A California felony DUI may be charged against you when:
- the DUI causes injury or death,
- you have a prior felony DUI, OR
- you have at least three prior DUI convictions.
Having multiple prior DUI convictions is the most common way for an otherwise "simple" misdemeanor DUI to turn into a felony and it is this topic that our California DUI attorneys will review in this article.
If after reading the following information, you have additional questions or would like to speak with an about your case, we invite you to contact us at one of our conveniently located local DUI law offices.
California Felony DUI -- Multiple Prior Convictions
California DUIs are "priorable" offenses. This means that each time you are convicted of another DUI or California "wet" reckless, your county jail or California State Prison sentence increases.
If you are arrested for drunk driving in California and have three or more prior DUI convictions within the last ten years, you will most likely face a felony DUI charge under California Vehicle Code section 23152 VC. For purposes of determining whether you meet this criteria, "prior convictions" include any combination of the following:
- Vehicle Code 23152a VC (driving under the influence),
- Vehicle Code 23152b VC (driving with excessive BAC
- Vehicle Code 23153 (DUI with injury) which includes negligent and gross vehicular manslaughter under California Penal Code 191.5
- Vehicle Code 23103.5 (a California "wet reckless"),
- Out-of-state convictions that, if committed in California, would be a violation of one of the aforementioned laws
- Previously expunged convictions for any of the above offenses.
How Does the Prosecutor Prove That I Have Multiple Prior DUI Convictions?
In order to prove you guilty of Felony DUI under this category, the District Attorney must establish that:
- You drove,
- While you were under the influence, and/or with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or greater, and
- You suffered at least 3 prior convictions under the vehicle code sections listed above within the last ten years.
*This ten-year period is frequently called a "lookback" or "washout" period and encompasses the offense dates (as opposed to conviction dates).
Example: Bill was convicted of drunk driving in Barstow in April 2009. He suffered (1) a California DUI conviction in March 2007, (2) a California "wet reckless" in December 2002, and (3) a Colorado DUI for having a BAC above a 0.08% in July 2000. As long as the San Bernardino District Attorney could acquire all of the records to support those prior convictions, the D.A. could charge Bill with felony DUI. But,
If Bill's Colorado DUI was instead a Colorado DWAI (driving while ability impaired), Bill's San Bernardino DUI defense lawyer would argue that Bill should only be sentenced as a misdemeanor third-timer. This is because a DWAI requires less "impairment" than is necessary to sustain a California DUI conviction, and therefore shouldn't qualify as a "prior" for California sentencing purposes.
In order to prove that you actually have prior DUI convictions, the prosecutor will use (1) court records, (2) your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records, and (3) any certificate of completions from court-ordered alcohol or drug programs. California records will be used to prove prior California DUI or wet-reckless convictions, and out-of-state DMV and court records will be used to prove any out-of-state violations that would be considered DUI convictions in this state.
Defending Against a California Felony DUI with Priors
As is always the case, your California DUI defense attorney will first try to get your DUI charge reduced to a lesser (hopefully non-priorable) offense or dismissed outright. When that isn't possible, the veteran drunk driving lawyer will meticulously review each prior DUI or wet reckless conviction to see if it can be challenged based on any procedural or evidentiary errors.
Because California driving under the influence penalties and punishments increase with every subsequent conviction, having even one prior DUI "stricken" from your record will substantially reduce your sentence and may reclassify a fourth-time DUI from felony to misdemeanor.
Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing for a California Felony DUI with Multiple Prior Convictions
The penalties for driving under the influence in California can be harsh. But the penalties for a California felony DUI can be downright devastating. When a California felony DUI stems from having multiple prior DUI convictions, the punishment varies from case-to-case depending on (1) the facts of your specific case, (2) the level of your BAC and any additional aggravating factors, (3) how many prior DUI convictions you have, and (4) when you suffered those prior convictions. The sentencing guidelines are as follows:
- Sixteen months or two or four years in prison,
- Between $390-$1,000 in fines,
- Habitual Traffic Offender status for three years, and
- A four-year revocation of your California driving privilege
California felony DUIs that are based on multiple convictions are zealously prosecuted and require an aggressive defense. If you or a loved one has been charged with felony drunk driving, we invite you to contact us to confidentially discuss the case at one of our local DUI law offices.
Call us for help
If you or a loved one is charged with felony DUI based on prior convictions 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 felony DUI law based on multiple convictions, go to our page on Nevada felony DUI law based on multiple convictions.