California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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You will likely face more severe DUI penalties if you drive drunk and contribute to a car accident (as opposed to if you drive while intoxicated and avoid a collision).
DUI penalties will also likely grow more severe if you help cause a DUI accident and the accident results in someone getting injured or killed. In general, your penalties will grow harsher as the injuries in your case become more serious.
Note that the DUI laws of most states say that a first-time DUI case or a first offense of DUI with no injuries is punishable by such things as:
If you drive drunk and help cause an accident that does not cause any type of injury, you will likely face an otherwise normal DUI charge.
With these types of DUI accident cases, you will usually face the same drunk driving penalties as if no accident took place. However, the prosecutor would likely recommend to the judge that he/she impose a sentence with penalties near the maximum penalties allowed under the law.
Example: Joe gets in a drunk driving accident in Miami, FL while driving his motor vehicle while intoxicated. The accident, though, is only a fender bender where no one gets injured.
Under Florida law, Florida Statutes 316.193 (2022), a few possible penalties for DUI include jail time for up to six months, a fine between $500 to $1,000, and installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to six months.
Here, a prosecutor would likely file criminal charges against Joe of regular DUI. But the prosecutor would also recommend that Joe receive a sentence near the high end of the penalties authorized under Florida law.
This request could include jail time close to six months (as opposed to just a few days), a fine of $1,000 (as opposed to $500), installation of an IID for a full six months, and probation for four years.
In this scenario, a prosecutor will likely charge you with the crime of “DUI causing injury.” Most jurisdictions treat this DUI offense as a more serious crime than a regular DUI/DWI.
Prosecutors generally have to prove the following to secure a DUI conviction in these cases:
With these types of DUI charges, the minor injury is considered an aggravating factor and the impaired driver/drunk driver can get exposed to certain sentencing enhancements.
For example, many jurisdictions consider a DUI causing minor injury a wobbler offense, meaning it can lead to either:
Some potential penalties include:
Note that the definition of “minor injury” will likely depend on the:
Typically, though, a minor injury may include something like whiplash, a laceration, or bruising.
Here, a prosecutor can charge you with a more serious DUI crime of “DUI with serious injury.”4
Note, though, that while some states have a specific statute addressing DUI with serious injury, some states may charge a DUI arrestee with a more serious crime under another statute.
For example, depending on the state you are arrested in, you could face charges of:
No matter the statute under which you are charged, you will likely face more severe criminal penalties than with the other forms of DUI as discussed above.
For example, you could face such serious consequences as:
This is perhaps the most serious DUI crime that you can commit, and most states charge it as:
In general, you commit vehicular homicide if you:
Penalties for this crime can include:
If you drove while intoxicated and were involved in an accident, you typically cannot be charged with DUI involving an accident or injury unless you helped cause the accident.
In other words, prosecutors in these cases have to prove that you:
If you were not responsible for the accident, you likely will only face a DUI charge without any type of aggravating circumstances.
Not causing an accident is one type of DUI defense that you can raise in these cases. You should consult with a DUI lawyer, criminal defense attorney, or law firm to learn of others.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.