Can a California DUI be a Felony?


Generally, a DUI charge is not a felony, but it certainly can be.

In California, a DUI can be a felony three Ways:

Driving Under the Influence is generally a misdemeanor offense throughout the state of California.

One’s blood alcohol level has no impact on whether the DUI case is charged as a felony. There are only three things that can make a DUI a felony:

  1. An accident causing injury to someone else;
  2. A new DUI arrest, and the accused person has three (3) prior DUI convictions within the past ten (10) year period;
  3. A prior felony DUI conviction.

If a DUI does not involve any of the above circumstances, then it will very likely be charged as a misdemeanor.  If it does, then one may be faced with felony DUI charges, for which the punishment is much harsher in terms of jail or even prison time, license suspension, and probation. Additionally, as with any felony conviction, there are potential life altering consequences with a felony DUI outside of court, including employment issues.

Accident Causing Great Bodily Injury

In an accident DUI case that injured another person, one can be charged with a felony DUI if the injuries are serious.  Depending on the severity, even cuts, scrapes, and bruises can result in a felony DUI charge; however, if the injuries are more minor in nature, a driver can be charged with a misdemeanor DUI causing injuries (VC23153).  Only those cases that involve serious injury or death will result in felony DUI charges.  However, there is some debate as to what counts as a serious injury. In addition, it must be proven that you were at fault in the accident in order for the DUI to be a felony under this section.  On many occasions, cases that under the law should be misdemeanors are initially charged as felonies.

A New DUI Arrest, with Three (3) Prior DUI Convictions

If one has 3 DUI convictions, then any subsequent DUI within 10 years of the first will be prosecuted as a felony. The prior DUIs include convictions for alcohol related reckless driving (commonly known as a Wet Reckless), as well as DUI convictions from out of state.

Prior Felony DUI Conviction

If one has a previous felony DUI conviction, then any subsequent DUI within 10 years will be charged as a felony. This is true even if the current offense does not involve an accident and you have a low BAC.

Felony DUI Punishment – Possible Prison Time

The punishment involved in felony DUI cases depends on many factors.

For instance, in DUI cases involving an automobile accident, the number of people injured, and the severity of their injuries is an extremely important factor.  Also, the nature and the cause of the accident is a factor.  The defendant’s background is also a factor when considering punishment.  Prison time is possible and becomes increasingly likely if the injuries are especially tragic.

In multiple-offense DUI cases, the age and nature of the prior DUIs are important factors, along with the circumstances of the current case; prison time is also possible in multiple-offense felony DUI cases.

In addition to custody time in the county jail or state prison system, punishment in felony DUI cases may also include significant fines and fees, strictly monitored felony probation, extensive mandatory alcohol classes, mandatory rehabilitation or treatment programs, and installation of an Ignition Interlock Device.  The DMV can also impose a lengthy license suspension or revocation.

Attorney Manuel J. Barba represents clients accused of DUI and other criminal charges in all courts throughout Riverside and San Bernardino County, as well as parts of Orange and Los Angeles County.   If you have any questions about your particular situation or the charges filed against you, give me a call:  1-866-442-2722

Attorney Manuel J. Barba represents Clients Accused of DUI and other criminal charges in the following criminal courts:

Riverside County:

Banning, Blythe, Indio, Murrieta, and downtown Riverside Courthouses.


San Bernardino County:

Joshua Tree, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Victorville Courthouses.

Los Angeles County:

Alhambra, Bellflower, Downey, East Los Angeles, El Monte, Glendale, Lancaster, Los Angeles, Norwalk, Pasadena, Pomona, West Covina Courthouses.

Orange County:

Fullerton, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster.