California’s drunk driving laws create incredibly harsh penalties for driving under the influence (DUI). When you are caught behind the wheel with alcohol or drugs in your system, you could face penalties that include jail time and incredibly high fines and assessments, even for minor or borderline cases. Because of this, it is vital to have one of our Ventura DUI defense lawyers at your side, especially if your DUI charges are severe enough to qualify as a felony. The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s defense lawyers explain when a DUI is charged as a felony in CA.

Types of Felony DUIs in California

Many offenses in California can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on details of the crime and how it was committed. In general, a misdemeanor is any crime punished by up to a year in jail, whereas a felony is any crime punished by a potential of more than a year in prison. In any case, the fact that these are the standard penalties does not automatically mean you will face the maximum penalties; you may even avoid jail time altogether if you can receive probation for a felony offense.

Typically speaking, the elements that bump an offense from a misdemeanor to a felony usually deal with the offender’s motives or the level of harm caused by the crime. For instance, some offenses, like DUI, will become more serious if there is an added level of recklessness and disregard for the safety of others. Alternatively, crimes become a felony when more harm is done, such as a theft offense becoming a felony when more money is taken.

For DUI, there are three primary reasons a drunk driving or drugged driving offense will be upgraded to a felony: repeat offending, increased harm, and a combination of the two.

First, repeat DUIs are often upgraded to a felony offense. A simple DUI under VC 23152 remains a misdemeanor up through your third offense. If you commit a fourth offense, this might be charged as a felony DUI. This only looks at DUIs committed within the past 10 years; any DUIs committed before that 10-year period are considered too old to affect your current penalties.

Second, more severe DUIs causing more harm could be charged as felonies. Gross vehicular manslaughter, charged under Penal Code 191.5(a) is always a felony, as is vehicular murder committed while drunk or high. These are the most serious DUI offenses and are charged only in severe cases of extreme risk that kill another driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian in an accident that you caused while driving under the influence.

Third, a combination of increased harm and repeat offenses will turn a misdemeanor DUI offense into a felony DUI. For any DUI that causes harm or death, a first offense with no prior DUI offenses is still usually a misdemeanor. However, a second offense, or one of these offenses after a history of standard DUI offenses, can be upgraded to a felony offense. This upgrade for second offenses usually applies to offenses charged as DUI with injury under VC 23152 or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under Penal Code 191.5(b). This vehicular manslaughter is a lower-level offense than the gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charged under 191.5(a).

Penalties for Felony DUIs in California

Many DUI offenses have similar minimum penalties, and the judge makes the final decision as to how high to increase the penalty. For instance, most DUI offenses, whether they are misdemeanors or felonies, have a minimum DUI fine of $390. However, the max fine is increased for more severe offenses, starting at a maximum of $1,000 for a basic DUI offense and climbing to a maximum of $5,000 in some cases. Many felony DUIs also have an increased minimum fine of $1,015.

In addition to the fines, there are also assessments and other costs. Generally, these costs can total an additional 4.5-times the fine, meaning you could end up paying over $20,000 in fines and costs for a felony DUI.

On top of this is potential jail time and probation. Minor DUI offenses carry “informal” probation, where your driving is monitored and you may need to check in with the authorities. Felony DUIs carry “formal” probation, where you must check in with a probation officer, perform any scheduled or random drug and alcohol screening, and avoid further crimes. Any probation violations could send you straight to jail. During probation, the maximum “legal limit” for drunk driving is lowered to .01% BAC (blood alcohol concentration) for you.

If you are sentenced to jail time, there may be flexibility as to when you serve your sentence. Some sentences allow the defendant to only serve time on days where they are off work, such as weekends, so that the conviction does not ruin their life and livelihood. However, these kinds of flexible sentences are not available in every case.

Most DUI convictions also carry a term of driver’s license suspension.

Ventura, California DUI Defense Lawyer Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one faces charges for a DUI, whether they are misdemeanor or felony charges, you should speak with a Ventura criminal defense attorney today. The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s attorneys offer free consultations to help you understand the charges and penalties you could face and what our legal representation can do for you. To schedule your free legal consultation, contact our law offices online or call today at (805) 643-5555.