While a fourth offense DUI carries harsh penalties, there is still hope of fighting the DUI case. The prosecution may allege that drugs/alcohol-impaired your driving. Regardless of the allegations, Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm can help fight them on your behalf for better outcomes. The possibilities for defending against a 4th offense DUI are hopeless with the help of a lawyer since the prosecution will work hard to convict you.

What is a 4th Offense DUI Under California Laws?

California’s DUI laws define DUI as an offense that occurs when an individual operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. An adult driver may face DUI charges for having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more. A minor and a CDL license holder can also face the same charges for having a blood alcohol level of 0.01 percent or higher and 0.04 percent or higher respectively.

You may be charged with a fourth offense DUI for committing a DUI when you have at least three previous DUI convictions. A 4th offense DUI charge qualifies as a felony DUI charge in California. You may also face a felony DUI charge for having a prior felony DUI or committing a DUI offense that leads to death or injury.


Before January 1, 2014, the definition of DUI was only limited to driving under the influence of a drug or an alcoholic beverage or a combination of any drug and alcohol. Vehicle Code 23153(a) was California’s provision for DUI. New statutes were introduced to include Vehicle Codes 23152(b), 23152(e) an 23152(f).

Each time you face a DUI conviction, the potential state prison or county jail sentence increases. A 4th offense DUI may be valid only if you committed the offense within the last ten years of your prior DUI conviction. The prosecution will build your case by referring to Vehicle Code 23152, commonly known as California’s DUI law. Your prior DUI convictions may be as a result of the following circumstances:

  • Driving a vehicle with excessive BAC (blood alcohol concentration) under Vehicle Code 23152b
  • DUI causing injury (under VC 23153) including gross vehicular manslaughter
  • Driving under the influence as highlighted in VC 23152a
  • Wet reckless (under VC 23103.5
  • Previous expungement for a DUI conviction
  • Out-of-state DUI offenses that would qualify as a violation of the California DUI laws

The ten years between DUI offenses are usually known as a washout or lookback period. A lookback period constitutes the dates you committed a DUI offense as opposed to the dates for the DUI conviction. Your arrest records can help establish the exact date the police charged you for a DUI offense. The prosecution team can refer to the court records when establishing the dates for your prior DUI convictions.

Penalties and Sentencing for a 4th Offense DUI in California

The punishment, penalties, and sentencing for a fourth offense DUI are usually harsh and devastating. Their severity may depend on your BAC level or facts of the particular case. Additional aggravating factors such as recklessness or car accidents may also make the penalties severe. The sentencing guidelines for a 4th offense DUI include:

  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
  • A state prison sentence of sixteen months or two/four years
  • Probation for three to five years
  • Attendance at court-approved DUI classes for 30 months
  • A three-year HTO (habitual traffic offender) status
  • Revocation of your driving privilege in California for four years
  • Enrollment in an additional treatment program (such as a program for alcoholics)

Though a four-year license revocation is among the penalties for a 4th offense DUI, there are exceptions to this penalty. Senate Bill 1046 of 2018 introduced the possibility for DUI defendants to continue driving their vehicles. With this exception, you will have to maintain an IID (ignition interlock device) in your car for three years for you to continue driving.

Aggravating Factors for a 4th Offense DUI Explained

As severe as the penalties of a 4th offense DUI tend to be, it is the little factors surrounding your case that matter the most. Your sentence may be enhanced if you have an elevated BAC or drove excessively. Having an elevated BAC, in this case, means having a BAC beyond the required legal limit. Consequently, speeding while driving under the influence may put you at risk of committing vehicular manslaughter or a hit and run.

Your DUI charges may worsen if you had a passenger below the age of 14 years in your vehicle at the time of the DUI arrest. The arresting officer will not only consider you as a DUI driver who kept his/her life and the life of a minor at risk. Your case may even be treated as a felony for causing a fatal accident. The nature of the penalties will depend on the type and extent of injury you caused if any individual was injured.

Penalty Enhancements for a 4th Offense DUI

In California, penalty enhancements are usually introduced if various aggravating circumstances are surrounding your DUI charge. The circumstances involved will determine the severity of the penalties. Your BAC level, your criminal history, and the injuries/fatalities caused will also matter in this case. The aggravating factors and their respective penalty enhancements are as follows:

  • Reckless driving or excessive speed - An additional 60-day jail sentence
  • Refusal to take a chemical test - An additional 18-day jail sentence
  • Having a child below 14 years of age as a passenger - An additional jail sentence of 90 days, child endangerment charges (under Penal Code 273a) or both
  • DUI manslaughter (under Penal Code 191.5) - A $10,000 fine and jail sentence ranging from 16 months to 4 years or a 6-year sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter
  • DUI causing an injury (under Vehicle Code 23153) - A $5,000 fine, a two-year prison sentence, a 3 to a 6-year prison sentence for great bodily injury sustained and an additional one-year prison sentence for each injury victim
  • Watson murder (under Penal Code 187) - a fine not exceeding $15,000 and a 15-year to a life prison sentence for second-degree murder

Probation Conditions and Alternative Sentencing for a 4th Offense DUI in California

A fourth offense DUI sentence may include probation with various conditions you need to follow. A California DUI court will order you not to operate a motor vehicle with a measurable amount of alcohol in the blood. You will also agree to submit to future chemical tests of your breath or blood in the case of a subsequent DUI arrest. Agreeing not to commit any additional crimes is also part of the probation conditions.

Other probation conditions imposed based on the circumstances of your case include restitution and attendance in group meetings for addicts. Restitution is mandatory, especially when you caused a car crash while driving under the influence. The group meetings may include Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Your case may also call for you to participate in a MAAD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Program.

Alternative Sentencing Options for a 4th Offense DUI

Alternative sentencing options help substitute state prison or county jail sentence with less severe sentences. A judge may impose them based on the circumstances of your case and the defense strategies used by your attorney in court. They may include house arrest or electronic monitoring, community service and Cal-Trans roadside work. Others include incarceration in a city/private jail and residence in a suitable sober-living environment.

Does a Fourth-Time DUI Conviction Attract a Permanent Criminal Record?

You may have a fourth-time DUI conviction erased from your criminal record through a process known as expungement. The requirements of the expungement include being placed on probation and completing the probation term. Once you meet them, your lawyer can file a DUI expungement with the court for the judge to review it. You will automatically enter a plea of not guilty once the judge accepts the petition.

How the Prosecutor Proves that You Have Multiple Prior Convictions for DUI in California?

The prosecution team for a DUI case primarily consists of prosecutors working under the District Attorney. They have to prove to the court that you have prior convictions for a DUI offense. The prosecution usually uses DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) records and court records to build your case. Any certificates indicating you completed a court-ordered drug/alcohol program can also help them.

DUI convictions are documented in court records for future references. The DMV records help show your history of license suspensions/revocations brought by a DUI charge. The prosecution team may also rely on court records and out-of-state DMV records to prove any violation of the California DUI laws. Once these records show that you had three prior DUI convictions, the prosecution will treat your current DUI charge as a 4th offense DUI.

Besides reviewing court and DMV records, the prosecutors have to prove various elements of a DUI offense. Their allegations should show you were driving under the influence or with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. The time difference between your third offense DUI and the 4th one should be ten years for the allegations to suffice in court. Explained below are these elements in detail.

You Were Driving the Vehicle

In California, the prosecution team has to prove you were in the actual physical control or were operating a vehicle to charge you with a DUI. One of the ways they can prove this element is by relying on the statement issued by the arresting officer. Intoxicated drivers are at risk of driving dangerously and putting the lives of passengers or pedestrians at risk. You can only be charged with a DUI if you were under the influence of drugs/alcohol and were in control of a vehicle.

The prosecutors will consider factors like the location of your car keys, and whether the car's engine was running at the time police officers stopped you. Your proximity to the steering wheel and whether you were awake/asleep will also help determine whether you were in actual control of the vehicle. The prosecution is more likely to conclude you were in physical control of the vehicle if you were close enough to be able to put the car in motion.

You Drove Under the Influence or with a BAC of 0.08% or Higher

The prosecution team has to show you were drunk or high off drugs such as marijuana at the time the officer stopped you. The level of impairment required for drunk driving may be attributed to a BAC of 0.08 percent or more. Though this limit is lower for drivers below the age of 21 years, it helps the prosecutors allegedly classify a driver as a DUI offender.

Your Prior DUI Convictions Equal to Three

You need three prior DUI convictions that are within ten years for your current DUI charge to qualify as a fourth-time DUI. The prosecutors can refer to the court records to confirm whether your charges meet this criteria. Fourth-time DUI charges attract more severe penalties than first-time, second-time, and third-time DUI charges. The prosecution may focus on ensuring you get hefty penalties for the offense.

Defending Against a 4th Offense DUI in California

Though it is not guaranteed, your attorney may first try to have your current DUI charge dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge. Your lawyer may also review each of the prior DUI convictions to identify any evidentiary or procedural errors. The following legal defenses may be used in addition to these efforts to defend against a fourth offense DUI:

Lack of Probable Cause for the DUI Stop

Police officers need probable cause for stopping your car and detaining you for a DUI investigation. The probable cause is also mandatory when they arrest you for committing a DUI in California. If they do not have one, the DUI charges may be invalid. Your lawyer can request the court to suppress any evidence obtained from the arrest stage.

Bad Driving Is Not an Indication of Impaired Driving

Erratic driving, speeding, and weaving do not necessarily indicate that you are driving under the influence. Bad driving may be as a result of eating or trying to reach for something in the car. Sober drivers experience moments of bad driving like impaired drivers. Arguing your case in this manner can help fight a fourth offense DUI charge.

You Were Not Driving the Vehicle

Your lawyer may use this legal defense when you are facing a "DUI causing injury" charge. The defense may work if no one saw you operating the vehicle. It may also help your case if the police officer found you at the scene in a parked vehicle. The prosecution team will find it difficult to prove you were driving the car at the time of the accident.

You may face 4th offense DUI charges if there is enough proof of you driving the car in question. One of the prosecutor's tasks involves proving who the river of the car was and that they drove it. You have a chance to fight the chances if they fail to prove this fact.

Unreliable FSTs (Field Sobriety Tests)

The arresting officer will try to introduce your FST results with regards to your 4th offense DUI charge. Law enforcement authorities use field sobriety tests to determine the level of physical impairment in DUI drivers. The test results may be unreliable to your case if your poor performance is attributed to other factors other than drunk driving. These factors may include rough terrain, illness, and harsh weather conditions.

Inaccurate Breath and Blood Tests

Police officers need to have the breath testing instruments calibrated and maintained after certain usage intervals. They should also have them tested for anticoagulants and contamination under Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations. Failure to observe this requirement would result in the instruments giving inaccurate answers. Your attorney can also order a separate independent lab test for your BAC to contradict or confirm the officer's BAC readings.

Rising Blood Alcohol

The BAC levels in the blood usually change with time depending on physiological factors such as hydration and nutrition. Your BAC can be lower than usual at the time of the traffic stop. The rise in your BAC may depend on the time you consumed alcohol before operating a motor vehicle. Using this defense may help you increase the chances of invalidating the arresting officer's BAC readings.

How a DUI Attorney Can Help You with Your Fourth Offense DUI Case

The outcomes of a fourth-time DUI in California depend on the type and intensity of support you receive from a DUI lawyer. You should consider having an experienced attorney look over your DUI case to increase the chances of achieving better outcomes. Creating an effective defense strategy for your case requires countless of hours and skill. You will need a legal expert to facilitate the following tasks:

Gathering Evidence

Evidence gathering may include the process of obtaining discovery in a case or subpoenaing relevant witnesses. Pieces of evidence gathered during the discovery stage of a DUI case may include video/audio recordings related to the DUI investigation. For instance, your cell phone records can help show that you were not speaking on the phone at the time the officer stopped your vehicle.

Interpreting the Evidence

This activity forms part of the legal analysis process, which is crucial at every stage of a criminal case. Your lawyer will use the gathered evidence to create written motions supporting your case. The motions may include a Pitchess Motion or a Motion to Suppress Evidence depending on the findings of the legal analysis. They may offer a foundation for negotiating with the DA for a better deal or getting a positive verdict at the end of the trial.

Negotiating a Better Deal

Since not all DUI cases proceed to trial, you stand a chance of negotiating with the DA for a deal you want. Your lawyer should know how to bargain with the prosecution team by considering the facts and evidence surrounding your case. Though not guaranteed, a plea deal for a DUI case may result in the defendant getting a charge reduction (a dry or wet reckless charge) for a fourth-time DUI.

Related Offenses

California's DUI laws list a fourth offense DUI among priorable offenses. Its related offenses include first-time DUI, second-time DUI, and third-time DUI. Discussed below are these crimes in detail.

First-Time DUI

First-time DUI charges in California may result in penalties ranging from a jail sentence to misdemeanor probation. When arrested for a DUI for the first time, you may face a jury/bench trial and a DMV license suspension hearing. The court hearing helps you fight the criminal charges while the DMV hearing helps you fight for your driving privileges.

Second-Time DUI

A second-time DUI charge may be imposed on you for committing a DUI after facing a DUI or wet reckless conviction within the last ten years. The prosecutor has to prove you were driving a car with a BAC of 0.08 percent or more or under the influence of drugs. Possible penalties for the offense include a 3 to 5-year summary probation, a $390 fine and enrollment in a 2nd Offender DUI school.

Third-Time DUI

A third-time DUI charge stems from a second-time DUI conviction faced in the last ten years. The penalties for this offense are more severe than those of a second-time DUI. They include a 3 to 5-year informal probation, a jail sentence (ranging from 120 days to one year) and a $2,000 fine. The court will also order you to complete a 30-month DUI education program and have an IID in your car for two years.

Hire an Experienced Orange County DUI Attorney Near Me

The criminal process for a fourth offense DUI is complex and requires expert legal help for you to navigate it. Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm is always on call for Orange County residents accused of allegedly committing DUI offenses. You or your loved one will need an experienced DUI lawyer to represent you at your DMV hearing or in court. Calling 714-740-7866 can help you consult with one of our lawyers on your specific DUI case.