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Is a DUI a Felony in California?

Okabe & Haushalter Apr 13, 2019 DUI

In California, a DUI can be a felony charge, but that’s not always the case. Most DUIs, including first, second and even third-time offenses of DUI, are classified as misdemeanor offenses under California Vehicle Code Section 23153 (a) and (b). However, there are some circumstances that cause the enhancement of a DUI misdemeanor to a felony charge, which is much more serious than a misdemeanor DUI. Whether the case is a misdemeanor or felony will determine, for the most part, the penalties faced by the accused, including any jail time that’s on the table.

If you have been charged with DUI, even misdemeanor DUI, you need to contact our Los Angeles DUI defense attorney right away. Even a misdemeanor charge of DUI can have lasting ramifications and repercussions on your life, so fighting the charge makes sense in most DUI cases.

When DUI is a Felony

A DUI, whether a first or subsequent charge, becomes a felony under California under a very specific set of circumstances. These include:

  • The DUI resulted in the injury or death of another person
  • The accused has had at least one previous conviction for felony DUI
  • The accused has had three or more prior DUI or so-called “wet reckless” convictions in the previous 10 years

DUI Causing Injury or Death

There are one of three different felony DUI charges possible for those instances where someone else sufferings injury or died because the accused either drove while intoxicated or committed an additional violation of vehicle code or drove in an otherwise negligent fashion. The charges may be labeled “driving under the influence causing injury,” “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated,” or “DUI second-degree murder.” The latter of these charges may also be referred to as a Watson murder. The facts in the DUI case and the accused’s previous criminal record will be used to determine which charge is levied.

Priorable Offenses

A priorable offense is a repeat offense. In the case of priorable DUIs, stiffer penalties and longer sentences are given for each subsequent conviction. Prior offenses can include California DUIs, California “wet reckless” charges and any DUI convictions from other states. DUIs become felonious in California with three or more convictions within the prior 10 years. However, if the defendant has a prior felony DUI, then any subsequent DUIs are also felonies.

Penalties for Felony DUI

Felony DUI convictions are quite serious and can come with significant jail time, large fines, and the loss of driving privileges. In some instances, DUI offenders can continue driving after a first DUI felony offense if they agree to have ignition interlock devices installed on their cars. DUI offenders also have a criminal record that will follow them for years to come and may find it nearly impossible to get auto insurance.

Facing DUI Charges?

If you are facing DUI charges, you’re not alone. Okabe & Haushalter and our Los Angeles DUI defense attorneys can help you at this critical juncture in your life. We have a long history of standing up for our clients in criminal court, helping them minimize the negative fallout of serious charges, including felony DUI. Contact our team at 310-430-7799 now to set up a free consultation and case review.