Is A DUI A Felony Offense In California?

Louis J. Goodman is a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney with a background of handling both misdemeanor and felony DUI’s as both a prosecutor and defense attorney.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in every state. When an individual is caught driving with an excess blood alcohol content measured by the authorities, they are likely to be charged with DUI. This offense is also known as driving while intoxicated (or DWI).

If you have been caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California, you may be prosecuted with a felony DUI or a misdemeanor DUI. The difference between the two depends on the circumstances surrounding the incident. Both of these are serious charges, so it’s critical to speak with a competent and experienced local DUI defense attorney like Louis J Goodman as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are represented in court.

You may be wondering “Is my DUI a felony?” In this article, we’re going to look at the difference between a DUI conviction as a felony and a misdemeanor. Then we’ll explore how you can get the best help if you’ve been convicted.

California DUI Laws

California DUI laws prohibit individuals from operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Law enforcement officers use a series of field tests, breathalyzer tests, and chemical tests and sample urine or blood to determine a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

It is illegal for adults over the age of 21 with a regular driver’s license to exceed a BAC of .08 percent. Adults holding a commercial driver’s license may not drive with a BAC higher than .04 percent. Those under the age of 21 are forbidden to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content higher than .01 percent.

DUIs are treated as a “wobbler” in California, meaning you may get charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

Misdemeanor DUI Charges

Most drunk driving charges in California are convicted as misdemeanor offenses. Provided there are no aggravating factors, first, second, and third offenses within ten years generally result in a misdemeanor DUI. However, criminal penalties increase in severity if you have already received one or more DUI convictions.

First DUI Conviction

Provided no aggravating factors are present, here is what you can expect for a first DUI charge:

  • Fines ranging from $390-$1,000
  • Participation in an alcohol rehabilitation or education course for three to nine months
  • Drivers license suspension between six and ten months
  • Required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in the offender’s motor vehicle for six months
  • Up to six months county jail time
  • Probation of three to five years

Second DUI Conviction

With no aggravating factors present, the punishment for an adult’s second DUI conviction in a ten-year period may include:

  • Fines ranging from $390-$1,000
  • Enrolling in California DUI School for eighteen to thirty months
  • Driver’s license suspension for two years
  • Court-order obligation to use an IID in the offender’s car for one year
  • Up to one year in county jail and a minimum of 96 hours of jail time
  • Three to five years probation

Third DUI Conviction

In the absence of any aggravating factors for a third DUI conviction in the same ten years, offenders may face the following penalties:

  • Fines ranging from $1,000-$1,800
  • Completing a thirty-month DUI education course
  • Drivers license suspension for three years, or two years of mandatory IID installation in the offender’s vehicle
  • Designated “habitual traffic offender” by the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Minimum 120 days in county jail, and maximum one year.
  • Probation for three to five years

Felony DUI Charges

In some cases, a California DUI offense will be charged as a felony DUI conviction. This is most likely to happen in situations where:

  • The DUI incident resulted in serious bodily injury or death
  • The offender has incurred more than three DUI charges within ten years
  • The offender was previously convicted of a felony DUI charge

If somebody was killed or injured in the DUI incident, or you have already faced multiple DUI charges, it’s critical to speak with a DUI defense attorney as quickly as possible to prepare your defense. A DUI defense lawyer may be able to help reduce the severity of the related felony penalties outlined below.

DUI Resulting in Injury or Death

If driving under the influence results in a person being seriously injured or killed, the offender may receive some or all of the following criminal sentencing:

  • Fines between $1,000-$5,000
  • Completing thirty months of DUI school, drug treatment, or education program
  • Mandatory driver’s license suspension for five years
  • Between 16 months and 16 years in California State prison
  • Victim restitution payments
  • Possible Murder Charge (15 to Life)

Multiple DUI Convictions

If your DUI incidence did not cause injury or death, but you have received prior DUI convictions, these are some of the criminal penalties you may expect:

  • Fines up to $1,000
  • A maximum of three years in California state prison
  • Mandatory driver’s license suspension of four years
  • Attendance of DUI school, drug treatment, or education program for 18 months.

Aggravating Factors That Can Enhance a DUI Misdemeanor

Certain aggravating factors can enhance sentencing for a DUI misdemeanor conviction. The factors may result in a harsher sentence or may elevate the charge to a felony, depending on the severity of the situation. Here are a few aggravating factors that may lead to a stricter sentence.

  • DUI while minors under the age of 14 years are present in the vehicle
  • DUI with a license suspension
  • BAC level is equal to or above 0.15 percent
  • The offender declined a breathalyzer, blood, urine, or chemical test for DUI
  • Incidence resulted in bodily harm or a traffic accident
  • The offender was driving 20 miles above the speed limit in town street or 30 miles over the limit on the freeway.

Extra Legal Consequences of a DUI

A DUI charge is considered a serious offense in California, regardless of whether it’s convicted as a felony or a misdemeanor DUI. The consequences of a DUI charge extend beyond criminal sentencing in court and often impact the lives of the convicted for years into the future.

Here are some of the additional ways your life may be affected if you are convicted of a DUI.

  • It can be hard to keep your employment, especially if you are required to drive on the job
  • Auto insurance rates will increase as a result of a DUI conviction
  • If you hold a professional license a DUI conviction may result in revocation or disciplinary action from the licensing institution
  • If you are an immigrant, your DUI charge may lead to a deportation hearing.
  • DUI offenses frequently interfere with entering another country’s territory for business, tourism, or family visitation.

What To Do If You Are Facing a DUI Charge

If you’re facing a DUI charge in California, it’s important to note that this is not taken lightly by the courts. Contact a local criminal defense attorney like Louis J. Goodman as early as you can to ensure that your side of the story is represented in court and you have the best chance of reaching a fair outcome.

Louis J. Goodman has been defending DUI charges locally for 30 years and has a thorough understanding of the laws combined with practical experience to accurately and fairly represent those facing DUI charges in court. If you are facing a DUI charge, don’t wait. Get in touch with Louis J. Goodman today.

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