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About DUI Accidents in California

We all know that simple driving under the influence (DUI) charges are serious. After all, a conviction for a first DUI without any aggravating circumstances can translate into probation, fines, community service, driver’s license suspension, DUI School, AA classes, attending a MADD victim impact panel, vehicle impoundment, a DUI on your DMV record for 10 years, and so on.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about one in three traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. involve an impaired driver. To combat this problem, the state has taken measures to reduce alcohol-related injuries and fatalities, such as passing drunk driving laws, passing “zero tolerance” laws for people under 21, sobriety checkpoints, Ignition Interlock Devices, administrative license suspension and revocation laws, and mass media campaigns.

Are DUI accidents a felony?

With DUI accidents being such a cause for concern among law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and lawmakers, does that mean that the state has made all DUI accidents a felony? Believe it or not, not all DUI accidents are felonies.

There are three ways for a DUI to be a felony: 1) it’s the driver’s fourth DUI offense (including any prior wet reckless convictions) in 10 years, 2) the driver has at least one prior felony DUI conviction on their record, or 3) someone else was injured or killed as a result of the drunk driving incident.

Essentially, if none of the above factors apply and the driver is involved in a DUI accident with property damage only, then it would still be a misdemeanor DUI. For example, let’s say that “Dan” had six beers and on his way home, he drove his truck right into his neighbor’s retaining wall. Since nobody was hurt and this was Dan’s first DUI, it would be charged as a misdemeanor.

On the other hand, if Dan’s wife was in the passenger seat when he hit the wall, and she cut her head open on the windshield and was transported to the hospital for a traumatic brain injury, then Dan could be prosecuted with a felony DUI. These laws can be found under Sections 23153 (e) and (f) of the California Vehicle Code.

Note: Even a DUI involving bodily injuries may be charged as a misdemeanor DUI if the injuries were minor enough. In DUI accident cases involving bodily injuries, it’s at the prosecutor’s discretion whether to charge the defendant with a felony or a misdemeanor.

Were you involved in a DUI accident? If so, contact our Orange County DUI defense firm to speak with a Board Certified DUI specialist for free!