DUIs can have serious consequences. Accidents that do not result in injuries or fatalities can still rack up fines and cost you your license. The repercussions for injuring someone while driving under the influence are more severe.
Court Considerations and General Information
Those guilty of a DUI misdemeanor may not be subject to severe penalties. However, penalties for DUI accidents that result in injuries or fatalities are much more severe. DUIs that result in injuries can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. These crimes can have aggravating factors that may push them in either direction depending on the court's final decision.
Aggravating factors can include:
- Recidivism, or the tendency to engage in repeated criminal behavior
- Lack of remorse
- Amount of harm to the victim
The court considers these factors and the role substance abuse or intoxication had to play in the case. Aggravating and mitigating factors often vary between jurisdictions, so you’ll need to work with an attorney who is familiar with the rules in your district. Should the judge consider your DUI a felony, you may face harsh consequences based on your case's aggravating factors.
The Department of Motor Vehicles may also penalize you for a DUI. The DMV case occurs regardless of a criminal charge in court. The driver has the right to a hearing to review the evidence and determine the DUI penalties. A Driver Safety Hearing Officer informs the driver of their decision to modify, sustain, or remove the DMV action. Most often, the penalty is an administrative license suspension. You may find more information about administrative suspensions here.
While most DUI charges for first offenders are not considered felony charges unless a fatality occurred, repeat offenders are much more likely face felony charges. In California, felony charges fall under the Three Strikes Law. This law states that repeat offenders face increasingly severe punishment with each felony conviction. The third repeated offense automatically results in 25 years to life in prison.
Penalties for a first time DUI offender consist of a fine, license suspension, and probation. Generally, first offense DUI penalties are shorter and less severe than repeated offenses. The fine for a first DUI can range from $390-$1,000, plus penalty assessments that can increase the amount you have to pay. These can bring the total to several thousand dollars or more. In some cases, drivers under the influence might be sentenced to jail time, which can be a few days or several months depending on the judge's decision. Typically, for first offenses, judges are more lenient and don't require jail time at all. Probation usually lasts up to three years for first offenders. Drivers will also need to complete a three-month DUI school. Offenders with a higher blood alcohol content may have to attend DUI school for a more extended period.
License suspension is a guaranteed penalty for DUIs. A six-month license suspension and a four-month administrative suspension is standard for first offense cases. Often, both suspensions overlap, so the driver will not have to complete two full driving suspensions. First offenders can also apply for a restricted license that allows them to drive to work or school. Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are mandatory for restricted licenses. IIDs require the driver to test their blood alcohol content before being able to start their vehicle. First offense DUIs have serious penalties, but for drivers who have several DUIs on their record or a DUI with injury, penalties are more severe.
If a driver has more than one DUI conviction, the charges are still considered a misdemeanor. However, a jail sentence of 120 days or more with probation and DUI school is required. License suspension is three years with a one-year administrative suspension. Most third-time DUI offenders must complete up to five years of probation and have an IID for at least two years.
While multiple DUIs are considered misdemeanors, these charges become felonies when a person is hurt, or there’s a crash that results in one or more fatalities. Some injury cases do not become felonies, but that decision is up to the judge.
Felony DUI Charges
When driving under the influence leads to a crash that results in injuries, the judge has the discretion to charge as a felony. The severity of the injuries and whether or not a fatality occurred can push a DUI over the line to a felony charge. Whether the driver has one DUI or four, injuries from a collision caused by drunk or drugged driving have serious consequences. A DUI crash that injures another driver or passenger and is charged as a felony can result in a prison sentence of up to four years in addition to fines, probation, and driving restrictions.
The Bottom Line
If someone drives under the influence and injures another person in the process, license suspension, probation, and restrictions are likely to be in their future. In some cases, the judge rules a felony charge, which can lead to jail time. Drivers should be aware of the costs of a DUI and drive responsibly.
Contact Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP today to schedule an appointment if you’re facing DUI charges.