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Driving under the influence causing injury: What is the law and punishment?

Vehicle Code 23153(b)  "driving under the influence causing injury" is a "wobbler" meaning it may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances and the amount of prior convictions for DUI.  A DUI resulting in injury carries significantly increased penalties that could lead to a lengthy jail time.  In most cases, VC 23153(b) is also charged in a DUI case but a defendant may only be convicted of one.  

What Must Be Proven in a DUI with injury case?

VC 23153(a) requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant drove a motor vehicle;
  2. the defendant did so while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage;
  3. the defendant concurrently committed an illegal act or failed to perform a lawful duty; and
  4. the defendant's illegal act or failure to perform a lawful duty was a cause of bodily injury to a victim other than the driver of the vehicle.

 The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that a DUI with injury has occurred.

What are the penalties for a DUI with injury?

The penalties for DUI are determined by the amount of prior DUI convictions the defendant has within the last 10 years using the date of the violation.

0 prior DUI convictions

Misdemeanor

The maximum penalty is a fine up to $2,000 plus assessments and/or 1 year in county jail.

Required to take 3, 6, or 9 month DUI program depending on BAC.  

Drivers license suspended for 1 year.

Felony

The maximum penalty is a fine up to $10,000 plus assessments and/or 3 years in state prison.

Required to take 3, 6, or 9 month DUI program depending on BAC.  

Drivers license suspended for 1 year.

Strike if involves infliction of great bodily injury.

1 prior DUI conviction

Misdemeanor

The maximum penalty is a fine up to $2,000 plus assessments and/or 1 year in county jail.

Required to take 18 or 30 month DUI program depending on BAC.  

Drivers license suspended for 2 year.

Felony

The maximum penalty is a fine up to $10,000 plus assessments and/or 3 years in state prison.

Required to take 18 or 30 month DUI program depending on BAC.    

Drivers license suspended for 2 year.

Strike if involves infliction of great bodily injury.

2 prior or more DUI convictions

Felony

The maximum penalty is a fine up to $10,000 plus assessments and/or 4 years in state prison.

Required to take 30 month DUI program.  

Drivers license revoked for 5 years.

Habitual Traffic Offender status for 3 years.

Strike if involves infliction of great bodily injury.

Sentence Enhancements

An additional 3 to 6 year consecutive sentence if any victim experienced great bodily injury.

Each additional injured victim adds a one year consecutive sentence up to a maximum of three years.

What are the defenses to DUI with injury?

DUI with injuries are more difficult to prove than a normal DUI case.  Here are some of the most common defenses:

The Detention was an Illegal Seizure under the 4th Amendment

If the arresting officer did not have a valid reason to stop the defendant in the first place, the officer has committed an illegal seizure.  An officer must be able to state in court the reason for the stop and provide proof that his statement is true.  If an officer is unable to provide a valid reason for a stop or their statements are proven to be false, the court must exclude all evidence obtained from the illegal detention.  This will likely include all statements made by the defendant, field sobriety test observations, and blood or breath results. 


The Arrest was made without Probable Cause

In order for an officer to make a valid arrest, the arresting officer must have probable cause that a crime has been committed.  An officer develops probable cause through investigation.  In a DUI case this typically involves observing the defendant and noting any signs or symptoms of intoxication.  This is why the officer has a defendant perform field sobriety tests and administers the Preliminary Alcohol Screening device.  If the officer did not properly or fairly conduct his investigation and made an arrest without probable cause, an illegal arrest has occurred.  If proven in court, any evidence obtained as a result of an illegal arrest will be inadmissible in court.

You were not Under the Influence at the Time of Driving

Proving a driver was under influence or BAC was above a certain level at the time of driving is a difficult task for a prosecutor.  A simple traffic violation is not a smoking gun that you were under the influence, drivers receive tickets everyday without consuming alcohol or drugs.  In addition, an Officer typically does not obtain your BAC until significantly after starting his investigation.  Your BAC is constantly increasing or decreasing over time making it difficult to calculate a precise BAC at the time of driving when results may not be obtained until hours after the arrest.  Remember, having alcohol or drugs in your system while driving is not illegal, you must be under the influence of alcohol and drugs and in some charges a BAC of a certain level at the time of driving.  Your BAC at the police station hours later does not automatically make you guilty.

The defendant's negligence was not the cause of the injury

The prosecutor must prove it was the defendant's negligence that caused the injury.  Car accidents can result from any number of reasons.  Weather, road conditions, or other reasons typically contribute to an accident and injuries.  Even if it is proven a defendant is under the influence, this is insufficient all by itself.  This requirement makes it difficult for a prosecutor to secure a conviction.

Bottom line, you need an experienced attorney who is willing to walk you through the entire process, evaluate your case effectively for weaknesses and exploit the issues in your case to achieve the best results.  The Law Offices of Steven McNicholl has that experience and will get you through your case in the best shape possible.

See also

VC 23152(b) DUI causing injury with BAC of .08% or more

California's Implied Consent Law

Field Sobriety Test

Admin Per Se Hearing

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