Receiving any DUI charges can be scary and overwhelming whether or not it has happened before. California takes drunk driving very seriously to deter impaired people from getting behind the wheel and endangering others. This means that penalties for a conviction can be numerous and harsh depending on the circumstances.
In most cases, a DUI falls under a misdemeanor. However, some factors bring the charges up to the felony level.
Injury or death to others
Often the police will pull over drunk drivers before anything dangerous happens. Other times, the drunk driver will crash the vehicle. This may result in injury to self and damage to property. When it causes a serious injury to another party, however, the offense can become a felony. Examples of serious injuries include TBI, broken bones and permanent disability. In some cases, the collision may lead to someone's death, called vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If the driver had a prior DUI conviction, charges of murder are possible.
However, note that intoxication alone is not enough to face these charges. The driver must also have broken another traffic law that caused the accident.
Higher than third offense in 10 years
Some drunk drivers are repeat offenders. California does not classify subsequent charges as felonies until it is at least the fourth time in 10 years. However, if the driver has had a previous felony DUI, the next one is automatically a felony as well no matter how much time has passed since the conviction. This is why proper defense the first time is vital.
A felony DUI comes with more severe consequences. These may include longer jail sentences, higher fines, mandatory programs, installment of an ignition interlock device and license suspension or revocation. In addition to legal penalties, a felony conviction can make finding employment and housing more challenging. Anyone facing a felony DUI charge needs strong representation to avoid or reduce these consequences.