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You probably know that a conviction for DUI (driving under the influence) in California entails harsh legal consequences. You probably also know that if you are charged with DUI in southern California, you must be defended by the right Los Angeles DUI attorney.

A first DUI conviction can be penalized with a stiff fine, probation, a driver’s license suspension, alcohol education classes, and for some offenders, time in jail. But in most circumstances, a DUI charge is a misdemeanor in California, and a convicted offender will not serve time in prison.

When is a driving under the influence charge prosecuted as a felony in this state? In other words, what turns a charge that is typically a misdemeanor into a felony – with the possibility of a lengthy prison term if the defendant is convicted?

If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn the answer to that question, and you’ll learn what steps you must take to defend yourself if you are charged with felony DUI.

What Are the Standard Penalties for a First DUI Conviction?

In California, provided that a defendant who is charged with DUI has not caused an injury or a fatality, the first three DUI charges within a ten-year period are misdemeanors.

If there are no aggravating circumstances that require an enhanced penalty, the punishments for an adult who is convicted of a misdemeanor first-offense DUI in California may include:

1. up to six months in jail
2. a fine ranging from $390 to $1000
3. probation for three to five years
4. participation in alcohol education or treatment for three to nine months
5. a driver’s license suspension ranging from six to ten months
6. installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the offender’s vehicle for six months

What Are the Standard Penalties for a Second DUI Conviction?

If there are no aggravating circumstances, the penalties for adults who are convicted of a misdemeanor second-offense DUI within ten years of a first conviction may include:

1. up to one year in jail
2. probation for three to five years
3. a fine ranging from $390 to $1000
4. attendance at a California DUI school for eighteen to thirty months
5. court-ordered IID installation for one year

What Are the Penalties for a Third DUI Conviction Within Ten Years?

1. up to one year in jail
2. probation for three to five years
3. a fine ranging from $390 to $1000
4. completion of a thirty-month DUI education program
5. designation as a “habitual traffic offender” by the Department of Motor Vehicles
6. IID installation for two years or a three-year driver’s license suspension

When Are Misdemeanor DUI Penalties Enhanced?

A misdemeanor DUI sentence in California can be enhanced – that is, harsher – when a defendant is convicted of a first, second, or third DUI offense and:

1. measured a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.15 percent
2. declined to take a breath, blood, or urine test for DUI
3. had a passenger under the age of 14
4. caused a bodily injury or traffic accident
5. drove 20 mph above the limit on a surface street or 30 mph above the limit on a freeway

A sentencing enhancement for a misdemeanor DUI conviction may be a lengthier jail term, a higher fine, or a longer license suspension, but the DUI enhancement for speeding is a mandatory sixty additional days in jail.

What If the Charge is DUI With Injury?

DUI with injury is a “wobbler” charge in California, which means the charge may be prosecuted as either a felony or as a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor.

When making that choice, prosecutors consider the details of the DUI incident and the defendant’s criminal record. If a defendant is convicted of misdemeanor DUI with injury, the penalties may include:

1. up to a year in jail
2. probation for three to five years
3. a fine ranging from $390 to $5000
4. alcohol education classes for up to thirty months
5. monetary restitution to any injured parties
6. IID installation for six months or a one-year driver’s license suspension

If a defendant is convicted of felony DUI with injury, the penalties may include:

1. a prison term of up to ten years, and possibly more if the injuries were severe
2. a fine ranging from $1,015 to $5,000
3. up to thirty months in an alcohol or drug treatment or education program
4. habitual traffic offender status
5. IID installation for up to three years or a license suspension for the same length of time
6. restitution to any injured parties

What Else May Constitute Felony DUI?

If you already have three DUI convictions, and you are charged with DUI a fourth time within a ten-year period, you will be charged with felony DUI. The penalties for a felony DUI conviction may include up to three years in a California State Prison, along with other penalties.

If you are responsible for someone’s death as a result of driving under the influence, you may face the most serious DUI charge in California, which is “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.” The penalties for a conviction include a prison term of up to ten years.

“Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” is defined similarly, except that in these cases, the defendant is accused of acting with “ordinary” negligence rather than gross or egregious negligence.

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler charge. A misdemeanor conviction for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can send the offender to jail for up to a year. A felony conviction may be penalized with up to four years in prison.

What Are the “Extra-Legal” Penalties for DUI Convictions?

In addition to the criminal penalties listed here, every DUI conviction also entails extra-legal penalties. Your auto insurance rates will go up. You may have difficulty keeping or finding employment – especially if your work involves driving.

If you hold a professional license, a DUI conviction may trigger disciplinary action by your professional licensing board. If you are an immigrant in California, a DUI conviction could lead to a deportation hearing.

Like any criminal charge, you cannot be convicted of a DUI charge unless the state proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The right southern California DUI lawyer will fight for your acquittal. Your criminal defense attorney may challenge the DUI test results or the arresting officer’s testimony.

If an acquittal is not possible, your attorney may be able to have the charge reduced or arrange for alternative sentencing, which could include community service and/or electronic monitoring. In any event, a good Los Angeles DUI attorney will bring your case to its best possible outcome.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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