Vehicle Code § 23550 VC is the California statute that defines the crime of fourth-time DUI. People commit this offense if they receive a fourth DUI within 10 years of three or more prior DUI convictions. A violation of this law can lead to a felony charge punishable by up to 3 years in state prison.
The language of Vehicle Code 23550 states:
“If a person is convicted of [driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs]…within 10 years of three or more separate [DUI offenses]…that person shall be punished by imprisonment [in prison]…or in a county jail…”
DUI lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. A few of these include showing that:
- a DUI conviction was not within 10 years of a prior DUI,
- police stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause, and/or
- the accused acted under necessity.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by custody in county jail for up to 1 year.
If charged as a felony offense, the crime is punishable by up to 3 years in state prison.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. How does 23550 VC define 4th-time DUI?
- 2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related laws?
1. How does 23550 VC define 4th-time DUI?
Under Vehicle Code 23550 VC, people are guilty of a fourth-time DUI if they:
- get convicted of drunk driving,
- have three or more prior DUI convictions, and
- the fourth conviction is within 10 years of the three separate violations.1
Note that the three prior DUI convictions that can trigger a fourth-time DUI offense can actually be convictions for:
- driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, per Vehicle Code 23152,
- wet reckless, per Vehicle Code 23103.5, or
- DUI causing injury, per Vehicle Code 23153.2
2. Can an accused raise a legal defense?
People charged under 23550 VC can challenge the accusation with a legal defense/disclaimer. Three common defenses include accused people showing that they:
- did not have three prior DUIs within 10 years of a fourth conviction.
- were stopped or arrested without probable cause.
- acted out of necessity.
2.1 No priors within 10 years
People can only be convicted under this statute if they had three prior DUI convictions within 10 years of a fourth conviction. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to show that his prior convictions occurred more than 10 years ago.
2.2 No probable cause
This is a popular defense that gets raised in DUI cases. It is unlawful for law enforcement to stop or arrest a person without probable cause that they committed some illegal act. A defense, then, is for defendants to show that the police stopped them without probable cause.
Under a necessity defense, a defendant tries to avoid guilt by showing that he/she had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. In the context of a fourth DUI, an accused could attempt to show that he had no other choice than to drive while intoxicated. Perhaps, for example, the accused had to drive someone to the hospital.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of VC 23550 is a wobbler. A prosecutor can charge a wobbler as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
If a fourth-time DUI gets charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for at least 180 days and up to one year, and/or
- a fine in an amount of $390 to $1,000.3
If a driver receives a felony conviction, the crime is punishable by:
- a state prison term of up to 3 years, and/or
- a fine in an amount of $390 to $1,000.4
No matter if the crime gets charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, a conviction will result in the revocation of a person’s driver’s license and driving privileges for four years.
Further, a fourth-time DUI will result in the defendant being designated as a habitual traffic offender, per Vehicle Code 14601.3, for three years.5
Note that if a person receives probation for this offense, a judge can order that the defendant install an ignition interlock device as a probation condition.
4. Are there related laws?
There are three laws related to VC 23550. These are:
- DUI – VC 23152a,
- vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c, and
- enhanced DUI penalties for excessive BAC or test refusal – VC 23578.
4.1 DUI – VC 23152a
Per Vehicle Code 23152a, DUI is the offense where people operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Motorists who display signs and symptoms of intoxication can be charged with this DUI section even if there is no evidence that their blood alcohol concentration measures above the legal limit of .08%.
Unlike with a fourth time DUI, a first-time DUI under this statute is not a wobbler. The crime is normally charged as a misdemeanor offense.
4.2 Vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c
Under Penal Code 192c, vehicular manslaughter is the crime where people drive in a negligent or unlawful manner and thereby cause the death of another person.
If a person is driving while intoxicated (for the fourth time in 10 years) and kills someone while doing so, a prosecutor can charge the driver with both:
- vehicular manslaughter, and
- fourth time DUI.
4.3 Enhanced DUI penalties for excessive BAC or test refusal – VC 23578
A high BAC is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher.
A “test refusal” is when a defendant refuses either:
- a breath test, or
- a urine test.
A court is not limited in imposing this enhancement for someone’s first DUI conviction. The enhancement can get applied to a first, second, third, and even fourth DUI offense.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a California DUI attorney, 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.
- California Vehicle Code 23550 VC. See also Burris v. Superior Court (2005), 34 Cal.4th 1012.
- California Vehicle Code 23550 VC.
- See same.
- See same. See also Penal Code 1170h PC.
- California Vehicle Code 23550b VC.