DUI arrests don't always lead to convictions in court. Police officer mistakes, faulty breathalyzers and crime lab errors may get your charges reduced or dismissed. Visit our California DUI page to learn more.
Felony Speeding California – When is going too fast a crime?
Without more,speeding is a citable infraction in California, not a crime. However, excessive speed can contribute to reckless driving or street racing charges. In these cases, it is only a felony if someone else gets seriously hurt. Otherwise, it is a misdemeanor. Speeding and driving recklessly while under the influence can also enhance the penalties of the DUI.
Can speeding be a felony offense in California?
Alone, speeding cannot be a felony offense in the state of California. It can only lead to felony charges if the incident led to someone else sufferingserious injuries and the driver is also charged with either:
If there are no serious injuries and the driver is charged with one of these traffic violations, the charges will be misdemeanors.
It can also amount to a misdemeanor offense if the person ticketed fails to appear. Under California Vehicle Code 40508a VC, failing to show up at a court appearance for a traffic ticket is a misdemeanor criminal offense. This is the case even if the ticket is for a mere infraction of a driving law, like speeding.
Speeding can also increase the penalties of a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). The additional penalties, though, come in the form of a mandatory minimum jail sentence. It does not elevate the crime classification to a felony offense.
A conviction for a California speeding ticket can also lead to suspended driving privileges or to traffic school.
What is reckless driving?
Reckless driving is the operation of a motor vehicle with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other people or property.1 If excessive speed was a factor and someone else suffered a serious injury, it can be a felony.
To secure a conviction for reckless driving in California, prosecutors have to show that the driver drove:
on a public roadway or an off-street parking lot, and
with a wanton disregard for property or the safety of others.2
In California, a person acts with a “wanton disregard for the safety of others” when he or she:
is aware that their actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to other people or property, and
intentionally ignores that risk of harm.3
Speeding is a factor in determining whether someone drove recklessly. However, it is not the only factor. It has to be taken into account with all of the surrounding circumstances.4 Driving well over the speed limit on an empty road is less likely to be reckless driving than speeding in heavy traffic.
If excessive speed does contribute to a conviction for reckless driving, it will usually be a misdemeanor. The penalties are generally between:
5 and 90 days in county jail, and/or
$145 and $1,000 in fines.5
The conviction will also add 2 points to the person’s driver’s license.
If the incident led to someone else suffering a non-serious injury, the offense is still a misdemeanor. However, the penalties increase to between:
30 days and 1 year in jail, and/or
$220 and $1,000 in fines.6
However, if the driver’s excessive speeding amounted to reckless driving and someone else was seriously hurt as a result, the offense becomes a wobbler. Prosecutors have the discretion to pursue the charges as either a misdemeanor or as a felony. If pursued as a felony, the penalties of a conviction can be up to:
3 years in state prison, and/or
$10,000 in fines.7
The vehicle may also get impounded by police officers.
What is street racing?
Street racing, also known as engaging in a speed contest, is the crime of:
driving a motor vehicle on a public roadway, and
willfully racing against another vehicle, clock, or other timing device.8
Generally, street racing is a misdemeanor. Convictions for a first offense are punishable with between:
90 days and 6 months of a license suspension,
1 and 90 days in county jail, and/or
$355 and $1,000 in fines.9
A second offense for street racing comes with higher penalties. All convictions for street racing lead to vehicle impoundment.10
If the street racing caused a non-serious injury to someone other than the driver, the offense is still a misdemeanor, but the penalties increase to between:
30 days and 6 months of county jail time, and/or
$500 and $1,000 in fines.11
However, if the injuries are serious, the offense becomes a wobbler. If prosecutors elect to file felony charges for street racing, the potential penalties of a conviction are:
16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison, and/or
up to $10,000 in fines.12
What is a “serious injury”?
Speeding only leads to a felony offense if the incident caused someone other than the driver to suffer a “serious injury.” For the purposes of reckless driving and street racing, California law defines a “serious injury” as a serious impairment of physical condition.13 This includes, but is not limited to:
loss of consciousness,
a bone fracture,
the protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ,
a wound that requires extensive suturing, and
How can speeding enhance the penalties for a DUI?
Speeding can also increase the penalties of certain DUI charges in California. California Vehicle Code 23582 VCadds a minimum of 60 days in jail and mandatory DUI school whenever all 3 of the following conditions apply:
during the DUI offense, the driver drove 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit on a freeway, or 20 miles per hour over the speed limit on any other road, and
the driver drove recklessly.
These mandatory penalties do not change the classification of the underlying DUI, though. If the DUI offense was a misdemeanor, the speeding violation will not elevate to a felony simply because of this sentencing enhancement.
What are the potential consequences of a speeding ticket?
Even if it does not amount to a felony, there are still serious consequences for getting a speeding ticket in California.
a fine of between $35 and over $500, plus court costs and additional assessments,
1 point added to the person’s driving record by the California DMV,
a finding that the driver was behaving negligent per se and is therefore liable for any crash that resulted, and
an increase in the driver’s auto insurance premiums and other insurance rates.
Some of these penalties are often overlooked by drivers who get ticketed for speeding. They may think that, because it is a traffic infraction, it is not a big deal. Not defending against the ticket can be surprisingly costly. This makes it important to seek out the legal advice of a criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm.
California Vehicle Code section 23103 VC.
California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) No. 2200.
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.