Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in the state of California. It is delineated under two sets of legal codices: the Vehicle Code and the Criminal Code (also known as the Penal Code). Consequently, it is important to retain a criminal defense firm that is experienced and knowledgeable in handling these types of cases. If you are facing charges of driving under the influence and having caused the injury of another person, then contact Los Angeles Criminal Attorney right away. We have a proven track record of defending clients all over Los Angeles, CA.
What Is DUI Causing Injury?
DUI causing injury is a criminal charge that is delineated under California Vehicle Code 23153 VC. It is applied in cases where you (the defendant) has been accused of being under the influence and having caused a vehicular collision that resulted in injury in another person. There may be multiple alleged victims and they may be present in any vehicle in the accident (including your own). If you caused injuries to yourself, then a violation of Vehicle Code 23153 VC is not applicable (though you may still be held criminally liable for a simple DUI).
The Penalties for DUI Causing Injury
The first conviction for a DUI causing injury is treated as a “wobbler” offense in the state of California. That means that the prosecutor’s office has discretion in whether they want to pursue a misdemeanor or a felony charge. This will depend on the specific circumstances of your case and your criminal history, including any previous DUIs as well as alcohol and/or drug-related convictions.
A conviction for a misdemeanor DUI causing injury results in:
- Fines ranging from three-hundred ninety dollars ($390) to five-thousand dollars ($5,000)
- A mandatory DUI education program for a period of three (3), nine (9), eighteen (18), or thirty (30) months
- Incarceration in the county jail for five (5) days to one (1) year
- Informal probation that ranges from three (3) to five (5) years
- Suspension of your driver’s license for one (1) to three (3) years
- Restitution to be paid to any of the victims
On the other hand, a conviction for a felony DUI causing injury carries substantially stiffer penalties, including:
- Fines that range from one thousand, one hundred and fifteen dollars ($1,015) to five thousand dollars ($5,000)
- A mandatory DUI education program for eighteen (18) to thirty (30) months
- Incarceration in a state correctional facility for two (2) to four (4) years
- Suspension of your driver’s license for up to five (5) years
For either of these convictions, however, you may also face a probation term that is up to five (5) years. During this probation, your BAC will have to be 0.00% at all times when you are driving. In other words, you cannot have even a sip of alcohol if you are going to be behind the wheel of a car. You also cannot commit any other other criminal offenses during this time.
Furthermore, if during this period of probation you are detained on suspicion of a DUI (California Vehicle Code 23152 VC) or DUI causing injury (California Vehicle Code 23153 VC), then you will automatically be required to submit to a breathalyzer and/or blood test. The officers do not need “probable cause” and failure to submit to a chemical test will automatically result in a violation of your probation.
Finally, you may also be required to attend extra counseling in the event of either a misdemeanor or felony conviction for DUI causing injury. It is likely that the judge will require you to attend a certain number of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Furthermore, if your BAC was below 0.20%, you may need to complete a drunk driving program for approximately thirty (30) hours over the course of three (3) months. If your BAC was above 0.20%, you will have to complete this same program for approximately sixty (60) hours over a period of nine (9) months. Completion of these educational supplements is mandatory, and failure to do so will result in a violation of your probationary terms.
Enhancements to a DUI Causing Injury Conviction
If the injuries are severe enough, then you will likely face enhanced penalties for a DUI causing injury conviction. Essentially, the legal system will determine your final punishment based on how seriously you allegedly harmed the other parties in the collision. These enhancements include:
- An additional three (3) to six (6) years of incarceration for any victim who suffered a serious bodily injury
- An additional one (1) year of incarceration for every victim who suffered any injury (including minor ones)
- The addition of one (1) point to your driving record in the case of any serious injuries
- Being labeled with the Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for up to three (3) years
If any of these enhancements are being leveled against you, then your case is automatically comprised of a felony charge. Furthermore, these additional sentences will always run consecutively to the original, baseline term of incarceration in your felony case. In other words, if the judge sentences you to four (4) years for felony DUI causing injury plus three (3) years for a victim who suffered a serious injury and one (1) year for a victim who suffered a minor injury, then your final term of incarceration will be eight (8) years.
As you can see, this is a serious offense that may result in significant time in prison. It is also important to note that in the state of California, any term of incarceration longer than one (1) year is served in state prison and not in the county jail.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that the state of California considers a driver’s license to be a privilege and not a right. In other words, keeping your driver’s license is contingent on the fact that you follow the laws and not engage in the practice of driving while intoxicated or in any manner that may be deemed dangerous or reckless.
If you have multiple DUI convictions, then the “Habitual Traffic Offender” (HTO) status may also be applied to you. This means that you are not allowed to operate a vehicle under any circumstances for some designated number of years, and if you are caught doing so than you will face a term of one-hundred eighty (180) days in the county jail and a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).
What Does The Prosecution Have to Prove?
Under California law, the district attorney must prove several key assertions in order to secure a conviction for DUI causing injury:
- You operated the motor vehicle in question;
- At the time of the accident, you were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both;
- You did something illegal or failed to do something legally while you were operating the motor vehicle;
- Your action or inaction caused injury to another person or people.
Proving that you were operating the motor vehicle at the time of the accident is fairly easy to prove or disprove as the court proceedings will be based on the accident report and any eyewitness testimony.
Your level of alleged inebriation, however, is legally determined by what is known as a “chemical test”. This can either be a breathalyzer or a blood test. The former tests for only alcohol and is administered by the responding officer at the scene of the accident, while the latter tests for all substances and is administered by a healthcare practitioner at a nearby medical facility.
It is not standard protocol for responding officers to administer chemical tests to all drivers involved in an accident unless they have “probable cause”. This means that they must have a valid reason for suspecting you of being intoxicated, usually exemplified by the scent of drugs and/or alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, erratic driving, and the presence of empty alcohol bottles and/or drug paraphernalia.
It is crucial to note that your alleged illegal action or inaction do not need to be the only causes of the other person’s injury and there may be multiple causes present in the case. However, during the trial, the prosecutor will have to prove that your actions were the primary causative factor for the other person’s injury.
Charges Related to DUI Causing Injury
As with any criminal case, the district attorney will attempt to level as many criminal charges against you as possible. There are a number of charges that are related to DUI causing injury, including:
- Driving under the influence - Vehicle Code 23152 VC
- Driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher - Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC
- Driving under the influence of drugs - Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC
- Felony hit and run involving injury and/or death - Vehicle Code 20001 VC
- Driving on a suspended license - Vehicle Code 14601 VC
- Child endangerment (if there is a child present in your car) - Penal Code 273(a) PC
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated - Penal Code 191.5(b) PC
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated - Penal Code 191.5(a) PC
The last two are the most serious charges and carry with them the potential of a significant prison sentence. They are differentiated by the presence of a legal concept known as “criminal negligence”, whereby 191.5(a) PC (gross vehicular manslaughter) is a more serious form of 191.5(b) PC (vehicular manslaughter). This criminal negligence means that the defendant allegedly engaged in conduct that they knew could result in serious injury and/or death, thereby triggering a violation of 191.5(a) PC.
In very rare cases, a charge of murder (California Penal Code 187 PC) may be brought against the defendant. This is also known as “DUI murder” or “Watson murder” and is only charged when the defendant has an extensive history of prior DUIs and/or reckless driving.
Inaccurate BAC Readings and Reasonable Doubt
There are a number of limitations to chemical tests in a DUI case. Our attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney have substantial experience in using these limitations against the prosecution, resulting in a strong track record for DUI cases at our firm. Remember that the “burden of proof” lies with the prosecutor and not the defense attorney, meaning that we only have to plant the seed of “reasonable doubt” with the jury to ensure that you have a good chance at an acquittal. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your legal team can poke holes in the prosecutor’s various assertions about your BAC or level of inebriation at the time of the accident.
For example, a “rising BAC defense” is one of the strongest tools that a DUI lawyer has in their arsenal. Remember that a DUI causing injury conviction depends on the prosecution being able to prove that your BAC was 0.08% or higher at the precise moment of the accident, meaning that your BAC immediately before and after the accident are not legally germane.
It takes time for your body to break down and metabolize alcohol, so your BAC will not rise immediately with each drink you take. Consequently, it is possible that at the exact moment of the accident, your BAC was below the legal limit (0.08%) and that by the time the test was administered, your BAC had risen to above the limit.
It is also possible to argue that the breathalyzer and/or blood test were not administered properly, resulting in faulty or inaccurate results. For example, a breathalyzer must be recalibrated between each use for an accurate BAC reading while blood tests may sometimes generate “false positives” for a variety of substances. Neither of these chemical tests have 100% success rates, meaning that there are plenty of ways to create reasonable doubt in the jury.
In all these situations, however, it is still possible for the prosecutor to argue that your ability to operate the vehicle was sufficiently impaired as to merit a conviction under a simple DUI charge (23152(a) VC). This particular charge does not require that you have a BAC above 0.08% at the time of the accident, although it does mean that the evidence against you is far more subjective than a BAC test.
Absent a BAC reading, the prosecution will have to rely on circumstantial evidence like slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, dilated or shrunken pupils, erratic behavior, and/or the presence of an alcohol or drug-related scent. These are all subjective observations that can be wholly picked apart by our skilled attorneys.
Other Potential Defenses to a DUI Causing Injury Charge
Depending on the specifics of your case and your prior criminal history, there are a variety of other potential defenses that your attorney may use:
- You were not operating the vehicle at the time of the collision - Your attorney can argue that you were not behind the wheel when the accident happened.
- There were no injuries - The district attorney must prove that another person suffered an injury in order to secure a conviction under DUI causing injury. Even if this is disproven, however, you may still be held criminally responsible for a simple DUI.
- The original traffic stop was unlawful - If the arresting officer did not have a “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over in the first place, then the traffic stop can be considered unlawful. In this case, your attorney will have any evidence gleaned from the traffic stop deemed inadmissible in court.
- There was no probable cause - Your attorney can argue that the arresting officer had no valid reason for suspecting you of DUI.
- Invocation of the “emergency doctrine” - If your actions were forced upon you by an imminent, sudden, and/or unexpected emergency situation (such as a medical emergency), then you may be found not guilty of DUI causing injury.
- Miranda rights were not read - Any arrest, whether it is minor or serious, must be accompanied by the arresting officer reciting the Miranda Warning to the defendant. This is to ensure that you are informed of your inalienable right to not self-incriminate. The failure to do so results in a violation of your Fifth Amendment rights and automatically renders any arrest as null and void.
Deciding on which of these strategies to use will depend on your particular case. That means that your legal team will go over the specifics of your situation, including an in-depth analysis of your arrest report as well as the officer’s testimony, eyewitness accounts, and any physical or circumstantial evidence.
Every client of Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will have their particular case analyzed by our crack legal teams. This is to ensure that you have a fighting chance to clear your good name and fight any and all bogus charges that are being leveled against you. We guarantee that you will have a customized legal strategy that best suits your specific case, thereby increasing your chances of an acquittal.
Find A DUI Attorney Near Me
Facing a DUI causing injury conviction is a serious matter and it requires the sure hand, experience, and expertise of a powerful legal team. Los Angeles Criminal Attorney knows how to create a defense strategy that is customized for your particular needs and to generate reasonable doubt in court. Contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer at 424-333-0943 to get your free legal consultation today.