When is drunk driving a felony in California?

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Navigating the legal landscape surrounding drunk driving is important, particularly when it comes to understanding when this offense escalates to a felony in California. Driving under the influence is generally a misdemeanor. However, certain circumstances can elevate it to a felony, which carries more severe penalties.

Knowing these factors is important for anyone seeking to understand the legal implications of DUI offenses in California.

Multiple convictions

In California, repeated DUI offenses can lead to felony charges. If an individual has three or more prior DUI convictions within a 10-year span, another DUI arrest may constitute a felony. The state takes a strict stance on habitual drunk driving, recognizing the increased danger posed by individuals with multiple convictions. Felony DUI charges significantly escalate the penalties.

Injuries or fatalities

Another factor that can elevate a DUI to a felony in California is when intoxicated driving leads to injury or death. If an accident occurs while a driver is under the influence, resulting in bodily harm to another person, the DUI charge can become a felony. In cases where the accident causes a fatality, the consequences become even more severe. Felony DUI charges in these situations can lead to lengthy prison sentences, reflecting the gravity of the harm caused due to impaired driving.

Child endangerment

Driving under the influence with a minor in the vehicle can also lead to felony charges in California. The state considers such actions as child endangerment, recognizing the heightened risk to the well-being of the minor. A DUI arrest under these circumstances may lead to additional charges, emphasizing the need for responsible and sober driving, especially when children are present.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that there were 123,548 people arrested for DUI in California in 2017. Of those, 4,944 motorists faced felony drunk driving charges. Drivers with felonies may face a wide range of collateral consequences in addition to the criminal repercussions of a conviction.