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Attorneys William R. Christoph & Nicholas W. Christoph

How does a California DUI become a felony?

On Behalf of | Mar 8, 2021

California has some of the most stringent DUI (driving under the influence) laws in the nation. Those who are charged with a misdemeanor DUI face the possibility of jail, driver’s license suspension, programs, mandated ignition interlock device, fines and more.

Potential penalties are even harsher for those who are charged with felony DUI.

Ways in which DUIs become felonies

While most DUIs in the San Diego area are charged under California law as misdemeanors, certain factors can elevate a DUI case to a  felony:

  • If you have received three prior DUIs within 10 years, a fourth DUI will be charged as a felony. (Qualifying DUIs from other states can be considered as priors)
  • If you are charged with DUI within a decade of having a prior felony DUI, a subsequent DUI will be charged as a felony.
  • You can be charged with felony DUI if you cause an accident that results in bodily injury to another person. If your DUI crash results in great bodily injury to another person or if there are multiple victims, you can be also be charged with sentence enhancements which can greatly increase potential prison time and the seriousness of the crime.
  • If a DUI accident causes death, this can result in a DUI manslaughter charge or even a murder charge depending on the facts, priors, and prior admonishments.

It should be noted that DUI accident cases are misdemeanors if there is property damage only and no prior felony DUIs in the last 10 years.

Aggravated DUIs

Penalties for both misdemeanor and felony DUI can be enhanced if there are aggravating factors like:

  • Driving under the influence with a suspended driver’s license
  • Driving under the influence with a passenger age 14 and under
  • DUI with excess speed
  • Refusal to take a chemical test
  • Blood alcohol levels .15 or more
  • DUI with an accident

As you can see, not all misdemeanor DUIs or felony DUIs are equal. The factors involved in each case can vary and either mitigate or aggravate the possible resolution.

Any DUI can result in serious consequences, whether they are direct sentencing issues or indirect issues that impact employment, immigration, professional licensing, insurance, and other areas of a person’s life. All DUI convictions direct sentencing consequences can include possible probation, jail, fines, programs, license suspension, and ignition interlock devices (IID). Felony DUIs can include all of the above and possibly even years in a California state prison.



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