Is a DUI a Felony in California? Learn the Law on DUI in the State

Is a DUI a felony in California? Find out here from the top-rated DUI defense team at the Law Office of Christopher Chaney.

Is a DUI a Felony in California?


Under California law, drink driving could result in felony DUI charges under three circumstances:

  1. A fourth DUI offense within ten years
  2. When the driver had previous felony DUI convictions
  3. When the driver causes an accident in which another person is killed or sustains bodily injury

Is a DUI Considered a Felony in California?

Apart from the above circumstances, driving under the influence is usually deemed a misdemeanor charge that will not attract criminal penalties.

As long as there are no aggravating circumstances or prior DUI convictions, a DUI charge is not considered a felony but rather a misdemeanor DUI. This will usually apply to drivers facing first, second, or third DUI offenses.

If you are facing felony DUI charges, it is critical to secure the services of DUI lawyers as soon as possible. The penalties for felony DUI are usually severe and could have far-reaching consequences.

By working with an experienced criminal defense team, you will get the advice you need to avoid being convicted of felony DUI or minimize the consequences of the offense.

The Law Office of Christopher Chaney has the experience, skill, and resources to help you avoid the severe penalties of a DUI conviction. Contact us today, and we may just be able to help you get a favorable outcome.

When Is a DUI a Felony in California?


In this article, we will be looking into several elements that make a DUI a felony. A DUI is a felony when:

  • It resulted in the death or severe injury of another.
  • The driver has three or more prior DUI convictions or what is usually referred to as wet reckless convictions over a decade.
  • The driver has at least one other felony DUI conviction.

It is important to note that in the first two circumstances, one could be charged with misdemeanor offenses rather than a felony DUI charge at the prosecutor’s discretion.

Since this is very rare and unlikely, this article concentrates on DUI as a felony offense.

What Makes a DUI a Felony?

Under California DUI laws, a person can be charged with a felony when their actions:

Cause Death or Injury

When another person suffers death or injury because you were drunk driving and in doing so committed a vehicle code violation or drove your vehicle negligently, you could be charged with a felony.

Prosecutors may bring a criminal charge in either of three ways:

  • Under California Vehicle Code 23513, which deals with causing serious injury while driving under the influence
  • Under Penal Code 191.5(a), which will result in a gross vehicular manslaughter charge.
  • Under the Watson Murder Statute for DUI second degree murder

What you will be charged with will usually depend on your criminal history and the specific facts in the case.


Multiple Prior Convictions

A DUI is what is referred to as a priorable offense which usually attracts a harsher criminal sentence and stiffer penalties, especially if one is convicted with the same or similar offenses.

If you have three or more previous DUI convictions in the last ten years and are then arrested for another DUI, you will be deemed a habitual traffic offender. This means that you will be charged with a felony DUI rather than a misdemeanor.

When it comes to drunk driving, the prior offense could include one or more of the following:

  1. Prior DUI conviction in California
  2. A wet reckless conviction in California
  3. An out of state conviction which if you were arrested in California, would be the equivalent of a DUI

It is important to note that a DUI felony conviction will mean that all subsequent impaired driving will result in a felony charge.


Having Prior Felony DUI

Committing a DUI even if it is as simple as a misdemeanor offense with no aggravated circumstances will result in a felony charge if you have at least one felony drunk driving case on record.

The situation usually arises when you are convicted while having a record of having caused death or injury or when one has been charged with a felony due to multiple DUI convictions.

Contact the Law Office of Christopher Chaney today to get the legal advice and representation you need. We understand that being charged with a DUI can be a frustrating experience, and we are prepared to do everything in our power to help you through this difficult time.

Ways a DUI Can Become a Felony


A DUI can be charged as a felony, but to get a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove that:

  • The defendant was driving a blood alcohol level that was above the legal limit during the DUI arrest.
  • The defendant was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol that impaired their mental and physical abilities.

How Can a DUI Become a Felony in California?

There are five different scenarios under which prosecutors can bring criminal charges on felony DUI. These usually include:

The Fourth Offense Within 10 Years

If a defendant has three or more convictions in the last ten years, any further DUI cases will typically be charged as a felony under the law. Some prior offenses that can apply include:

  1. Wet reckless convictions
  2. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  3. Conviction outside California for an offense equivalent to a drunk driving charge
  4. Expunged convictions on any of the abovementioned offenses


DUI With Prior Felony DUI Conviction

Conviction under felony DUI usually results in subsequent offenses being charged as a felony regardless of the severity of the charge. As long as there is prior conviction in the last ten years, even a simple DUI  with no aggravating factors can result in a felony charge.


DUI Causing Injury

When driving under the influence of alcohol results in severe injury to another, you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony DUI.

Such an offense is usually referred to as a wobbler offense. The prosecutor has the discretion on how to charge a defendant depending on the criminal record of the accused and the facts in the case.

To get a defendant convicted of felony DUI, the prosecution needs to prove that the accused:

  • Drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Violated the law or committed a negligent act that resulted in bodily injury to themselves or another person while driving


DUI Causing Death

When death results from the actions of a driver under the influence, prosecutors may charge one with:

  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence
  • Watson Murder, usually referred to as second-degree murder
  • Vehicular manslaughter while under the influence

Like in the previous case, it will be at the prosecutor’s discretion who will charge a person based on their prior criminal record and the facts in the case.


DUI With Child Endangerment

Under the law, drivers will face enhanced penalties for putting minors at risk. If you are arrested for either a felony or misdemeanor DUI, you will be facing either of the following options:

  1. DUI with a child under 14 – You may be subject to mandatory jail time if convicted of this charge.
  2. Child endangerment with a child under 18 – In addition to the underlying DUI charge, it is filed as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts in the case.

The latter is usually applied for egregious drunk driving behavior such as driving with the child without an approved child seat or a seatbelt, or very high blood alcohol levels.

If you face a DUI charge, you may be frustrated and afraid of the dire consequences that may result from a conviction. As such, we always advise working with a qualified and experienced lawyer who knows about the defenses and strategies of the prosecution and hence may be able to help you get favorable outcomes.

DUI Convictions: California DUI and Felony Laws


A conviction for DUI comes with harsh legal consequences in California. A first-time offense usually results in penalties that may include license suspension, probation, stiff fines, alcohol and drug treatment classes, and for some offenses, time in jail or even prison.

Still, it is essential to note that drunk driving is usually a misdemeanor in California that will not result in prison time.

If you have been charged with a DUI, you need to work with a DUI attorney who will provide much-needed legal advice on how to proceed. Contact the Law Office of Christopher Chaney today. We may be able to help you by representing you in court on negotiating or favorable outcomes with law enforcement and other officials of the justice system on your behalf.

Things to Know About Felony DUIs and Great Bodily Injury


For one to be charged with causing significant bodily injury and felony DUI, it has to be shown they were driving under the influence of alcohol and that their Blood Alcohol Content was at least 0.08%.

The prosecution will also have to show that the defendant violated another traffic code, such as speeding, running a red light, or being negligent. 

A second violation is deemed a civil breach of a legal duty in the exercise of due care that is deemed a substantial factor resulting in injury. Multiple infractions usually result in sentencing enhancement that may include longer license suspension, a higher fine, or a longer jail term. 

A serious injury does not just mean traumatic brain injuries or paralysis. It can also include other injuries such as permanent disability or scarring, deep lacerations, and broken bones. 

If the victim had to receive medical care, this might promote the case of serious injury.

If you have been accused of a DUI causing injury or death in California, it is critical to secure the services of a law firm with lawyers with experience and skills in such matters.

If you are in Van Nuys or Los Angeles, there is no better law firm to handle your case than the Law Office of Christopher Chaney. We live and work DUI cases and have been staunchly representing individuals charged with DUI offenses for several years. Contact us today, and we may just be able to help you with your case.

What Is Considered a Felony DUI in California?


If you have more than three DUI convictions and then get slapped with a fourth offense over ten years, you may be charged with a felony under the law. 

If found guilty of the offense, you may be slapped with a range of penalties, including a three-year stay in state prison.


What Constitutes a Felony DUI?

If you are found guilty of injuring or killing someone due to drunk driving, you may be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter. If you are convicted, you face up to a decade in prison.

Under California law, manslaughter while intoxicated means that the defendant is accused of ordinary negligence instead of egregious or gross negligence.

You could get up to a year in jail if you are convicted for vehicular manslaughter for driving while intoxicated. 

If you have been charged with a DUI felony in California, the most important thing to do is contact a lawyer who will provide legal advice and criminal defense representation.

At the Law Office of Christopher Chaney, we have experienced attorneys who may be able to help you with your DUI felony and misdemeanor charges. We have a solid understanding of the criminal justice system and how it applies to each client’s unique circumstances. Given our comprehensive knowledge, we may just be able to help you with your case. 

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