The vast majority of DUI charges in the state of California are categorized as misdemeanors. Though uncommon, there are some situations in which a drunk charge can be raised to the felony level. A felony DUI case is quite complex compared to the misdemeanor variety. In most situations, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the state of California will be considered a misdemeanor. 

DUI Basics

DUI is an acronym that stands for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. If you are accused of a fourth DUI in a period of 10 years, if you are accused of DUI and have a prior felony DUI conviction or if your DUI allegedly caused death or injury, you will likely face a felony DUI. This is quite the serious charge, especially when compared to a misdemeanor DUI charge. You need an experienced DUI attorney on your side to emerge from this legal challenge with your freedom intact. 

If there are not any aggravating factors, the charge will likely be a misdemeanor simple DUI. However, the state of California changes the classification of the offense after three DUI cases within the past 10 years. If you have three prior DUIs, the Golden State will charge the next as a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor. This elevated charge holds true even if your fourth DUI does not harm anyone or cause property damage. This fourth DUI charge can be quite simple in nature and still be classified as a felony due to the fact that you have a history of DUIs. 

California drunk driving charges can also be classified as a felony if you have three “wet reckless” convictions across the past decade. This conviction is for reckless driving involving alcohol. However, it is not exactly the same as DUI in the context of the law. If the prosecutor decides your DUI history or wet reckless history across the past decade should not spur a felony conviction, he or she could decide to lower the charge to the misdemeanor level. The same is true for those who have a DUI that caused injury or death to another driver or pedestrian. Though it is unlikely the prosecutor will decide to lower the charge to the misdemeanor level, it is possible.

Potential Penalties for Those Found Guilty of a Felony DUI

The penalties tied to a felony DUI conviction are extremely severe compared to those of a misdemeanor DUI conviction. Misdemeanor DUIs are punishable by upwards of a full year in jail. Felony DUIs are punishable by at least 18 months in prison. Some particularly egregious felony offenses have the potential to result in a penalty of several years in a state correctional facility or life in prison. Though a felony DUI offense in California is unlikely to result in being sent to death row, drivers will face between 4-10 years in a California prison for a DUI that resulted in vehicular manslaughter.

If you are convicted of a fourth DUI, you might be sent to prison for upwards of three years. Even a DUI that results in an injury has the potential to cause a 4-year prison stay. However, the court will give some consideration to the level of alcohol in the driver’s system. If the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.15% or higher or if there are additional aggravating circumstances such as driving at a high speed, fleeing a police officer, having a passenger age 14 or under in the car or being on probation at the time of the incident, the penalties have the potential to ruin your life.

Penalties for the egregious transgressions detailed above include between 16 months and four years in state prison, a fine between a $1,000 and $5,000, 5 years of probation, mandated participation in a DUI program lasting a year and a half, classification as a habitual traffic offender for three years and the loss of a California driver’s license for the next 4-10 years. Additional potential penalties include mandated participation in an in-patient or out-patient rehabilitation program for alcohol use and required participation in a MADD (mothers against drunk driving) victim impact panel.

A Felony DUI for Those with a Prior Felony DUI

If you have a felony DUI and commit any type of DUI, even if it is of the simple misdemeanor variety without aggravated circumstances, the prosecutor will charge you with a felony. Such a situation typically unfolds if you have a DUI conviction and the previous DUI conviction resulted in death or injury and was classified as a felony or if it was charged as a felony because you had several DUI convictions. It does not matter if the existing DUI occurred following the passing of a full decade. The DUI will still be charged as a felony.

Felony DUI That Causes Death or Injury

If another driver, pedestrian or person endures an injury or perishes as a result of your operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you will be charged with a felony DUI. However, a felony DUI can only be charged if you drove in a negligent manner or committed another vehicle code violation. The state prosecutor will charge you with a felony DUI in one of the following ways: DUI vehicular manslaughter, DUI second-degree murder (also known as “Watson Murder”) or driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and causing injury as described in California’s Vehicle Code 23513 VC. The specific California DUI charge hinges on the nuanced facts of your unique case as well as your idiosyncratic criminal history.

Felony DUI Resulting from Several Convictions

Driving under the influence is referred to as a “priorable” offense in the state of California. Such offenses carry significant penalties and sentences each time the individual in question is convicted for the same offense or a similar offense. Those who have been convicted of three or more DUIs in the past decade and have another arrest for DUI will be charged with the felony version of this crime. In the context of drunk driving, prior offenses include a combination of a DUI in California, the fore mentioned wet reckless driving in California or an out-of-state conviction that would equate to a DUI if committed in the state of California.

Possible DUI Defenses

There is no reason to accept a punishment doled out by the court without putting up a legal fight. Lean on our savvy DUI attorney to fight your felony DUI and we will do everything in our power to reduce the penalty or even completely eliminate it. This is the legal representation you need to avoid hefty fines, a prison sentence and/or the loss of your driving privileges in the state of California for years to come. Our criminal defense attorney will collect evidence, review the police report and zealously advocate on your behalf to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case. Even the smallest of details such as an err committed by the police officer during the traffic stop has the potential to ruin the prosecutor’s case and restore your driving privileges.

Our legal team knows exactly how to craft a convincing legal strategy that persuades the prosecutor to offer a plea bargain. If a plea bargain is offered, it will drop the DUI charge from the felony level to the misdemeanor level. Though this route prevents the case from going to trial, reducing the charge classification decreases the chances of especially harsh consequences from a felony conviction. Let’s take a closer look some specific DUI defenses that have a chance to get you off the hook for the felony or at least reduce the charge.

Law Enforcement Err or “Bad Stop”

California police officers are required to have reasonable suspicion the individual in the vehicle has committed a crime. Otherwise, he or she cannot legally pull the driver over. In certain instances, police officers will observe the driver in question for an extended period of time to identify signs of intoxication. As an example, a driver who weaves across lanes might appear to be intoxicated. Even missing a taillight or driving with an expired tag can result in the police stopping the driver in question. Our legal team is here to analyze the police report, obtain testimony from witnesses, collect evidence and ultimately determine if the police officer had probable cause to pull you over for an alleged DUI. 

If the stop was unjustified, everything following the stop might be determined to be inadmissible in court. Evidence that allegedly proves your intoxication that is deemed inadmissible makes it awfully difficult to produce a conviction. After all, something as simple as fiddling with the vehicle’s navigation system or changing the radio station can create the impression of drunk driving when you were actually sober or merely slightly buzzed.

Flawed Field Sobriety Tests

If a police officer identifies supposed indications of intoxication, a field sobriety test might be requested and subsequently administered. This test is designed to gauge an individual’s balance, ability to adhere to instructions and concentrate. Field sobriety tests range from moving one’s eyes in unison with the police officer’s flashlight to signing a piece of paper, reciting the alphabet backwards, counting and beyond. Whether the supposedly drunk driver passes or fails such tests is completely subjective. 

As an example, one sobriety test requires the driver to step forward heel-to-toe for several steps, turn around and walk back the other way. A sober driver with bad balance or a lower body injury will struggle to pass such a test. All sorts of other factors can spur the failure of such tests. Plenty of sober or minimally buzzed people have failed supposedly legitimate sobriety tests. Even the inability to speak fluent English or understand English will impact one’s ability to pass a sobriety test. Our legal team is here to review the nuances of the stop, sobriety test and other factors to determine if the police officer properly administered the test, interpreted the results and followed every single step in accordance with the law.

Supposedly Objective Indications of Intoxication

Prosecutors and police officers are fond of arguing bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, a reddened face or weaving while driving are objective indications of driver intoxication. However, there are plenty of conditions and situations that can cause such alleged signs of impairment. Consider the fact that most people take some form of medication that can lead to red eyes, drowsiness or another symptom listed above. Even a long day at work, allergies, eye irritation or exposure to dust can cause red eyes or slurred speech.

A Flawed Breathalyzer or Blood Test

Once the initial alcohol screening test is administered, the police officer will bring the driver to the police station to administer a second breathalyzer. It is possible to successfully challenge the reading of such a breathalyzer test. Some such machines do not work as designed. Furthermore, breathalyzer tests are not always calibrated at the proper frequencies. If the machine’s maintenance records show infrequent calibration or any other flaws, we will raise the defense of a faulty breathalyzer test. Even a slight err in the administration of the breathalyzer test can eliminate the felony DUI charge.

In some cases, the prosecution will build its case on the results of a blood test. Our criminal defense attorney will review this test and challenge its administration. We will determine if the blood test has the proper chain of custody. Furthermore, we will determine if the blood test was positioned in an area in which it was altered or tampered with. 

GERD Defense

GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. When a breathalyzer test is administered, there is an assumption the alcohol level in the individual’s mouth is equal to the alcohol in the body at that point in time. The truth is GERD, acid reflux or heartburn have the potential to cause mouth alcohol. This means the individual’s BAC reading taken from the mouth will be higher than that from the stomach. Those with medical conditions that lead to a high alcohol content in the mouth should not be punished for an alleged DUI when they did nothing wrong.

Contact a Felony DUI Attorney Near You

If you are accused of felony DUI, you likely feel as though your world is crumbling. The Law Offices of Jonathan Franklin is here to craft a compelling legal defense, eliminate or reduce the charge and help you get your life back in order. We will fiercely advocate on your behalf at all court hearings and criminal proceedings for a just result. Call our Los Angeles DUI Attorney at 310-273-9600 to schedule an initial consultation.