When is DUI a Felony in California?


The 3 Instances Where DUI in California Can be a Felony:

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California is typically a misdemeanor offense.  As long as there were no "aggravating factors", you will likely be charged with misdemeanor "simple DUI" when facing your first, second, or third time DUI case.

There are situations, however, when an otherwise "simple" California DUI will be charged as a felony DUI offense.  A California drunk driving charge may result in a felony filing if:

1. Your DUI caused injury or death to another
2. You have 3 or more prior DUI or "wet reckless" convictions within a ten-year period
3. You have at least one prior felony DUI conviction
∗It should be noted that numbers (1) and (2) above could potentially be charged as misdemeanor offenses at the discretion of the prosecutor.  Because this is unlikely and rarely the case, this article exclusively deals with DUI offenses as felonies.
1. California Felony DUI: Causing Injury or Death

When another person suffers injury or death because you (1) drove under the influence, and (2) either committed an additional vehicle code violation or drove in an otherwise negligent manner, California prosecutors can charge you with a felony DUI in one of three ways:

  1. Under California Vehicle Code 23513 VC - driving under the influence causing injury,
  2. Under Penal Code 191.5(a) - gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or Penal Code 191.5(b) - vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  3. With DUI second-degree murder (otherwise known as a "Watson Murder")

Which California felony DUI will be charged depends on the specific facts of your case and on your criminal history.

2. California Felony DUI: Multiple Convictions

In California, driving under the influence is what's known as a "priorable" offense.  Priorable offenses have stiffer penalties and sentences every time you are convicted for another same or similar offense.

If you have suffered three or more prior DUI convictions within the last ten years, and suffer another DUI arrest, you will likely now be charged with a felony DUI in California.  With respect to drunk driving, prior offenses include any combination of the following:

  1. A California DUI,
  2. A California "wet reckless", or
  3. An out-of-state conviction that -- if committed in California -- would be equivalent to a DUI.
3. California Felony DUI: Having a Prior Felony DUI

If you commit a DUI any DUI - even "simple" misdemeanor DUI with no aggravated circumstances - and you have at least one prior felony DUI, you will be charged with a felony.  This situation would likely arise if you suffer a DUI conviction and your prior DUI conviction (1) caused injury or death and was charged as a felony, or (2) was charged as a felony because you had multiple DUI convictions (even though your current DUI took place after the ten-year timeframe elapsed).

Fighting a Felony DUI Case

A California felony DUI conviction has severe penalties including a substantial California State Prison sentence, heavy fines, and the loss of your California driving privilege for several years. After a first-time conviction of felony DUI causing injury, it may be possible to continue driving as long as an ignition interlock device is installed in the car. (California Senate Bill 1046 (2018))

As Karthik Krishnan, a top Ventura DUI defense attorney, puts it, "A conviction for a California felony DUI is devastating. Beating a felony DUI charge requires an aggressive California DUI defense attorney -- and who therefore knows how to successfully employ the most effective defenses."

Call us for help...
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If you or a loved one is charged with felony DUI and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

For information about Nevada DUI law, go to our page on Nevada felony DUI law.

Additional Resources:

Court-Approved DUI Alcohol Programs --
A state-wide listing of court-approved DUI alcohol programs broken down by city.

California Department of Motor Vehicles --
Includes publications about driving offenses and penalties and offers full text to the California Vehicle Code.

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The attorneys at Shouse Law Group bring more than 100 years collective experience fighting for individuals. We're ready to fight for you. Call us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 855-LAW-FIRM for a free case evaluation.

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