Vehicle Code 23153 VC sets forth the crime of DUI causing injury. This is defined as (1) driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and (2) while doing so, causing an accident in which another person is injured.
A violation of this code section can lead to felony charges punishable by up to four years in state prison.
The language of Vehicle Code 23153 reads: “It is unlawful for a person, while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.”
- driving under the influence of alcohol and hitting a tree, which causes injury to a passenger.
- operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .10 and colliding with a pedestrian.
- having control of a car while under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol and causing injury to another motorist.
Parties accused of violating this statute can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they were not under the influence,
- there was no injury, and/or
- there was no illegal act or failure to perform a legal duty.
Depending on the facts of the case, a district attorney or prosecutor can charge violations of California Vehicle Code Section 23153 as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
While misdemeanor violations are punishable by up to one year in county jail, felony violations can result in a state prison term of up to four years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys and DUI attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1.How does California law define “DUI causing injury”?
- 2. Are there common defenses to Vehicle Code 23153 charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses
1. How does California law define “DUI causing injury”?
Per California law, prosecutors must prove the following elements, beyond a reasonable doubt, to successfully convict a person of DUI causing injury:
- the defendant drove a vehicle,
- when he/she drove a vehicle, the defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage/or a drug/or an alcoholic beverage and a drug,
- while driving a vehicle under the influence, the defendant also committed an illegal act/or neglected to perform a legal duty, and
- the defendant’s illegal act/or failure to perform a legal duty caused bodily injury to another person.1
Note that for purposes of this statute, “driving under the influence” can mean any of the following:
- driving under the influence per VC 23152a,
- driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher per VC 23152b, or
- driving under the influence of drugs per VC 23152f.2
Further, a person is considered under the influence if, as a result of drinking alcohol and/or taking a drug, his/her physical abilities are so impaired that he/she is no longer able to drive with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.3
Please keep in mind that many people have questions regarding the last two elements of this offense. Again, these elements are in regards to a defendant committing an illegal act and/or failing to perform a legal duty.
1.1. Illegal Act and failure to perform a duty
Guilt under VC 23153 requires a defendant to have either:
- violated some law or committed some illegal act (for example, like running a red light), or
- acted negligently or failed to use ordinary care under the circumstances.4
As to the later, using “ordinary care” means using reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to someone else. 5
Further, a person fails to exercise ordinary care if he/she:
- does something that a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation, or
- fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.6
Example: John leaves a bar after having a pitcher of beer and two shots of hard alcohol. He gets in his car and starts to drive home. John soon grows annoyed with a slow driver in front of him.
As the two cars approach an intersection, John hits the gas and tries to pass the driver in front by driving on the right shoulder of the road. The driver, though, crashes into the side of John’s car as he attempts to make a legal right-hand turn. The motorist is injured in the accident.
Here, John is likely guilty of DUI with injury. He drove a vehicle while under the influence and he also drove without exercising reasonable care under the circumstances. As to the latter, a reasonable careful driver would not attempt to pass a car by traveling at excessive at an intersection.
2. Are there common defenses to Vehicle Code 23153 charges?
Yes. California DUI defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest DUI charges, including charges of DUI causing injury. Three of the most common defenses include DUI lawyers showing that the defendant:
- was not under the influence.
- did not injure a person.
- did not act negligently or commit an illegal act.
2.1. Not under the influence
Drivers are only guilty under VC 23153 if they injured a person when operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. A defense, then, is for a defendant to show that he/she was not intoxicated or impaired in any manner. Keep in mind though that this offense could be limited if a driver failed a breath test or a chemical test.
2.2. No injury
Recall that prosecutors can only convict defendants under this statute if they drove while under the influence and injured another party. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that no one was injured in his/her DUI case. Note, though, that even if no injury, a driver could still be guilty of certain DUI offenses.
2.3. No illegal act
Also recall that defendants are not guilty of DUI with injury unless they act negligently or commit some illegal act. Therefore, people can contest a VC 23153 charge with a showing that they did not violate a legal duty.
As Los Angeles DUI defense attorney John Murray explains,
“This is why Vehicle Code 23153 charges are frequently reduced to Vehicle Code 23152 VC charges. It is often difficult for the prosecution to prove that it was your negligence that caused the other person’s injury, rather than the alleged fact that you were simply under the influence.”
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of Vehicle Code 23153 is a wobbler offense, meaning that a prosecutor can file DUI with injury charges as either misdemeanors or felonies.
The potential penalties for misdemeanor DUI with injury include:
- informal (“summary”) probation for three to five years,
- custody in county jail for up to one year,
- a maximum fine of $5,000,
- completion of California DUI school,
- a DMV driver’s license suspension for up to three years, and
- restitution to any/all injured parties.7
The potential penalties for felony DUI with injury include:
- custody in state prison for up to four years,
- a “strike” on your record pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law if anyone other than yourself suffers great bodily injury,
- a maximum fine of $5,000,
- completion of a court-approved DUI school,
- Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for three years, and
- a five-year revocation of the defendnt’s driver’s license.8
4. Are there related offenses
There are three crimes related to DUI causing injury. These include:
- vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – PC 191.5,
- felony hit and run involving injury or death – VC 20001, and
- child endangerment – PC 273a.
4.1. Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – PC 191.5
Under Penal Code 191.5, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the crime where motorists:
- cause an accident in which another person is killed, and
- do so while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and driving with gross negligence.
Unlike with violations of VC 23153, violations of this statute are always charged as felonies, with potential penalties including a ten-year prison term.
4.2. Felony hit and run involving injury or death – VC 20001
Under Vehicle Code 20001, felony hit and run involving injury or death is the crime where people flee the scene of a car accident in which another person has been injured or killed.
Note that unlike DUI causing injury charges, people can get charged with this offense even if they were not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
4.3. Child endangerment – PC 273a
Per Penal Code 273a, child endangerment is the offense where people willfully expose a child under the age of 18 to unjustifiable pain, suffering, or danger.
As with the crime of DUI with injury, a prosecutor can charge child endangerment as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the case.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our defense lawyers also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, Ventura, San Diego, Glendale, Riverside, San Bernardino, Newport Beach, Pasadena, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, Torrance, and Orange County.
- CALCRIM No. 2100 – Driving a Vehicle Under the Influence Causing Injury, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition). See also People v. Minor (1994) 28Cal.App.4th 431.
- California Vehicle Code 23153 VC.
- CALCRIM No. 2100. See also People v. Schoonover (1970) 5 Cal.App.3d 101; People v. Roder (1983) 33 Cal.3d 491; People v. Wood (1989) 207Cal.App.3d Supp. 11; and, People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.
- CALCRIM No. 2100.
- See, for example, People v. Rodriguez (1960) 186 Cal.App.2d 433; and, People v. Oyaas (1985) 173 Cal.App.3d 663.
- See same. See also People v. Minor (1994) 28Cal.App.4th 431; and, People v. Ellis (1999) 69Cal.App.4th 1334.
- See, for example, California Vehicle Code 23556 VC.
- See same.