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When does drunk driving become a felony in California?

On Behalf of | Dec 29, 2023 | DUI |

Driving under the influence is a serious offense in California, but not all DUI cases receive the same treatment. While most DUIs are misdemeanors, there are circumstances that elevate the offense to a felony.

Knowing when drunk driving becomes a felony in California is important for anyone navigating the legal implications of DUI charges. This distinction impacts the severity of consequences and underscores the importance of understanding the factors that lead to felony DUI charges.

Multiple DUI offenses

A common scenario that can elevate a DUI to a felony in California is the presence of multiple DUI offenses. When a person has three or more prior DUIs within a ten-year period, a subsequent DUI arrest may become a felony. The state recognizes the increased danger posed by repeat offenders and imposes more severe consequences to deter repeated instances of drunk driving.

Injury or death resulting from DUI

Another circumstance that escalates a DUI to a felony in California is when the intoxicated driver causes injury or death to another. If a DUI-related accident results in bodily harm or fatalities, the DUI offense becomes a felony. This recognition of the consequences of impaired driving leading to harm or loss of life emphasizes the gravity of the offense. It also warrants harsher legal consequences.

Prior felony DUI convictions

Having a prior felony DUI conviction also elevates the consequences of subsequent DUI arrests. Those with a history of felony DUI convictions face more severe penalties. Some of these penalties might include longer periods of imprisonment and stricter fines. The presence of prior felony DUI convictions indicates a pattern of dangerous behavior. As a result, it triggers heightened consequences to deter further offenses.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that there were 4,920 felony DUI arrests in the state in 2019. Recognizing the circumstances that lead to felony DUI charges underscores the importance of responsible and sober driving practices. It also helps drivers avoid the serious legal implications associated with drunk driving in California.