Although a DUI, or driving while under the influence, is generally considered a misdemeanor offense, and is charged as such in most circumstances, there are situations where it is elevated to a felony.
These situations are considered “aggravating circumstances” and the presence of any one these can lead to a felony being charged instead of a misdemeanor.
What are Aggravating Circumstances?
An aggravating circumstance is any behavior or factor that serves to elevate what would normally be charged as a misdemeanor into a felony, or which would enhance your sentence or other penalties.
Under California’s DUI laws, the following circumstances are considered “aggravating” and can result in your DUI being charged as a felony:
- Having at least 3 prior DUI-related offenses within 10 years
- Excessive speed in some cases
- A blood alcohol content of at least 0.15 percent
- Having passengers under the age of 18
- Causing an accident that results in a serious injury or death
If your passenger was under the age of 14, you will face enhanced penalties such as mandatory jail time. You could also face a separate criminal charge of child endangerment under California Penal Code Section 273 (a), which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.
DUI with Injury or Death
One way you can face felony DUI charges is if your DUI resulted in an injury or a fatality. If the injury was serious, such as a broken limb, internal injuries, disfigurement, spinal cord or severe head injuries, the prosecuting attorney may charge you with a felony offense. In some cases, you could face a charge of assault with a deadly weapon if your conduct was interpreted as trying to intentionally harm someone.
Should you be charged with a DUI where a passenger, pedestrian or other motorist was killed, you are likely to face felony charges. You could also be charged with vehicular manslaughter or second degree murder.
DUI with Prior Convictions
Another situation where DUI felony charges are possible is where you have multiple DUI convictions, or at least 3 in the past 10 years. Your fourth DUI, regardless if aggravating circumstances exist, will typically be charged as a felony. This includes any DUI convictions from another state or any DUI-related convictions.
DUI with Previous Felony DUI
One certain way you will be charged with felony DUI is if you are charged with DUI and were previously convicted of a felony DUI. This is regardless if the felony was committed more than 10 years ago.
If convicted of a DUI felony, you face a minimum sentence of 180 days along with substantial fines and loss of your driving privileges for 4 years. Should your driving conduct have severely injured someone or resulted in a fatality, you will likely face several years in state prison.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as felony DUI, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Felonies are serious matters. As a convicted felon, you face serious prison time, loss of your job, professional license and other consequences that could affect your life for years. Talk to a legal professional who has succesfully handled numerous felony DUI cases at the law offices of Ramiro J. Lluis. Call us today for a free initial and confidential consultation and case evaluation at (213) 687-4412.