it with the prosecutor.

DUI with Injury or Death

A DUI will commonly become a felony offense when the incident results in the injury or death of another person. This circumstance is most common during a vehicle collision. However, the law requires more than simply having alcohol in your system when a person dies.

To be a felony DUI, a driver had to have been intoxicated and committed an additional negligent act or moving violation that results in a person's injury or death. This could include anything from speeding to aggressive driving.

This specific charge is governed by California Vehicle Code 23513. However, there are other felonies outside of DUI charges that could apply in these situations, including DUI second-degree murder or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Prior Felony DUI

Multiple prior DUI convictions are not the only way your criminal history could result in a felony case. If you have previously been convicted of a felony DUI, all subsequent DUI arrests will be treated as felonies. There is no lookback period for this brand of felony.

There are two common circumstances where this type of felony DUI could apply. The first involves a person who has been convicted of a felony DUI due to causing death or serious bodily harm. A subsequent DUI arrest would also be a felony, even if prior felony was a first offense.

The second example occurs when a driver receives a felony DUI for having three or more prior convictions in a 10-year period. It is possible that some of those priors could roll off the 10-year lookback period, making a subsequent offense a first, second, or third DUI. In this case, all subsequent DUI arrests are felonies.

Multiple Convictions

Like most states, having multiple DUI convictions can result in prosecutors treating a subsequent arrest as a felony. Each jurisdiction approaches this situation differently, but the general rule is that after a set number of DUI convictions, each additional arrest is treated as a felony. In California, a DUI arrest is a felony if the driver has three prior convictions.

It is important to note that not every prior conviction will count. Only certain previous DUI convictions are considered “priorable” in California. The courts will only consider convictions in a certain timeframe when determining if the charge is a felony; this time is known as the lookback period.

The lookback period also varies from one state to another. Some states like Texas count every DUI over the course of a person's life. California takes a more lenient approach. According to California Vehicle Code 23622, any DUI convictions that occur within 10 years of the most recent arrest are considered priorable. Any conviction outside of that time limit will be treated as if it had not occurred. These prior offenses are not limited to California convictions. Any DUI offense in any state could count.

A prior conviction does not have to be a DUI at all, in fact. A person who was previously arrested under suspicion of DUI but negotiated that charge down to a lesser offense known as a “wet reckless” could see it counted as a DUI for these purposes. This is true even though it is not technically a DUI charge.

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DUI Felony Crimes

Penalties

Regardless of the type of felony DUI, the penalties for a conviction can be severe. These penalties go beyond those prescribed by statute and also include the collateral consequences a felony can bring.

A felony DUI conviction starts with the potential for serious time behind bars. If convicted, you could face 16 months, two years, or three years in a California State Prison. The default sentence is two years, but the court can consider aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances to shift it to a higher or lower sentence. A conviction also carries a potential fine. This fine could be as low as $390 or as much as $1,000.

A conviction can limit your ability to drive. Your driving privileges could be suspended for up to four years, although the installation of an ignition interlock device could shorten that time somewhat. A felony DUI could also result in your designation as a “habitual traffic offender,” or HTO. Once designated as an HTO, you could face much steeper penalties for future moving violation convictions.

Collateral Consequences

The direct, statutory consequences of a DUI conviction are serious. That said, the collateral consequences that come with a felony DUI conviction cannot be understated either.

The first we have discussed previously. With a prior felony conviction, you face the potential for another felony charge if you are ever arrested for DUI in California for the rest of your life. Decades could pass between your two offenses, and you could still face a felony arrest.

Felony convictions, in general, can be costly. As a convicted felon, you could lose important rights including your right to own firearms and the right to vote. These rights could be lost forever if you are convicted or plead guilty to a felony DUI.

A felony DUI can also wreak havoc on your career. While any employer might consider firing or refusing to hire a convicted felon, many lines of work could be unavailable entirely. Jobs that require professional licensing or background checks are especially problematic. Some of these consequences could include the loss of:

  • Medical licenses
  • Nursing licenses
  • Law licenses
  • Pilot licenses
  • Security clearances

As a convicted felon, you could also experience challenges with obtaining housing, securing student aid, or obtaining any form of employment. Finally, if you are involved in a divorce or child custody disputes, a felony conviction could prove costly.

Common Defenses

Remember, these costly consequences only become a reality if you are convicted of a felony DUI. You still get your day in court, and if you prevail, you will avoid these consequences entirely. Beating a felony DUI charge starts with a winning defense. There are many potentially viable defenses in a DUI case. These include:

  • Challenging the stop. Most felony DUI cases result from a traffic stop. However, the police do not have free reign to stop your car and question you. If an officer stops you without cause, any evidence collected after the illegal stop could be excluded from trial.
  • Challenging the test. Another key element of many DUI cases is the chemical test. This breath, blood, or urine test measures the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in a defendant's body. If your BAC is .08 or more, you could be convicted of DUI. However, these machines must be calibrated appropriately and operated by trained professionals. If there is a problem with the machine or the operator, any test result could be thrown out.
  • No prior convictions. Sometimes record keepers make mistakes. It is possible that a prosecutor could charge you with a felony DUI based on a previous case that was dismissed. If your attorney can show that you do not have three prior convictions in the last ten years or a felony conviction during your lifetime, they could have your case changed to a misdemeanor DUI.

Why Hennessy Law Group

The Hennessy Law Group is proud to serve the residents of Kern County as a strong advocate. Our team is experienced in taking on DUI cases and winning, and we hope to use that experience to obtain a favorable outcome in your case. To learn more, schedule an initial consultation right away.

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