When is DUI a felony? It’s a very common question. In California, a DUI can be a felony in multiple different situations. A person can be charged with a felony DUI if he/she has multiple prior DUIs or if they have a prior felony DUI. A person can be charged with a felony DUI if/she injured a person as a result of being DUI. If someone is killed, a person can be charged with manslaughter, or even murder, which of course are felony charges. In addition, various other felony charges can be filed in conjunction with a DUI, even a misdemeanor DUI, such as felony child endangerment or felony hit and run.
A FOURTH DUI CAN RESULT IN FELONY DUI CHARGES
In California, the most common avenue for a person to be charged with felony DUI is because they are a habitual and repeat offender. If a person has a three (3) prior DUIs (or wet reckless) within ten (10) years of the fourth offense date, then that person will likely be charged with a felony DUI regardless of whether there was an accident or injury.
Similarly, a person can be charged with a felony DUI if they have a prior felony DUI within ten (10) years of the offense.
If there are no injuries or other aggravating charges and enhancements, such as hit and run, a person convicted of felony DUI with qualifying priors may be sentenced up to three years in State prison.
A FELONY DUI CAN BE CHARGED IF THE DUI DRIVER CAUSES INJURY
California Vehicle Code section 23153 permits the prosecutor to charge a felony as well. A charge under Vehicle Code section 23153 is a DUI where the drunk driver causes an injury to person other than him or herself – DUI with injury. The injured party
can be a passenger in the DUI vehicle or an innocent person in another vehicle or a pedestrian. Even the slightest of injuries can trigger DUI with injury charges. A DUI with injury charge can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The general rule is that the more serious the injury, then the greater likelihood a person will be charged with a felony. Some other factors such as prior DUIs may also affect the decision as to whether the DUI with injury is a felony or misdemeanor. If there is serious injury, such as broken bones, you may also face an enhancement called “great bodily injury.” The great bodily injury enhancement is also “strike” under California’s three strikes law.
A felony DUI with injury, by itself, has a maximum term of three (3) years in prison. A great bodily injury enhancement can lead to an additional 3-5 years in prison depending on the severity of injury. If there are also several persons that are injured, an additional enhancement may apply.
It should be noted that with a DUI injury charge, the DUI driver must cause the injury. For example, if you are DUI and stopped at stoplight on a red light as you should be, and a vehicle hits you from behind and the driver of that vehicle is injured. If that injured person is at fault, then you will be charged with a misdemeanor DUI, not a felony DUI with injury.