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When does a DUI become a felony in California?

Early in December, California highway patrol officers arrived at the scene of a car-pedestrian collision in Madera, CA. The victim, a 17-year old high school student, was waiting at his bus stop when a speeding minivan appeared to hydroplane- crossing both lanes of traffic before striking the victim who landed over 100 feet away in a nearby orchard. The victim’s family happened to be on scene and could provide immediate assistance. Thankfully the victim survived the crash, although not unscathed. He suffered injuries to his abdomen as well as a broken femur.

After an on-scene investigation, the driver of the vehicle was found to be under the influence of alcohol and without a valid driver’s license. The driver was arrested and charged with a felony DUI.

This begs the question, what qualifies as a felony DUI in California?

3 situations where a DUI could be a felony in California

  • Injury or death| If an intoxicated driver injures or kills a third-party.
  • History of DUIs| If the intoxicated driver has had three or more DUI convictions within the past ten years.
  • Prior felony DUI| If the intoxicated driver commits even a simple DUI but has a prior felony DUI, the charge becomes a felony.

The difference in penalties between a misdemeanor and a felony are significant.

Felony DUI penalties

If a DUI led to third-party injury and is charged as a felony, prison time could range anywhere from one to four years. In addition to prison time, fines are assessed based on circumstances and can be significant.

A felony conviction can be life-altering. It is highly recommended that anyone facing such a charge reach out to a criminal defense attorney immediately to begin developing an effective defense strategy.

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