California has very stringent laws against drunk driving, characterized by grave consequences for those convicted of operating under the influence. These consequences, including lengthy prison terms and hefty penalties, increase based on the offender's criminal history and the offense's severity. Thus, a first-time offender will not face the same consequences of DUI as a fourth offender after conviction. The first three DUI convictions in the state are misdemeanors, but the fourth is usually a felony if committed within ten years after the first.
If you are facing a 4th offense DUI charge in Los Angeles, CA, get in touch with our qualified criminal attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. We could help you understand your charges' seriousness, your options and handle your defense.
An Overview of California DUI Laws
Driving under the influence (DUI) is among the most severe criminal offenses in California because of the danger of drunk or drugged drivers putting other motorists and road users at risk of an accident. DUI is not just an extreme traffic violation but a criminal offense that carries life-changing and severe consequences for those found guilty. Additionally, offenders face serious administrative consequences even if they are not found guilty in a criminal court. If you face DUI charges, it is always advisable to contact an experienced criminal lawyer. A strong defense is your only chance to escape the severe repercussions of a criminal conviction, whose effects can be experienced many years later.
According to the state’s vehicle Code, driving under the influence is persecuted with two separate offenses:
- Section 23152(a) of the California Vehicle Code is the law against driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is the traditional DUI rule in the state, in which the driver doesn't have to go through testing to be found guilty.
- Section 23152(b) of the California Vehicle Code is the law against operating a vehicle with a .08% or higher blood-alcohol concentration. It is the per se rule of DUI in the state. A driver suspected of driving under the influence must undergo a chemical test to determine his/her BAC level.
Note that a driver can be charged with DUI in California even if his/her BAC level is not equal to or above the lawful limit. Section 23152(a) only requires proof that the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle was impaired to a level where he/she could not operate the vehicle with caution as a sober person could. The arresting officer only needs to provide a probable cause for arrest for you to be found guilty in a criminal court.
As previously mentioned, a DUI conviction in California is serious and life-altering. The severity of conviction consequences varies, depending on whether the offender has a DUI conviction within ten years. A conviction can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction is given to first, second, or third offenders whose offense doesn’t involve an aggravating factor like an injury or hit and run. A fourth offense will be charged as a felony within ten years, attracting even more severe penalties, as will be discussed below.
It helps to fight alongside an experienced criminal lawyer if you wish for the court to drop or reduce your charges. A lawyer will also ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process.
California 4th Offense DUI
A fourth DUI offense occurs within ten years of the first offense. California DU laws provide that a fourth DUI offense be charged as a felony, though the district attorney has total discretion to charge you with a misdemeanor, based on your case's facts. A felony conviction is more severe and includes a jail or prison term of one year or more. A felony conviction will also bear more life-changing consequences. A record of the conviction on your criminal report could significantly affect your career and social life.
Before a prosecutor charges you with a felony DUI, the court requires him/her to verify that you have at least three previous convictions for drunk driving or any other alcohol-related crime within ten years. The following are some of the convictions that could count as prior convictions in this case:
- A conviction for driving under the effects of drugs or alcohol, a violation of Section 23152(a) of the California Vehicle Code
- A conviction for operating a vehicle with a BAC level of .08% or more, a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b)
- A conviction for wet reckless, as provided under California vehicle Code Section 23103.5
- Any conviction outside California that could qualify as any of those convictions
- A record of expungement for any of those convictions
The court requires the prosecutor to provide sufficient evidence to support a 4th offense charge. The prosecutor is required to present proof that you were operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol or driving with a BAC level of .08% or more at the time of the arrest. Additionally, the court requires the prosecutor to demonstrate that you have three prior DUI-related convictions within ten years. The prosecutor will obtain your criminal records or records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The prosecutor can also quickly obtain certificates of attendance or completion from a court-ordered DUI class.
If one or more of your outside state DUI convictions used a different standard of convicting you than California, the judge might decide to disqualify it as a previous conviction. A smart Los Angeles criminal lawyer will use any chance to weaken the prosecutor’s case to avoid a felony conviction. If one of the prior convictions is dismissed by the court, you will face a third DUI conviction, which, in most cases, is a misdemeanor.
Penalties for a California 4th DUI Offense
A 4th DUI offense within ten years will be convicted as a felony. However, the judge will announce his/her verdict based on your case's circumstances and facts and if the previous sentences were within ten years. The judge will also consider whether or not there were aggravating factors in your case that could enhance your conviction. Some of these aggravating factors include:
- A very high blood-alcohol concentration level
- If you were driving at an excessive speed
- If you had a minor below 14 as a passenger in your vehicle at the time of the commission of the offense
- If you caused a fatal accident or caused another person an injury
The criminal punishment for a California 4th offense DUI are:
- Six months in jail, or 16 months, two or three years in prison
- Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000. Together with all court fees, you can expect to pay up to $2,000
- Probation of between three and five years
- Mandatory attendance of a DUI class for thirty months — The court could impose an additional treatment like alcohol addiction classes based on the nature of your conduct.
Note that criminal penalties could be more or less, depending on the judge and your case's circumstances.
Driver License Suspension
In addition to criminal penalties, DMV is likely to revoke your driver’s license for four years. On top of that, you’ll have limited access to a restricted license, which could allow you to drive to necessary events and places like work and school. If you’re allowed a restricted license, the court will order you to install an IID in your car. An IID system ensures that you’ll not drive under the effect of alcohol. The system will require you to provide an alcohol-free breath to start your vehicle and to continue operating. The cost of installing and maintaining the IID system will be your responsibility.
After the four-year revocation of your driver’s license, you’ll be required to request a new license if you wish to continue driving in California. Reapplying for a new license means going through the same procedure you underwent while applying for a license the first time. It means that you’ll have to retake the driving and writing tests. You could face additional criminal penalties if you’re found driving while your driver’s license is canceled.
Habitual Traffic Offender
Another penalty for a 4th offense DUI is designation as a habitual traffic offender for three years. Even if you’re allowed to drive following a DUI charge, for instance, with a restricted license or after installing an IID, you are still considered driving on a suspended license. You could face additional consequences for being a habitual traffic offender. The offense is punishable by 30 days of incarceration and a fine of $1,000 for first offenders.
Penalty enhancements will occur if there are aggravating factors associated with your 4th offense DUI charge. The severity of these penalties will be based on the conditions of your case, your criminal account, blood-alcohol concentration level, and the presence of fatalities or injuries in your case. Here are some of the aggravating factors that could cause the judge to enhance your penalties:
- Refusing to yield to a chemical test after arrest to determine your BAC — This will give you an additional eighteen days behind bars.
- Reckless or excessive driving— This will give you an additional sixty days behind bars.
- The presence of a minor below 14 as a passenger in your vehicle at the time of the commission of the offense — The offense will give you an additional nine to sixty days in jail/prison. The prosecutor might also charge you with child endangerment, a violation of Section 273a of the California Penal Code. Child endangerment is a separate crime that carries a maximum of six years in prison. However, the court may not include the DUI punishment enhancement if you’re charged with child endangerment.
- DUI resulting in an injury, a violation of Section 23153 of California vehicle Code — The offense will give you an additional two years of prison time at the minimum. If the offense resulted in a great physical injury, you would receive an additional three to six years of imprisonment, plus an additional year for every injured person. To add to that, you will be fined an additional amount of $5,000.
- DUI manslaughter, in violation of Section 191.5 of the state’s Penal Code — This will give you an additional 16 months, two or four years in jail, plus additional fines of up to $10,000. In case of gross vehicular manslaughter in violation of Section 192 of the California Penal Code, the court will give you an additional six years to your DUI penalty.
- Watson Murder, in violation of Section 187 of the state’s Penal Code — The offense involves causing death with a previous conviction, even after being given a Watson warning that causing the death of another person while driving under the influence could result in murder charges. For this offense, the court could give you an additional 15-years-to-life, plus a maximum fine of $15,000, and treat the crime as second-degree murder.
Legal Defense Strategies for California 4th Offense DUI Charges
The only way to avoid the severe consequences of a 4th offense DUI conviction is by fighting your charges. This could be possible if you engage the help of an experienced criminal lawyer. An experienced defense lawyer will look into the details of your case to find weak points in the prosecutor’s evidence. Challenging the prosecutor’s evidence will create doubt in the jury, and cause the jury to see the case from a whole new perspective. Fortunately, there are defense strategies that your lawyer can use to do that or to strengthen your case. If successful, the court will be compelled to either drop or reduce your charges. Some of these strategies are:
No Probable Cause for Arrest
The law requires law enforcement officers to have probable cause for arrest before stopping and apprehending a driver for drunk driving. It could be that you were driving recklessly or speeding. If your arrest was made without probable cause, then the court might dismiss the case and all evidence gathered by the police after that. Your lawyer could try to challenge the probable cause for your arrest. If he/she successfully convinces the court that the officer did not have a probable reason for your arrest, the court will dismiss your charges.
No Proof of Actual Driving
You cannot be charged with California DUI if there’s no proof of actual driving. The prosecutor has to demonstrate in court that you were in actual control of the vehicle and operating under the influence. If no such evidence exists then, your lawyer can challenge the prosecutor’s account. The court will require the arresting officer to verify that he/she directly observed you and your driving conduct, which led to a stop and eventually an arrest. If that did not happen, then it might be easy to have your charges dropped or reduced.
Unreliable Test Results
BAC tests must be reliable if they are to be admitted in court as evidence against drunk driving. However, there is no way to tell for sure that your breath or blood test results were accurate. The law provides a guideline through which the police must adhere while administering tests on motorists suspected of drunk driving.
For example, police officers must follow a laid down procedure while administering Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). The tests include observing the body behavior of a suspected DUI offender while asking direct questions. The police must ensure that you are relaxed at all times to obtain reliable results. If you were nervous at that time for reasons other than DUI, your lawyer could cite unreliable test results to have the evidence collected from the test dismissed from the court.
Additionally, the law requires that all testing instruments be well maintained and calibrated for accurate results for breath testing. If your attorney has reasons to believe that your test results were obtained from a not properly maintained or calibrated device, he/she could fight to have your charge dropped.
Challenging a Prior DUI Conviction
As earlier mentioned, DUI penalties increase with every subsequent conviction. If your lawyer cannot do much about your current situation, he/she could try to have one of your prior convictions stricken from your record. If this strategy works, you’ll probably be facing a less severe charge and consequently less-severe penalties.
Rising BAC Level
This defense strategy could be used to demonstrate that your BAC level could have risen between arrest and testing time. You may not have been too intoxicated to drive and could have arrived at your destination before your BAC rose were it not for your arrest.
Find a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer Near Me
If you or your loved one is facing 4th offense DUI charges in California, you are probably worried about the severe consequences of conviction provided by the law. The good news is that you can fight those charges and compel the court to drop or reduce them to less severe charges. However, you need a highly-skilled and experienced attorney to help you with that. If you face 4th offense DUI charges in Los Angeles, contact us at 310-502-1314. At Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we will ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process.