Are you scared of the consequences of a recent arrest for yourself or a loved one? Will there be a misdemeanor charge, or is a DUI a felony in California?
Asking questions like these can fill anyone with anxiety. After all, the potential consequences are incredibly dire. Prison time, hefty fines, and trouble finding a job are only the start of the complications a felony can create.
California DUI laws set clear expectations on this topic. However, the answer you’re looking for will depend on the current situation. After reading this guide, you will have the opportunity to understand your risk and what a local attorney can do to help.
California DUI Laws for Drivers Under 21
The law is considerably less complicated for situations involving a driver under the age of twenty-one. Since 1990, state law has dictated a strict zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. A blood alcohol content of .01% or more triggers a license suspension for one year. Accordingly, this low threshold means nobody below the drinking age should get behind the wheel even after one drink.
So, is a DUI a felony in California? Well, the legal peril grows when someone under twenty-one has a BAC of .05% or above. In this circumstance, California law dictates that an officer arrest the offender and present them with a suspension.
The state will pursue a misdemeanor case in these circumstances, assuming no injuries during the incident. But, causing harm to others or having prior convictions can result in a prosecutor pursuing felony charges.
Even driving with alcohol in your possession while under twenty-one can invite stiff penalties. The law does not differentiate between having spirits that are open or sealed. Consequences for this violation include:
- $1,000 fine
- Impounding of your vehicle for 30 days
- One-year license suspension
- Completion of a state-approved DUI program for those that have .01% or more BAC
Is a DUI a Felony in California if You’re 21 or Older?
Your criminal liability for a DUI depends on several factors. Your first call after an arrest may be to a California DUI attorney regardless of the circumstances. But, the urgency grows based on:
- Criminal history
- Previous DUI convictions
- Incidents involving injuries or deaths
- Blood-alcohol content
Death, injury, or damage to property can justify separate felony charges, even for your first offense. For example, a prosecutor could indict you for manslaughter or vandalism. Nonetheless, the following sections will assume an arrest for driving under the influence only.
In most cases, your first DUI in California will not invite felony charges. The current punishments for a guilty conviction can include:
- 48 hours to 6 months incarceration
- $390 to $1,000 in fines, plus penalty assessments
- 6-month suspension of driving privileges
- 3-year probation sentence
- Completion of a 3-month DUI course
- Installation of an ignition interlocking device
It’s crucial to understand that having a BAC of .08% or more will increase some of these penalties. If this factor applies to your situation, there is a one-year suspension of your license. If you test above .20%, the DUI program you need to complete takes an average of nine months.
As you likely expect, a second DUI in California elevates your criminal liability. However, the charges do not exceed a misdemeanor status. Depending on the judge and the actions of a California DUI lawyer, you can receive these criminal penalties:
- 96 hours to a year in jail
- $390 to $1,000 in fines, plus assessments that can result in a total of $2,000
- 2-year license suspension
- 3 to 5 years on probation
- Completion of an 18 to 30-month DUI course
These punitive measures increase in some counties if your BAC reaches .15% or higher. Causing an accident, excessive speeding, or refusing the chemical test are also crucial factors.
Assuming there were no injuries, a third DUI in California remains a misdemeanor criminal offense. The primary distinction is that jail time is much more likely.
Your California DUI attorney might strike a deal that keeps you from becoming incarcerated. Nonetheless, a judge can also issue the following upon conviction:
- 120 days to 1 year in jail
- $2,500 to $3,000 in fines, plus penalty assessments
- 3-year revocation of your license
- 3 to 5 years probation
- Completion of a 30-month DUI course
An arrest for a fourth DUI in California can bring a misdemeanor or felony-level charge under state law. The three previous convictions don’t have to be in the same state. The judge in your case has the option to sentence you to the following:
- 180-day to 3-year prison sentence
- Fines and fees that can go up to $18,000
- 4-year revocation of your driving privileges
- 3 to 5 years probation
- Attending a 30-month DUI program
Work With an Experienced California DUI Lawyer
No matter how much criminal liability you face, you will need a California DUI attorney. Misdemeanor or felony convictions for these charges can change your life for decades. Having legal counsel can allow you to minimize the damage and move on with life.