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In California, if a DUI results in an accident that causes damage either to someone in your vehicle or someone in another vehicle or someone who is just a bystander, that DUI can and will be charged as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor in California is that typically, misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in County Jail. Felonies, on the other hand, are punishable by a term in State Prison.

Depending on the severity of the injuries in the case and your own history with DUIs, a DUI with injuries can result in a very lengthy prison term. Additional charges may include murder, vehicular manslaughter, and second-degree murder, which carries 15 years to life.

A sentence of that length will usually only happen when there are particularly egregious facts involved in the case. For instance, if you have one or even several prior DUIs, you might face that sort of a charge. There is an official admonishment that you are given with your first DUI that says that you understand that you can be charged with murder if you get another DUI and you kill someone.

There are also “great bodily injury” charges can be tacked on to a sentence in the event that someone was very severely hurt in the accident caused by your DUI, and those can add a number of years as well. If you are convicted of a DUI with great bodily injury, you are looking at a potential minimum of 7 years.

They also have multiple victim enhancements for these cases, which we will we go into that a little bit later. In essence, though, these are cases where there are up to three victims that are harmed by your DUI. In those cases, you can get up to one additional year for each victim, just for there being multiple victims.

So, this is all very serious stuff that can result from getting into an accident while drunk and injuring people. There are additional charges you may face, depending on a number of different factors.

There are actually three ways that a DUI can become a felony, all of which I’ll go into in a further question.

What Makes A DUI A Felony Offense In California?

In California, drunk driving or DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) can be a felony or a misdemeanor.

There are three different factors that can make a DUI a felony offense versus a misdemeanor offense.

These are:

  1. DUIs that result in an accident in which someone other than the driver is injured. The injured party can be someone who is a passenger in the driver’s car, a passenger or driver in another car, or a bystander.
  2. The person receiving the DUI has a prior felony DUI within the past 10 years. The 10-year time period counts backward from the date of incident, not the date of conviction.
  3. The person receiving the DUI has at least 3 prior DUIs (felony or misdemeanor) within the past 10 years. Again, the 10-year time period counts backward from the date of the incident, not the date of conviction.

Does The Degree Of Severity Of Injuries In A Drunk Driving Accident Determine The Type Of Charges That I Could Face?

The severity of injuries in a drunk driving accident can absolutely determine the charges you might face. This sort of sentencing is discretionary on the part of the District Attorney’s Office in Marin County. They look at a number of different factors in deciding whether or not a charge should be a misdemeanor or a felony.

For instance, they look at whether or not a case involved injuries. They look at enhancements for grave bodily injury and for the number of people in the car. They look at the severity of the case all around, and they look at your record and past history.

The specific injuries that might make the difference between, say, a felony and a misdemeanor charge are technically written in the Legal Code, but in practice are sometimes quite unclear. As a rule, though, if the injured party is affected by something like a soft tissue injury or a sore back, the case will typically not lead to a felony on its own. It would typically be a misdemeanor with injury (or, in some cases, even without injury).

On the other hand, DUIs that cause concussions and/or loss of consciousness are typically charged as felonies. Broken bones, especially the larger bones in the body, are always charged as a felonies. I can’t remember the last time I saw a DUI case that caused a broken bone in the arm or the leg or the back that wasn’t charged as a felony.

Cuts and lacerations are especially up to the discretion of the District Attorney’s Office. When it comes to that sort of injury in particular, it’s very hard to tell whether the case will be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, whether the cut involved required 2-4 stitches or 12-15 stitches. It is simply more case-by-case when it comes to those injuries.

In all of the above situations, it is imperative to talk to a DUI attorney right away. An experienced Marin County DUI attorney can help guide you through steps to take in order to improve your case outcome. For instance, they could direct you toward proactive steps you can take to address any alcohol issues you might have, so that down the road you can show the Court and the DA that you are working on these issues, are taking the matter seriously, and therefore are much less likely to re-offend.

For more information on Drunk Driving Accidents In Marin County, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (415) 886-6333 today.

Aaron Bortel

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