Drunk driving impairs a driver’s ability to exercise safety on the road. He/she increases the risk of causing a crash that potentially results in injuries, the loss of property, and lives. Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both is a crime. The penalties increase if a defendant drives drunk or causes a crash that results in another person sustaining an injury. DUIs that result in injury are wobbler offenses under Vehicle Code 23153. Prosecutors could seek misdemeanor or felony penalties.

Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney immediately if you face DUI-causing injury charges. We will examine your case and develop a defense strategy to secure the best legal outcome for your case. But first, let us analyze DUI-causing injury as it is defined under California law, the defenses available, and the likely penalties you will receive upon conviction.

Understanding DUI (Driving Under the Influence)

You violate DUI laws when you operate a car while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The violation and subsequent penalties depend on the circumstances of your case. Vehicle Code 23152 addresses the various violations of DUI laws.

  • Driving under the influence, a violation of VC 23152(a)
  • Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeding 0.08% or more is a violation of VC 23152(b) and
  • Driving under the influence of drugs — VC 23152(f) includes any drug, including prescription medication.

You are deemed to be under the influence when you are so impaired that you cannot cautiously drive in the manner of a sober individual while exercising ordinary care in similar circumstances.

Knowing what the law defines as driving under the influence is critical. Drunk driving is pivotal in establishing a case under VC 23153.

DUI Causing Injury Under California Law

Vehicle Code 23153 makes it an offense to:

  • Drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both,
  • Have a BAC level of 0.08% while driving, and
  • Engage in an illegal act forbidden by law, or neglect a duty imposed by law and cause a crash that results in bodily harm to another individual.

VC 23153’s definition shows that the offense is an aggravated form of a DUI offense. Further, VC 23153 provides the elements of the crime for which the D.A. must prove to secure a defendant’s conviction.

Elements of the Crime

A jury will only find you guilty of driving under the influence and causing an injury if the prosecution proves the following beyond a reasonable doubt. He/she must demonstrate:

  • You drove the vehicle,
  • While driving, you were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both,
  • While driving under the influence, you additionally committed an unlawful act or neglected to perform your legal duty, and
  • Your illegal actions or failure to perform a legal duty caused bodily harm to another person.

Let us look at the elements in detail.

Driving Under the Influence

Prosecutors must prove you were under the influence. They will provide urine and blood tests to substantiate their claim that you were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. Further, the prosecution will link your DUI to any above violations of Vehicle Code 23512.

Committed an Illegal Act or Failure to Perform a Duty

Being under the influence while driving is insufficient to secure your conviction for DUI-causing injury. VC 23153 requires a defendant to commit additional violations for him/her to be guilty. Under the statute, the defendant must have:

  • Committed an unlawful act like running a red light, or
  • Acted negligently or failed to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances — Ordinary care means exercising caution to prevent a reasonably foreseeable calamity on another individual.

The law expects drivers to exercise due care to prevent foreseeable dangers posed to human life. Drivers should adhere to traffic rules and practice safe driving habits while on the road. Therefore, failing to exercise any of the above is deemed as negligence.

Prosecutors have to demonstrate the following to demonstrate negligence on your part:

  • You engaged in an activity a reasonable individual would not do in a similar situation, for example, texting while driving or
  • You failed to take an action that a reasonable individual would have done, given the circumstances, for example, stopping at a junction before proceeding.

Note: The legal duty of care imposed on drivers extends to other motorists, pedestrians, and the defendant’s passengers. Therefore, you can face DUI-causing injury charges even if the victim in the case was your passenger.

Pre-Court Intervention

It is in your best interest to hire a DUI attorney early in the process to help maximize the possibility of the best legal outcome for your case. An attorney can negotiate on your behalf and secure lesser charges, if not a dismissal of the VC 23153 violation charges.

Plea bargains require defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges to avoid the penalties that a serious charge imposes upon conviction. In this case, the plea bargain will require you to enter a guilty plea for a misdemeanor violation of VC 23153 instead of a felony one.

Plea-bargain negotiations are pre-court interventions before cases are formally filed in court. These negotiations focus on your mitigating factors, including:

  • Your character, reputation, background, and accomplishments
  • Demonstration of remorse
  • Taking up rehabilitation efforts like enrolling in an alcohol and drug education program
  • Upfront payment of restitution
  • The minor nature of the injuries

Often, pre-filling interventions are successful. However, if the D.A. decides to proceed to trial, you can assert several defenses to challenge the charges.

Defenses You Can Use to Challenge a DUI Causing Injury Charge

DUI defense attorneys develop defense strategies based on the facts of your case. An attorney will choose a defense likely to result in the best legal outcome.

You Were Not Under the Influence

VC 23153 violations are anchored on driving under the influence. Therefore, without substantial proof that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will not be found guilty of a VC 23153 violation.

The prosecution will likely introduce the results of blood, urine, and breath tests as proof of your inebriation. The tests show an individual's blood alcohol level, but the results are questionable if improperly administered.

These are the various areas an experienced defense attorney will use to demonstrate you were not intoxicated. They include the following,

     a) Failure by the Officers to Comply With Title 17’s Provisions

Title 17 provides several guidelines on administering blood, urine, and breath tests. Some of the requirements include:

  • Proper calibration and maintenance of the breathalyzers — Breatherlyers should be calibrated after 150 uses or every ten days, whichever occurs first.
  • A 15-minute observation period before a test is administered, during which a driver should not drink, smoke, eat, regurgitate, or vomit.
  • Proper administration of the tests by a qualified and authorized personnel
  • Correct collection, handling, and storage of the samples

Experienced attorneys conduct independent investigations to ascertain whether Title 17 provisions were upheld. The failure of the officers to follow the guidelines is evidence that the results cannot be relied upon. Thus, the prosecution cannot, with certainty, establish that you were intoxicated.

     b) You Suffer From a Medical Condition With Symptoms Similar to Intoxication

Individuals with medical conditions like diabetes and those fasting or on high-protein or low carbohydrate diets have alcoholic breath, often mistaken for intoxication. When fasting, on a low carbohydrate/high protein diet, or you have diabetes, the body breaks down fat stored in your body for energy. The fat-burning process causes the liver to release ketones chemically similar to isopropyl alcohol.

Unfortunately, breathalyzers cannot distinguish between ethyl alcohol in alcoholic beverages and isopropyl alcohol. This shortcoming leads to a false BAC reading, resulting in the DUI causing an injury charge. Therefore, your DUI charge was based on an inaccurate BAC reading.

Note: Asserting that you were not intoxicated at the time does not absolve you of responsibility for the unlawful or negligent act. This defense seeks to have the charges reduced and, consequently, the penalties you will likely face.

No Illegal Act

In the absence of traffic camera footage or dashcam footage, it is difficult for prosecutors to prove negligence on your part or that you committed an illegal act that was a direct cause of the victim's injuries.

Without concrete evidence of your wrongdoing or negligent action, the victim’s injuries can result from other factors and not your actions or inactions. In this case, the DUI-causing injury charges will likely be reduced to a DUI violation.

Victim Did Not Sustain an Injury

Prosecutors must establish that the victim in the incident suffered bodily harm. Additionally, the prosecutors must establish a direct link between your inactions or actions and the victim’s injuries.

If the alleged victim did not sustain an injury, you are not guilty of a VC 23153 violation. Experienced attorneys call in expert witnesses like medical and accident specialists to testify to the likely physical harm an individual can sustain in a crash or incident similar to the one you were involved in. This defense is highly applicable when the collision or incident you were involved in did not cause the injuries the victim alleges to have sustained.

You could face different charges, but not a DUI-causing injury charge.

Penalties Issued Upon a Conviction for DUI Causing Injury

Violations of VC 23153 are wobbler offenses. The penalties vary depending on the violation the courts find you guilty of.

Misdemeanor charge convictions result in the following penalties.

  • A jail sentence of up to one year
  • Summary probation for three to five years as an alternative to jail time
  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • Completion of a court-approved DUI school
  • Restitution payments for the injured parties, and
  • Suspension of your driver’s license for up to three years by the DMV

If convicted on felony charges, you could potentially face the following penalties.

  • A prison sentence of up to our years
  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • A strike on your record per California’s Three Strikes Law if another individual, other than yourself, sustained a great bodily injury
  • A Habitual Traffic Offender status for three years
  • Completion of a court-mandated DUI education program
  • A five-year revocation of your driver’s license

Offenses Related to VC 23153

There are violations the prosecution can opt for as additional or substitute charges. The facts of the case dictate their choice. The offenses include:

  • DUI violations, that is, offenses under Vehicle Code 23152
  • Child endangerment, a crime under Penal Code 273a
  • Vehicular manslaughter an offense under PC 191.5
  • Felony hit and run involving an injury or death, a crime under Vehicle Code 20001

     a) DUI Offenses

A conviction for any violation of Vehicle Code 23152 is likely, especially if the prosecution fails to establish that you, as the defendant, caused the alleged victim’s injuries, if any.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is an offense under VC 23152(a). Prosecutors will charge you under this section if you show signs of intoxication, even if there is no evidence that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above the legal limit of 0.08%.

Prosecutors must prove that you drove a vehicle while under the influence to be convicted under VC 23152(a). Prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence to demonstrate your inebriation to the jury. The evidence includes but is not limited to:

  • A failed field sobriety test and PAS tests
  • An admission that you were drinking
  • A slurred speech when you interacted with the arresting officer
  • Your alcoholic breath
  • Erratic driving

If the blood tests register a BAC level of 0.08% or higher, you will be charged with two crimes:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol, a violation of VC 23152(a), and
  • Driving with a BAC exceeding the legal limit of 0.08, a violation of VC 23152(b)

The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol depend on whether you are a first-time or a repeat offender. First to third DUI offenses are misdemeanors, and the penalties increase with each subsequent DUI.

A conviction for a first-time DUI is punishable by:

  • 48 hours to six months in jail
  • Three to five years of informal probation instead of jail time
  • A fine of between $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments
  • A six-month driver’s license suspension

A conviction for a second-time DUI in 10 years attracts the following penalties.

  • 96 hours to one year in jail
  • Three to five years of summary/informal probation instead of jail time
  • Enrollment in an 18-month or 30-month DUI course
  • A fine of between $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments
  • A two-year driver’s license suspension

Third-time DUI convictions in 10 years result in the following penalties:

  • 20 days to one year in jail
  • Three to five years of informal probation instead of jail time
  • A fine of between $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments
  • A six-month driver’s license suspension

     b) Child Endangerment

Defendants face child endangerment charges when they deliberately expose a child below 18 years of age to unjustifiable danger, suffering, or pain.

Child endangerment is a crime under Penal Code 273a. You could face child endangerment charges if you expose a minor to an unjustified risk of harm, even if the child does not sustain any injury. Prosecutors will add child endangerment to your charge sheet if you:

  • Willfully expose a minor to a dangerous situation,
  • Cause a child to suffer unjustifiable mental suffering or physical injury, or
  • Deliberately cause the child to suffer physical harm.

Driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both with a child passenger amounts to child endangerment. You willfully expose the minor to potential harm should you be involved in a crash owing to your impaired driving. Further, should you cause a collision in your intoxicated state, you meet PC 273a’s threshold of a crime.

PC 273a requires prosecutors to prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

     1) You took any of the following actions:

  • Willfully caused a minor’s unjustified mental anguish or physical injury.
  • While the child was in your custody or as a party entrusted with the child’s care, you willfully caused the child’s health to be injured.
  • While in the custody of the child or entrusted with the care of the child, you placed the minor in a situation where the child’s health was endangered, and

     2) You were criminally negligent when you caused a child’s injury or endangered the child’s life. Criminal negligence refers to negligence beyond inattention, ordinary carelessness, or mistakes of judgment. Driving while intoxicated suffices as criminal negligence.

     3) You acted in a manner likely to cause death or great bodily injury. However, it is not required that the child suffers physical harm. It is only necessary that it was a possible outcome.

Note: Willful, in this case, refers to deliberate action. However, it does not necessarily mean an intention to break the law or cause harm to the child.

Child endangerment is a wobbler. You can either face misdemeanor or felony charges.

A conviction on misdemeanor charges will result in:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • Summary probation instead of jail time, and
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.

Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in:

  • Two, four, or six years in prison
  • Formal probation instead of time in prison, and
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

If the child sustained great bodily injury, you would receive a sentence enhancement, which means additional penalties. They are:

  • An additional three to six years in prison, to be served consecutively, depending on the child’s age and the nature of the injuries.
  • An additional sentence of up to four years in prison if the minor dies due to your criminal negligence.

     c) Vehicular Manslaughter

In the unfortunate event that the victim of the crash you were involved in while driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both dies, the D.A. will pursue vehicular manslaughter charges. Prosecutors will charge you with a Penal Code 191.5 violation.

It is an offense under PC 191.5 for a motorist to drive with gross negligence while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both, causing a crash that leads to another individual's death.

The jury will find you guilty if they believe the prosecution proved the following:

  • You drive a car while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both,
  • You committed an infraction, a misdemeanor, or otherwise a lawful act likely to cause death while driving the car,
  • Your actions were an infraction, misdemeanor, or otherwise a legal act with gross negligence and
  • Your grossly negligent actions resulted in the death of another individual.

An individual is said to have acted with gross negligence when:

  • He/she acts recklessly in a manner that creates a high risk of great bodily injury or death, and
  • A reasonable individual would have known that engaging in a similar behavior would create such a risk

Under PC 191.5, intoxicated driving coupled with a misdemeanor, infraction, or legal act likely to result in death does not amount to gross negligence. Additional aspects like the level of intoxication or manner of driving are factored in.

Vehicular manslaughter is a felony offense. A conviction results in the following penalties:

  • Four, six, or ten years in prison,
  • Formal or felony probation instead of time in prison, and
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

If you have a prior conviction for any of the following offenses, you face a sentence of 15 years-to-life in prison.

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both — A violation of PC 23152
  • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated — A violation of PC 191.5
  • Vehicular manslaughter while operating a boat — A violation of PC 192.5
  • DUI causing injury — A violation of PC 23153

Contact a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

Early intervention makes all the difference in a DUI-causing injury case. An experienced attorney will seek to have the charges reduced or challenge the allegations in trial to secure the best legal outcome. Work with the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team to protect your rights. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to review the details of your case.