Felony DUI prosecutions can easily take an ugly turn. If convicted, they have lasting consequences on your life, including lengthy prison time, hefty fines, and many more. Also, once branded a felon, you might find it harder to secure financing, own a firearm, or secure a good job.
If you or your loved one is charged with a felony DUI in Orange County, you need to hire the services of an experienced attorney to help you fight the charges. We at the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer have gained a reputation as the “go-to” DUI defense attorney law firm that is committed to serving residents of Orange County. We have decades of experience, a stellar record of successfully litigated cases, and thousands of “not-guilty” verdicts under our belts.
What is the Difference Between Standard DUI Versus Felony DUI?
Under Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC, California State’s DUI law, it is against the law to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage.
The Penal Code defines the term "Under the influence" as the impaired of your mental and physical abilities to the extent that you can no longer drive a motor vehicle like an alert, cautious sober person.
Under Vehicle Code 23152(a), first, second, and third DUI offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors. Successful convictions attract fines, suspension of driving licenses, probation, and joining a DUI School. However, if the defendant installs an IID (ignition interlock device) in their cars, they will be allowed to continue driving.
The interesting thing about Vehicle Code 23152(a) is that it makes a “subjective” definition for DUI. VC 23152(b), on the other hand, introduces a “per se” Driving under the Influence as driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content higher than or at 0.08%.
However, if you are driving under the influence of drugs or other substances, you will be charged under the Penal Code 23152(f). This law applies regardless of whether the drugs were legal(prescription drugs) or illegal.
Whether you take the test or not, the officer will arrest you if they suspect you were driving under the influence. DUIs may take two dimensions under standard DUI, which are an administrative hearing and a criminal case.
What is the Difference Between Administrative Hearing Versus Criminal Case?
The administrative hearing of the DMV case is concerned about your driving privileges and the circumstances that prompted your arrest. This isn’t about whether the driver is guilty or innocent. At this level, only limited issues are addressed.
The criminal case, on the other hand, involves you getting arraigned to court where your charges are read against you. You are required to enter “plea” (no consent guilty or not guilty), after which you proceed to preliminary (pre-trial hearing).
Generally, DUIs in Orange County are usually charged as misdemeanors. However, if you are arrested in Orange County for four or more times within a ten-year period, you may be charged for felony DUI. Again, prior DUIs are not only DUIs committed in Orange County, CA. The law recognizes other DUIs committed in other counties and States.
The charges also consider convictions for a "wet reckless" in Orange County. This information is readily shared by other states and will appear in your driving records. Also, note that even your prior DUIs still count even if they were expunged pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4 as long as the DUI conviction was within ten years of “dismissed conviction.”
While most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors, certain circumstances may aggravate the level of the charge to a felony. Some of the situations that would raise the level of DUI charge to a felony include:
Orange County has a 0.08% “per se” DUI rule. That means anyone that drives while at BAC level higher is deemed intoxicated or under the influence and thus violating the statute. This will attract a stiffer punishment for high BAC.
Cases Bodily Harm
Under California law, the prosecution will raise a DWI/DUI charge to a felony if the driver causes bodily harm to another person. According to California State law, when another person suffers injury or even death as a result of your DUI driving or committed an additional violation of another related vehicle code, you might be charged with a felony DUI under one of the three Codes:
- Penal Code 191.5(a): Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- Vehicle Code 23513 VC
- And "Watson Murder"
“Watson Murder” charges in Orange County can be pressed on you if you had prior convictions that have caused fatalities while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The prosecutors have the right to decide whether to prosecute a DUI resulting in bodily harm as a felony or a misdemeanor.
There are exceptions to that as well. If another driver runs into you while stopped at a sign and probably suffers injuries, then even if you were intoxicated, your DUI charge won’t be raised to felony DUI.
Prior DUI Convictions
If you have had prior DUI convictions with a certain period of time, you might be charged with a felony DUI in Orange County. According to California State law, DUI offenses are "priorable." By “priorable offenses,” it means you always suffer stiffer sentences and penalties if you commit a similar offense.
In this case, if you were convicted for three or four DUIs in the past, and within ten years you will be likely to be charged for a felony DUI if you commit a new DUI. Under the Penal Code, offenses that would constitute “priors” will include a combination of any of the following:
- A "wet reckless”
- A DUI
- An out-of-state DUI conviction that would be synonymous with a DUI committed in CA
A simple DUI would translate to a simple misdemeanor. However, a DUI with aggravated circumstances will be charged as a felony DUI.
Had Children in the Motor Vehicle
California state law outlaws driving with children in the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If arrested, you will be charged with a felony DUI.
DUI While Driving on a Suspended, Restricted, or Revoked License
If you were driving on a revoked, suspended, or restricted driving license, your DUI charges will be aggravated to a felony.
What Does the Court Require When Penalizing a Felony DUI
Prosecuting felony DUI is not as trickier as the standard DUIs. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC, standard DUIs are “subjective.” Whether you are DUI or not depends on the testimony of the investigation officer and how the prosecution can defend the charges. On the other hand, Penal Code 191.5(a) and Penal Code 192(c) are heavily pegged on ‘priors,’ a proof of injury, or death caused by DUI driving. There are factors that a jury might consider when penalizing felony DUI cases.
- Your criminal record
- The severity of the accident or injuries
- The circumstances around, cause, and age of prior DUI cases
- Nature and the cause of accidents
- The number of persons affected
- The defendant’s criminal background
How Prosecutors Prove a Felony DUI Case?
For you to be convicted of a DUI case, the prosecutor must prove the “elements of the crime” as follows:
- That you personally drove the motor vehicle
- That you were driving under the influence of alcohol
- You caused injury or death as a result of driving under the influence
There are many possible situations that would prove a DUI. What if you are involved in an accident, and the officer just came in late? What if the officer found the motor running but the car wasn’t moving? What if the accident wasn’t as a result of your intoxication?
These are some of the DUI scenarios that present themselves when it comes to the prosecution of DUI cases. The officer must have solid proof that you were the one driving the car when the injury or accident happened. If the officer saw you driving the car, that would constitute the first element of DUI under Vehicle Code 23152(a).
Under the Influence
According to California law, you are guilty of DUI under VC 23152 if the alcohol or drugs in your system have impaired your judgment. That means you can’t drive your vehicle in the same way as someone who is sober.
- How Can the Prosecutor Prove You Were Driving Under the Influence?
California’s Vehicle Code 23152(a) definition of DUI is “subjective." That means the arresting officer, prosecutor, and prosecutor’s “expert” witness will prove you were DUI based on what the officer observed. The case against you begins when the officer testifies about all your “misdeeds” to prove that you were impaired physically and mentally. The officer’s testimony must also include your physical appearance, and how you performed on the Field Sobriety Tests. If you failed to perform the field sobriety test as demonstrated or explained, the officer would testify that in your DUI case too.
- How Blood or Breath Test Results affect your Felony DUI Case
The two major sections, which are Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and 23152 (b) VC, of CA DUI laws are closely related. However, these sections are quite different.
You may be guilty of DUI as per VC 23152(a) if your BAC is less than 0.08%. Again, your BAC might be above or at 0.08%, yet you are technically not “under the influence” alcohol.
If you cause injury or death while under the influence, it is the work of the prosecutor to introduce evidence of your blood alcohol concentration to prove you were driving while intoxicated.
However, the “subjective” definition introduces a major point of contention that your defense attorneys can take advantage of. There’s the issue of “tolerance,” which is your personal sensitivity to alcohol. Tolerance plays a big role when it comes to determining at what point you are deemed to be intoxicated under VC 23152(a) and whether you can be charged with felony DUI under Penal Code 191.5(a).
What Are the Penalties For Felony DUI?
Under California law, DUI that results in death is sentenced differently. The penalties may lead to a “strike” on your record as well as life imprisonment.
Felony DUI under CA law is charged under Penal Code Sections 191.5 and 192 (C). Vehicle manslaughter charges are pressed when you kill another person due to driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. It is prosecuted under Penal Code section 191.5. The section has two subdivisions (a) and (b).
When you kill another person as a result of negligent driving or driving in a manner that is intended to procure a financial gain, you will be charged for felony DUI under Penal Code section 192(c).
Under the California Vehicle Code 23153 VC, a DUI with injury is treated as a “wobbler.” That means you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the following factors:
- Your criminal history
- Circumstances around your arrest
A successful conviction for a misdemeanor DUI attracts:
- Five days to a year in a county jail
- 3 – 5 years of summary probation
- A fine ranging from $390 - $5,000.
- Compensation for all injured parties
- 3, 18, or 30-month alcohol program
- Mandatory IID for six months. That way, you will be allowed to drive without any restrictions. Failure to that, your driving license will be suspended for one year.
A successful felony DUI conviction attracts 16 months to 10 years in State Prison. Then, depending on the number of people you injured and the extent of their injuries, you might be required to serve an extra 1 to 6 years in years in prison. The charge carries a potential enhancement of up to six additional years imprisonment under Penal Code 12022.7 if a surviving victim suffers great bodily injury. The following are additional penalties that you are likely to face:
- California State’s Three Strikes Law. A successful conviction could lead to a possible "strike" on your record
- Fines ranging from $1,015 to $5,000
- Attending 18 to 30 months of drug or alcohol rehab
- Designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) by the DMV
- Restitution/compensation to the people injured
- Mandatory IID installation for 2 -3 years so that you can continue to drive anywhere. Otherwise, your driving license will be suspended.
What is California’s “Three Strikes” Sentencing Law?
California law is tough on DUI crimes. It is especially strict on DUI cases resulting in death or injury of another person. The “Three Strikes” sentencing law imposes tougher penalties for anyone convicted of a new felony if they had been convicted of one or more serious felonies before. Such felonies are known as “strike” priors.
What Are the Effects of the “Strike” When it Comes to Sentencing?
Under California law, if you have one prior “strike” and are convicted of a new felony DUI, your sentencing attracts twice the sentence for a DUI with injury offense. However, if you have two or more prior “strikes,” and are convicted of a new felony DUI with an injury, you will be handed down a prison sentence with a minimum of 25 years. The sentence doesn’t allow any time off for posting good behavior. Again, there is no possibility of parole before you have served the minimum years (25).
Are There Other Alternative Sentencing Options?
Overcrowding is a real challenge in California’s county jails and state prison. As a result, authorities are always looking for other ways to reduce the influx of inmates that hit the facilities every year.
"Alternative sentencing” options mean alternatives to incarceration in California State Prison or Orange County jails for a misdemeanor or felony crimes if you are in Orange County.
Some of the sentencing alternatives in Orange County are probation and home confinement/ electronic monitoring.
Probation allows you not to serve a jail term. You will be required to check-in with the court periodically. You will remain in liberty but be subject to supervision from probation officers for felonies and courts for misdemeanors. Probation lasts between 3-5 years. During that period, you will be expected to meet certain conditions, including paying fees, fines, complete counseling, and making a restitution payment.
Electronic Home Confinement
Some crimes require that you serve a jail term. For example, you might be required to serve a jail term for 30 days if you plead guilty to brandishing a firearm. If you are convicted of driving under the influence for the third time or more, you might be required to serve a jail term for some time, even if you are granted probation.
Under California law, the Orange County’s Electronic Home Confinement Program will allow you to serve the jail term handed to you at home. You will have to wear a GPS bracelet on your ankle to ensure you won’t leave your home.
How Can You Defend Yourself Against Felony DUI Charges?
A felony DUI charge is tricky and can result in rather ugly substantial penalties, including long prison sentences. Depending on the circumstances around the DUI and your criminal background, you can have your felony DUI charges mitigated or even fully defeated.
If you have prior DUIs, including “dismissed” DUIs, you need to hire the services of a highly experienced attorney that will help you fight the charges. Your attorney should be quick to look for an opportunity that will allow him or her to challenge:
- Chemical test results
- Prior DUI convictions and fight for “dismissal’ of some DUI convictions from your records to avoid a case of “multiple DUIs”
- The circumstances around the case
In other instances where it is difficult to avoid a felony conviction, you need an attorney that understands the legal and court systems to secure you a sentence that includes probation or any other rehabilitation. These would serve as an alternative to the usual prison or jail sentences.
Some of the defenses include:
- The breathalyzer equipment was faulty
- The law enforcement officer might not have conducted a proper (standardized field test)
- The blood alcohol content might have been false due to residual mouth alcohol
- The breath test used by the officer wasn’t properly calibrated
- The officer didn’t have a reasonable cause to make the arrest
What Are Some of the Aggravating Factors That Will Raise the Level of Your Charges to Felony DUI?
Generally, a standard DUI will lead to a simple misdemeanor charge. Other factors might prompt the officer to aggravate your DUI charges to another level, even if it is a first time DUI offense, second or third.
Some of the factors include:
- Your refusal to submit to an alcohol chemical test
- High blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% or even higher
- Causing an injury or accident
- Driving the motor vehicle at excessive speed
- Contravening the Penal Code 273a: child endangerment. That means DUI driving with a child under 14 years of age
- Committing a DUI offense while less than 21 years
Contact an Orange County DUI Attorney Near Me
If you are charged with a DUI resulting in death or bodily injuries in Orange County, you might end up being branded a felon for the rest of your life. A DUI felony conviction can have devastating effects on your career and life. It gets worse if you have prior “strikes.” However, hiring the services of an experienced and skilled DUI attorney can help you avoid such harsh consequences of a felony DUI.
We at the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer understand the seriousness that prosecutors use to get a conviction for your felony DUI charges. Therefore, our team of attorneys is dedicated to fighting for you to get a favorable outcome. Our approach is centered around reviewing the circumstances of your arrest, the legality of your DUI tests, and other legal issues that surround your case.
Get in touch with us today at 714-820-9592 to review your case!