Overview of DUI in California

dui in californiaGenerally, most people know that states currently lean towards punishing DUIs pretty severely.  The details matter however.  This blogpost will discuss the penalties for DUIs and what can make a DUI in California a felony offense.

DUI offenses in California usually fall under a misdemeanor offense, as long as there are no aggravating factors.  This is true even for a second or third DUI offense, generally.

California typically charges a DUI as a felony if the DUI caused the injury or death of another individual, you have 3 or more prior DUI convictions within a ten-year period, or you have at least one prior felony DUI conviction.

If another person suffers an injury or death because you either drove under the influence and either committed an additional vehicle code violation or drove negligently, you can be charged with a felony DUI.  The premise for this can fall under the California Vehicle Code which provides conviction for driving under the influence causing injury, vehicular manslaughter under the criminal code, or DUI second-degree murder under the criminal code.

A judge will always consider the specific facts of the case and criminal history when determining sentencing.

Is a DUI a Felony Under California Law?

If you have multiple DUI convictions, you may be charged with a felony for the current conviction.  This could be a conviction for DUI in California or an out-of-state conviction that if committed in California would be a DUI.  If you have a California charge for “wet reckless”, this may also be considered as a prior charge.  Wet reckless is a charge a prosecutor can use for a defendant to plead down from a regular DUI charge.

If you already have a felony DUI, then any subsequent DUI charge is automatically charged as a felony.

What is California’s DUI School?

For most DUI convictions, California requires a person to enroll in “DUI School”.  This is a program for alcohol education and prevention.  It can be ordered either by the courts or by the California DMV. These programs must be licensed by the State of California.  There are over 400 licensed DUI programs in California.  Education programs can only be completed in-person.

DUI school length will depend on the DUI offense charged. For a person under 21 years old and a first time offender, the class is typically 12 hours long and costs around $270.  For a first DUI offense, with a blood alcohol content less than 0.20%, the average cost is $843 and 30 hours of class time.  For a first time DUI offense greater than 0.20% BAC, average cost is $1,850 and 60 hours of class time.

If this is a repeat offense, class time can go for 18 months and can range from $1,900-$2,600.

It is important to take into account the price of these classes.  They are not included in any court fines.  If you do not complete a court-ordered DUI program, this could subject a person to a probation violation and you cannot drive under a restricted license.  If a person fails to attend DUI schools, the program will inform the judge and issue a bench warrant for the person’s arrest.

If you live out of state or are moving out of state, you still must attend the DUI court case in the county where the incident occurred. If you are ordered to attend DUI school, the judge may allow you to take a class in your home state.  However, the out of state DUI school curriculum must be the same as California DUI school.  Discuss this with the judge and attorney to ensure you can take the correct class out of state and fulfill any requirements.

Click here for information on California DUI laws.