In our day to day lives, we may suffer because of minor slip-ups that carry significant ramifications. One instance is in regards to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In the state of California, legislation is set in place to ensure that drivers avoid driving entirely while drunk. The penalties faced can be quite severe, depending on the circumstances of your arrest. However, in the realities of life, you may be unable to always stick to the rules.
There are many reasons for driving under the influence, for example, in response to emergencies that require your physical presence. Other times, our pure human nature requires some pass-time. You may get a few drinks with colleagues or friends before heading home. Regardless of your situation, Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm is made up of proactive lawyers who are willing to listen to your predicaments. We will then analyze your case and help you come up with a viable legal solution to felony DUI charges.
What is a Felony DUI
Firstly, the acronym ‘DUI’ stands for driving under the influence. DUI charges are those issued to persons arrested because of driving or operating vehicles while drunk. A felony DUI is, therefore, a charge obtained by a driver who is found guilty of a severe and aggravated traffic offense, directly tied to his or her intoxicated nature at the time of the arrest.
For a DUI charge to be entered as a felony, the offender is often found to be a repeat offender who may even be currently facing similar DUI charges. A felony DUI offense carries more substantial penalties than a misdemeanor DUI, to deter offenders from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Besides, a felony DUI will affect your criminal record negatively, while offenders may get away with misdemeanor DUIs. From the given comparisons, it is clear to see that the felony DUI charge is more severe.
Conditions Required for Entry of a Felony DUI Charge
When an officer determines that you are drunk while driving, he or she does not immediately enter a felony or misdemeanor DUI charges against you. The officer in charge of your arrest may wait until you are in your right state of mind again to question you on possible previous records and arrests if any. Alternatively, he or she may run a background check on you and, based on the findings, decide on what category you lie. Some factors, however, will automatically put you under the felony DUI category, as discussed below.
- DUI Causing Death
The result of the death of another person is a dangerous occurrence. Leniency is not more accessible if you were under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the causation of the accident. Because of the gravity of such an incident, you will be held responsible for the death caused. On top of the felony DUI entered, you could also face an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter. The reason why manslaughter instead of murder is registered as the charge is that you lack the requisite premeditated intent to kill the victim. Therefore, the penalty will not be as severe as that recorded for murder in a criminal charge.
- DUI Causing Injury
Should an innocent pedestrian, bystander, or other motorists sustain injuries because of a DUI accident, the offender is very likely to face felony DUI charges. The law is very keen to protect innocent people from any harm, as well as prevent and reduce cases of accidents caused by the negligence of drivers. Consequently, on top of getting a felony DUI charge, the afflicted parties can instigate suits against you for personal injury compensation. Your situation becomes slightly more complicated if the injuries sustained by the victims are dangerous, causing permanent medical conditions like disability or brain concussions.
- Getting a New DUI Charge While Facing a Previous DUI Conviction
The law does not take kindly to repeat offenders, including DUI convicted offenders. In typical cases, most people who find themselves in this category are usually under probation from previous DUI charges. Penalties served in the form of probations are lenient on the offender, and he or she is allowed to drive on probation, provided he/she follows the stipulated guidelines and does all that is required to do. For example, a driver under probation may be allowed to drive as long as he or she installs his/her vehicle with an interlock ignition device that controls the car and restricts automotive function in case of any non-compliance. Having this liberty then, a driver on probation is expected to be on his/her best behavior. Therefore, when found driving under the influence again, he or she will inevitably face felony DUI charges.
- Getting a Fourth DUI Within Ten Years
Similar to probation drivers, those found driving under the influence while holding three previous DUI charges within ten years are on the disadvantaged side of the leniency of the law. The presumption made from a reasonable man’s point of view is that a previous offender will refrain from engaging in the very same behavior that got him or her in trouble in the first place. For the first three times, the law will give you a pass on more substantial penalties, and your cases will be dealt with as a DUI misdemeanor. However, a DUI arrest for the fourth time within ten years may give the impression that an offender is either addicted to alcohol or simply does not care enough to avoid trouble. Due to this, such a person will attract the more serious charge of felony a DUI as well.
- Having a Previous Criminal Record Unrelated to a DUI
Despite the confidence we have in the law and procedures, there is an inevitable element of bias against people with previous criminal records in general. You may have faced any charges like fraud, manslaughter among other charges, served your time and was released from jail to start on a new note. However, if you happen to land into any kind of legal trouble, your case will, in most times, be treated differently and given more scrutiny. This is based on the earlier mentioned assumption that you should have been deterred after serving jail time from previous offenses. Thankfully, your DUI attorney can argue your case out in court and seek redress in such matters. In a proper case scenario, your lawyer can reduce the prejudice and added penalties that you could have faced.
Law Provisions on DUI Charges
The California Vehicle Code, which is applicable in Orange County, provides for the regulations restricting driving under the influence. These provisions are found in Section 23153 of the code.
Subsection (a) deals with the creation of the offense of driving under the influence in general. It makes it illegal for a person to drive under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by the law. The prohibitive measures include negligent driving and overspeeding.
Subsection (b) gives the minimum blood alcohol content required for any DUI charge to be entered against you. The figure provided by the law is 0.08%. Any person found with this concentration of alcohol content or more is liable to face DUI charges.
Subsection (d) provides specifications for commercial drivers found guilty of driving under the influence. For their cases, a blood alcohol content of 0.04% and above will land them in trouble with the DUI officer.
Moreover, subsection (e) brings forth a relatively new provision that states, commencing 1st July 2018, it will be unlawful for a person to drive under the influence with a BAC of 0.04% and above while operating a vehicle where passengers obtain hire services. The range targeted included taxi drivers, as well as other drivers working under corporations that offer shuttle services.
On top of this, California operates under the strict Administrative Per Se laws. They have given rise to the zero-tolerance policy, targeted to drivers under the age of 21 years. The law prohibits this group of people from indulging in alcohol consumption. Therefore, when a driver under the age of 21 years is found driving with a minimum blood alcohol content of 0.01%, it is enough to enter DUI charges. Similarly, persons on probation face the same fate and are also to be guided by the zero-tolerance policy, regardless of whether you are above 21 years or not. The strict nature of these laws aims at preventing the youth from engaging in dangerous sprees of drunk driving, mainly because they are at a very proactive phase of life where they are willing to try new things.
Despite the laws, your DUI attorney will work hard to raise viable defenses for you in court proceedings in case you find yourself charged with a DUI felony.
Booking and Bail Process After a Felony DUI Arrest
After a traffic officer finds sufficient reason to arrest you for driving under the influence, you are detained in a police detention center until you are booked and ready to post bail. The process after arrest involves several procedures, all of which lead to the booking process. You will undergo:
- Collection of all personal belongings for safekeeping
- Recording of relevant personal information like your name, address and phone number
- A thorough body search to ensure you do not have any dangerous weapons or tools on you
- Taking mug shots for your profile build-up and future identification
- Taking of fingerprints, also for record-keeping and future identification
It is at this point that the police officers handling your case can find out if you are a previous criminal record holder or are a repeat DUI offender. The booking and bail process can be quite draining and confusing for you, primarily because, at this time, you may not have fully recovered from the intoxicating effects of the alcohol or drugs previously ingested.
Luckily, the law avails you one phone call. It is at this point that you should take time to relax and call your DUI attorney, who will take down important information regarding your arrest. The reason we advise you to relax is that your mind will be flustered if you panic and try to talk about everything at once. Consequently, we will not be able to obtain the vital details we need to begin your posting of bail afterward. Therefore, always be calm and keen to provide your name, the location of the station you are held as well as the estimated bail amount you require.
Felony DUIs often warrant the posting of bail. The requirements for this process are that you should attend bail hearings, which may be conducted in DMV hearings or court. Either way, you will need your DUI attorney present, who will help you navigate the tricky questions and accusations read against you. If your DUI did not result in any injuries or deaths of others, your bail would amount anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000. On the other hand, if there were death or injuries sustained because of your DUI, you may be facing bail bond amounts of up to $100,000 to secure your release. You do not need to worry about the high pricing of a bail-bond statement, because a bond acts as security to ensure you attend all proceedings and hearings in court. If you attend these court hearings faithfully, your bond amount will be exonerated back to you or the lender of the money.
Felony DUI Trial Process
After release on bail/bond, you will face a plea taking process whereby the judge requires you to either plead guilty or not guilty to the felony DUI charges. When you plead guilty, the matter is straightforward, and sentencing is issued sooner. The sentence may even be reduced based on your moral standing of accepting wrongs. Despite this fact, some offenders have a genuine claim to make and believe that they are not guilty of the charges. When you decide to plead ‘not guilty’ to the felony DUI charges, trial for your case commences.
In the trial, evidence may be introduced against you, including reports and results that indicate your DUI test results. Additionally, witness statements are considered, targeting people who were around the scene of your arrest. Despite all this evidence, your attorney will be sufficiently prepared to rebut facts presented against you. Additionally, he or she will adequately prepare you beforehand. The preparation will help you withstand any form of intimidation from the prosecution’s side or any other claimant who initiates a suit against you.
Moreover, you will also have a chance to give mitigating statements that allow you to explain using your own words, and why you drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You should be careful not to contradict yourself, as the opposite parties will be keen to depict this and work to disadvantage you. Ultimately, your DUI attorney will be by your side throughout the trial process and will be able to guide you on what to do as well as what to expect at certain junctures of trial.
Felony DUI Penalties
The law has provided varying penalties to be faced by different categories of felony DUI offenders. They are higher than those faced by offenders found guilty of misdemeanor DUIs, because of the seriousness of actions committed.
- Felony DUI Resulting in Death or Injuries of Others
DUI accidents causing the death or serious injury of other road users are taken very seriously by the law. The provisions of the penalties are gauged against the damages caused by the drunk driver.
Firstly, the court may sentence a guilty offender to a jail term. It ranges anywhere from sixteen months to sixteen years in state prison. The wide range is factored by the varying circumstances involved in the occurrence of a DUI accident. For example, where the accident causes death, concurrent charges of manslaughter could increase the sentence. As a result, the defendant found guilty will serve the felony DUI conviction and that of involuntary manslaughter simultaneously. However, because of the higher penalties of manslaughter charges, jail time may be longer for the convicted person. Conversely, where an accident results in minor or relatively manageable injuries, the sentence is reduced at the judge’s discretion to fit the required standards of punishment.
In addition to a jail term penalty, a judge may issue:
- $5,000 fine
- Mandatory DUI school sessions for two and a half years
- Mandatory 5-year license suspension
Repeat Offenses Amounting to Felony DUI
Offenders found in the wrong for more than three DUI charges may face more lenient penalties compared to drivers who caused deaths or injuries as long as they are not engaged in any other causative damages. However, the penalties are still higher than the misdemeanor DUIs.
Repeat offenders face the following sentences and penalties:
- A mandatory 4-year license suspension
- Maximum jail sentence of three years in state prison
- Attendance of compulsory DUI school sessions for two and a half years
- $1,000 fines
In all instances, when a judge is issuing sentences to the accused person, he or she considers various factors that could work for or against you. For example, if you resisted the process of taking the DUI breathalyzer test, there will be no consideration of leniency. We, therefore, advise our clients to remain compliant even if you feel like the process is unfairly imposed on you.
Possible Defenses for Felony DUI Charges
The due process of law allows you the right to raise defenses that will hopefully shield you from wrongful conviction, or at least act as mitigating factors to reduce the penalties you receive significantly. Your DUI defense lawyer helps you understand the charges you face, and will jointly work to establish these defenses in your favor. The process requires you to be open and honest with your lawyer so that no important detail is left out. In this way, you are assured of various means that will be useful in court as defenses to rebut the prosecution’s or claimant’s allegations against you.
Mishandling of Test Results
The defense serves best in cases where blood work tests were involved that mainly test for narcotics in your bloodstream. If you were not satisfied and are sure that you did not take any mind-altering drug or alcohol before the test, you can successfully raise this defense. It is admissible in court based on the assumption that human beings, even professionals, may be prone to errors, whether done intentionally or not. You could ask the court to consider a re-run of the available samples or that the professionals in charge of carrying out the tests be summoned to explain the process used to obtain the results. If successful in your defense, you may receive absolute absolving of the felony DUI charge.
Fallacious Calibration of the Breathalyzer Device
The breathalyzer machine used to administer an alcohol test could be wrongly calibrated, giving rise to inaccurate results. If there is the establishment of this factor and it accepted by the judge as a defense, the exact breathalyzer machine used to administer the test on you may be introduced in court as evidence. Experts may apply their skills to check on the validity of the claim. If results are in your favor, the judge may consider your acquittal, provided you were below the minimum blood alcohol concentration(0.08%). Even if this is not the case, the court may consider reducing the penalties you face.
Sometimes, officers are caught up in observing the stipulated requirements to the letter, bringing about unreasonable circumstances surrounding your arrest. A good example maybe when you exceed the BAC level by a negligible percentage, which may be in the hundredth decimal place. While one may expect that any surpassing of such a level warrants DUI apprehensions, such cases are extreme. The basis of this defense is the rebuttable presumption of law that your blood alcohol concentration was at 0.08%. Your lawyer could argue that the negligible figure used in warranting arrest was likely to fall on or before the actual arrest, placing you in a disadvantaged position. Technicalities as defenses may sometimes be elusive. However, if your lawyer articulates his/her arguments well, there is a chance of success.
The Officer Administering the Arrest was Untrained in Handling Breathalyzer Equipment
Commonly, any traffic officer could be left in charge of administering the alcohol tests, even if they lack adequate training on handling the machine. Should any error in presenting results occur, the officer may be unable to identify it and arrest you regardless. Such scenarios are a violation of your rights, as lawful arrests should be enforced at all times. This defense, therefore, grants you a chance to raise concerns regarding the violation of your rights.
Find a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me
When you find yourself faced with a felony DUI charge, the process that follows may be confusing and very draining on you. At the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm, we dedicate ourselves to providing brilliant legal advisory and litigation services to our clients. We are open to listening to any predicaments you may face and are willing to guide you through the entire process. Contact us today at 714-740-7866. We will be happy to hear from you.