When is a DUI a Felony in California?
For people facing DUI charges in California, there is a common question they want answered: “Is a DUI a felony?” The answer depends on the particular case and what happened during the events leading up to the DUI arrest. Cases involving accidents with great bodily injury to others for example, are treated as a DUI felony.
Myths about Felony DUI cases:
DUI cases with a high blood alcohol level (say above 0.20%) are not automatically treated as a felony. Neither are cases where the person refuses to submit to a chemical test. While serious in their own right, these cases are treated as misdemeanor crimes with aggravating factors in California. This means they carry the typical misdemeanor DUI penalties plus enhancements such as more jail-time, higher fines and longer term driver’s license suspension.
Factors that make a DUI a felony:
As we have seen, a DUI is typically a misdemeanor crime in California. (California Vehicle Code 23152). If one of the felony factors is present, the case will be treated as a felony, with longer state prison sentences, higher fines and more stringent driver’s license restrictions. Felony DUI factors include:
-Injury to someone (other than the driver) during an accident involving the DUI driver.
-If a person has a prior felony DUI…any future DUI (even run-of-the-mill simple DUI’s) will be treated as a felony
-A 4th DUI is treated as a felony
In injury cases, a DUI will be treated as a felony if someone (other than the DUI Driver) is injured. This includes passengers riding with the DUI driver, people in other cars that are hit, bystanders or even first responders to the scene of an accident.
To be treated as a felony, the accident must be shown to have been caused by the DUI driver. If another person is at fault for the accident, the case will not be treated as a felony.
If the injuries to any victim in a DUI accident are “great bodily injury” special enhancements such as longer state prison terms and tougher driver’s license restrictions.
4th DUI cases
The California legislature recognizes the harm to sociecty that people who habitually get DUIs cause. Because of this, a 4th DUI (or 5th or 6th) will be treated as a felony with the associated long prison term and other penalties.
Why a Felony DUI is worse than a Misdemeanor DUI:
When a DUI is treated as a felony, the penalties are much worse for the defendant. In California, a felony is the most serious type of crime a person can be accused of. A felony involves long state prison terms. A felony cannot be expunged from a person’s criminal record. A felony impacts a person’s ability to own firearms, vote, hold certain public offices and pretty much ruins the person’s reputation.
California felony DUI resource links:
This link goes to a reference site with information regarding California felony crimes.
California Penal Code 17
Penal Code 17 is the authority on California felony crimes. Felony DUI in California falls under the statutory authority laid out in Penal Code 17.