Facing felony DUI charges as a result of a traffic stop can be much worse than a simple drinking under the influence charge. This is especially true if someone was injured during a crash or you’re a repeat offender. But you don’t need to fight these charges alone. Contact a knowledgeable Orange County felony DUI lawyer at The Law Offices of Scott Henry and trust that you will have your questions answered and your rights protected.

Our attorneys are proud of our 15 years of experience in this area of the law. Mr. Henry, our lead attorney, is an outgoing, personable lawyer who is well-respected by judges, district attorneys, police officers, expert witnesses, and other defense attorneys. Our attorneys work hard to secure the best possible outcome for their clients. Contact us today to schedule your complimentary initial consultation.

When is a DUI Charge a Felony?

Drunk-driving cases fall into one of three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, or wobblers (those that could be treated either as felonies or misdemeanors). No matter what type of DUI you are charged with you should always consult a competent local attorney. Typically, first-offense DUIs are charged as misdemeanors. However, in certain circumstances, cases may be treated as felonies. How a California Driving Under the Influence case is categorized depends on a number of factors, including prior convictions and whether or not injuries or death of another person resulted from the drunken driving incident.

Criminal charges are mostly defined by the type of punishment that results with conviction. Misdemeanor DUIs can result in up to one year in a county jail, while felony DUIs can result in a year or more in state prison.

Additionally, there are some cases that are known as “wobblers.” These cases can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. If, for example, an offender is found to have caused injury to another but the injuries are relatively minor, then the case may be charged as a misdemeanor. However, if the injuries sustained by the other person are serious, then the offender can be charged with a felony, even if it the individual’s first offense. In addition to felony cases that arise from injury or death of another, California Drunk Driving offenders arrested for the fourth time for drunk driving within 10 years face felony charges even if no accident or injury occurred. CA Drunk driving that results in the death of another almost always will be treated as a felony. This type of DUI will fall under one of three categories — vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter, or second-degree murder.

Penalties for a Felony DUI

While a misdemeanor DUI is no laughing matter, it carries significantly lower penalties. Most misdemeanor drunk driving convictions involve up to one year of jail time, fines, and probation. The penalties for a felony DUI can include the following:

  • At least one year of jail time, and may involve incarceration in a state prison
  • Permanent loss of your driver’s license
  • Tens of thousands of dollars in fines and fees
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle
  • Extensive drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation
  • Rigorous terms for parole and probation
  • Loss of your right to possess firearms
  • Temporary loss of your voting rights (while incarcerated)

Depending on your circumstances, you may face a decade of incarceration, loss of your driver’s and professional licenses, and highly restrictive probation terms. In other words, a felony DUI conviction will have lasting effects that can impact your future, your career, and your freedom. A skilled lawyer in Orange County could help you minimize the potential penalties you are facing for your felony DUI.

Any penalty, whether a misdemeanor or felony, can be increased if conditions or aggravating circumstances such as the following are present:

  • Child in the vehicle under 14 years old
  • Speeding
  • Driving on a suspended or restricted license
  • Accidents
  • High blood alcohol content (BAC), over .20%

These aggravating factors can add years to your sentence. For example, if your felony DUI involves multiple accident victims, you may face an additional year of prison time for each victim, up to a maximum of three years.

Specifics of Felony DUI Charges

While prosecutors typically weigh all the facts surrounding a drunk driver before charging someone with a felony, there are three common situations in which authorities will proceed with a felony DUI:

  1. Someone was killed or seriously injured.
  2. You have three or more DUI convictions in the last ten years, including convictions for reckless driving involving alcohol. This includes convictions from other states and jurisdictions and expunged DUI convictions.
  3. You’ve been convicted of a felony DUI before. In California, prosecutors must charge you with a felony if you already have at least one other felony DUI on your record.

This means that even if you’re facing your first drinking and driving charges, prosecutors may opt for felony charges if you were involved in an accident and someone was injured. Notably, under state law, “serious injuries” don’t just involve things like traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, they can also include broken bones, scars, and other disabling conditions.

Vehicular Manslaughter

A charge of manslaughter, second-degree murder, or vehicular homicide can be given to any individual who causes the death of a passenger, a person or persons in another vehicle, or a bystander while driving under the influence.

Under California state penal code 191.5 any individual who unlawfully kills another human being while driving under the influence, without gross negligence and without premeditation may be imprisoned in a California state prison for 16 months or 2 or 4 years.

Any individual who unlawfully kills another human being while driving intoxicated, with gross negligence (such as driving recklessly) and without premeditation may be imprisoned for four, six, or ten years.

Individuals with prior DUI offenses who are charged with DUI manslaughter or DUI murder may face 15 years to life in prison.

The California Vehicle Code also contains various statutes that can be used to increase the penalties for a DUI offense. Some of these include:

(a) Refusing a BAC chemical test;
(b) Having a child under the age of 14 in the car;
(c) Having a BAC of .20 or greater;
(d) Driving in a double fine zone; and
(f) Injury to more than one person

Why Do I Need a Felony DUI Lawyer?

Defending yourself against felony DUI charges can be an intimidating and complicated process. However, most people who are arrested for drinking and driving have legal options. An experienced attorney in the area can help you regain control of the situation and identify best possible defense strategies available to you following your felony DUI charges.

Building a Defense Strategy

For example, to convict you of a “serious injury” felony DUI, prosecutors must convince the jury that your drunk or impaired driving caused the crash and the related injuries. However, the circumstances surrounding a car crash are rarely that clear cut. Many times, an experienced defense lawyer can identify mistakes or reckless behaviors by other drivers that significantly contributed to or caused the wreck.

Lessening the Penalties Against You

Even if your conduct may have caused a serious injury, prosecutors can choose to charge you with a misdemeanor DUI. In these cases, a knowledgeable defense lawyer can highlight mitigating circumstances and other issues that may merit misdemeanor charges and lighter penalties.

Identifying Procedural Errors in Your Case

Other times, the police make serious procedural errors that weaken their case. These errors may involve improper calibration of a breathalyzer, faulty test results, lack of probable cause during your traffic stop, and other violations of your legal rights.

Should I Accept a Plea Bargain?

It’s not uncommon for California prosecutors to offer plea deals to individuals who are facing a felony DUI. While a plea bargain is sometimes in your best interest, too many people accept unfair deals that have deeper ramifications than they realize. Before you negotiate or accept a felony DUI plea bargain, you should always consult with a skilled defense lawyer. A legal representative can help you properly evaluate the deal, respond appropriately, and weigh your options.

Request a Consultation with an Orange County Felony DUI Attorney

Most people simply cannot investigate a DUI and identify these issues on their own. That’s why they turn to a skilled defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Scott Henry. We’ve built a reputation for our sophisticated approach to DUI defense. And we understand how to fully investigate and develop our clients’ claims.

Because we focus our practice on the most complex DUI defense claims, we can provide you with essential insight into your defenses, help you build a realistic defense strategy, and guide you through the emotionally-charged process of defending yourself from a felony DUI.

The Law Offices of Scott Henry is one of the area’s premier drinking and driving defense firms. We’ve built a reputation for our aggressive, practical approach these charges, and our Orange County felony DUI lawyers are ready to help you. For the dedicated legal representation you need, contact The Law Offices of Scott Henry.

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