Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Orange County can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. In fact, DUI is one of those “wobbler” offenses that can be prosecuted either way depending on the facts of the case.
Usually, the first, second, or third time a driver is arrested for DUI of alcohol or drugs, it will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor offense, unless there are “aggravating circumstances” present. Depending on the driver's prior criminal history and specific facts in the case, there are additional ways that a driver can face felony charges for DUI.
Three Ways to Get a Felony DUI in OC
A DUI in California is known as a priorable offense, meaning that any time the same or any similar offense is committed, the penalties increase. Essentially, previous DUI convictions will make a difference in the outcome of a current DUI case.
If you were previously charged with DUI but your defense attorney got it reduced to a California “wet reckless,” it still counts as a “priorable offense.” Meaning, for the sake of any subsequent DUI charges, the wet reckless would count as a prior DUI for sentencing and penalty purposes.
In California, the penalties increase for every subsequent DUI conviction. Each DUI conviction carries higher penalties than the previous conviction; you’ll pay more fines, you’ll have to go to DUI School for a longer period, your license will be suspended longer, and you face more jail time.
A felony DUI can occur when the following are involved:
- Multiple DUI violations. When a driver has three prior DUI convictions, a fourth DUI is a felony. This includes combinations of DUI convictions outside of California and any reductions to wet reckless.
- Serious injury or death. When a DUI causes injury or death, the impaired driver will face felony charges.
- Second DUI after felony. Once a person has been charged with one DUI that caused an injury, any other DUI received within the next 10 years will be considered a felony, even if it did not cause harm to any other person.
If you notice, we did not mention DUIs involving property damage only. That’s because most DUI accidents are not felonies unless someone else was injured, or it’s the driver’s fourth DUI offense.
The penalties for a felony DUI can result in prison time, severe fines, and the loss of driving privileges, among other consequences. The best strategy after being charged with a felony DUI is to consult with an attorney who focuses on aggressive legal defense and who is deeply familiar with the science behind DUIs, as well as the various ways to effectively challenge a DUI case.