Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in California. The offense becomes severe if you cause injury to another while driving a vehicle under the influence. This offense could result in serious time behind bars upon conviction, depending on the circumstances of your case. This article addresses driving under the influence under California law and the consequences to expect should you be convicted of a DUI that resulted in harm to another.
Do not hesitate to call on a reliable team if you or a loved one faces DUI causing injury charges in Anaheim. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we invest time, resources, and experience in our client’s cases, thus ensuring our clients receive the best defense the industry offers.
Driving Under the Influence
Understanding DUI causing injury starts with comprehending driving under the influence.
It is a crime in California to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is easier to determine the degree of alcohol impairment than drugs. Officers rely on blood and blood tests, the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) test, to determine the exact extent of your impairment. For drug impairment, however, the extent is not immediately determined. Police officers conduct Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) and blood tests to prove impairment, not the extent.
DUI offenses are distinct in four categories.
- Non-commercial drivers should not drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding 0.08%. If arrested with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you are legally under the influence.
- Commercial drivers should not exceed a BAC level of 0.04%
- Drivers under 21 years of age should not operate a car with a BAC level exceeding 0.01%.
- Drivers who are 18 years of age and below should have no alcohol in their system. Even the tiniest bit is an offense in California.
Prosecutors pursue criminal charges for DUI violations under VC 23152. You will be charged with a:
- VC 23152(a) violation for operating a vehicle under the influence, regardless of your blood alcohol concentration
- VC 23152(b) violation for driving under the influence with a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- VC 23152(c) violation for driving under the influence of drugs if you are addicted to drugs
- VC 23152(d) violation if you drove a car while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
- VC 23152(e) violation for driving a vehicle with a BAC 0.04% or more with a passenger for hire is onboard at the time of the arrest.
- VC 23152(f) violation for driving under the influence of drugs — Drugs, in this case, include illegal, over-the-counter, and prescription drugs.
- VC 23152(g) violation for driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and drugs
DUI Causing Injury
The DA will pursue criminal penalties under Vehicle Code 23153 for driving under the influence and causing an injury to another. The law requires prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, you can only be found guilty of a DUI causing injury if prosecutors prove the following.
- You drove the car
- You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs or alcohol and drugs while operating the vehicle — If you exceeded the BAC levels detailed above, the law considers you inebriated enough to compromise your ability to exercise caution or use ordinary care as a sober individual would, given the circumstances.
- You neglected to perform a legal duty or committed an illegal act while driving under the influence — Without proving you committed an illegal act or failed to perform a legal duty, you are not guilty of DUI causing injury. Therefore, prosecutors will introduce actions like speeding, running a red light, or texting while driving to make their case.
- Your actions, that is, failure to perform a legal duty or committing an illegal act, resulted in the victim’s bodily harm — Your actions must be a direct or probable cause of the victim’s injury.
Consequences of DUI Causing Injury
A conviction for driving under the influence and causing bodily harm to another is consequential. You could face time in jail or prison and be required to pay a fine. The severity of the jail or prison sentence and fines depends on whether you are convicted on misdemeanor or felony charges.
DUI causing injury is a wobbler, meaning prosecutors can pursue misdemeanor or felony charges.
If convicted of a misdemeanor, you could be sent to jail to serve a one-year sentence. Alternatively, you could remain on summary probation for three to five years instead of jail time. Further, the court could impose a fine not exceeding $5,000 and require you to pay restitution fees to the injured parties.
A conviction also carries mandatory attendance and completion of a DUI program.
A conviction also affects your driving privileges. The DMV will suspend your driver’s license for up to three years. Note that the DMV’s decision is independent of the criminal proceedings. You will attend a DMV hearing where the decision of your suspension will be determined.
Felony convictions result in up to four years in prison and a fine of no more than $5,000.
Additionally, felony DUI causing injury offenses are strikeable crimes under California’s Three Strikes Law. Therefore, if you have no prior strikes, a conviction under VC 23153 results in your first strike. If you have a strike and a VC 23153 results in a second strike, you will face double the penalties for causing injury while driving under the influence. You will serve up to eight years in prison. If your DUI causing injury conviction is the third strike, you will receive a prison sentence of up to 25-years-to-life.
A felony conviction results in a Habitual Traffic Offender status that remains for three years. The court will also require you to attend a DUI program in a court-approved DUI school. The program runs from 6 hours to 30 months depending on the circumstances of your case and your past convictions, if any.
Individuals convicted of felony DUI causing injury risk a five-year license revocation.
Defenses Available to Challenge a VC 23153 Charge
Several legal strategies are available to challenge the prosecution’s case. The most common are the following.
Not Under the Influence
Prosecutors must first prove you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating a car. Impairment is not always caused by alcohol or drugs. Tiredness or specific ailments mimic inebriation. Therefore, being tired or unwell can be mistaken for you being under the influence.
Ailments like diabetes cause alcoholic breath, which could be mistaken for alcohol consumption. Your attorney should present evidence to demonstrate that the alcohol content was due to your health condition or another reason other than alcohol or drugs.
Breathalyzers are, at times, faulty. In other cases, blood samples get mixed up in the labs, thus compromising the integrity of the results. If this is your situation, this will be your best defense.
You Were Not Negligent or Did Not Commit an Illegal Act
You are only guilty under VC 23153 if you committed an illegal act or failed to perform a legal duty (negligence). The DA must demonstrate to the court that you acted negligently or committed an offense. Your attorney can challenge the DA’s case through this defense if the DA fails to prove your actions as negligent or illegal beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Victim Did Not Suffer Any Injury
Accident victims can claim to have been injured and claim the injury resulted from the defendant’s actions. With the help of injury experts, your attorney will present to the jury that your actions did not cause the injury. Therefore, if the alleged victim did not suffer bodily harm, you cannot be found guilty of a VC 23153 violation.
Note: The DA’s lack of sufficient evidence to secure a conviction for DUI causing injury does not mean you are entirely off the hook. He/she could pursue charges for DUI offenses under VC 23152. Alternatively, he/she could charge you with any of the following crimes related to DUI causing injury.
Offenses Related to DUI Causing Injury
Three crimes are related to DUI causing injury.
- Child endangerment, a violation of PC 273a
- Felony hit and run that causes injury or death, a violation of PC 191.5
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a PC 191.5 violation
a) Child Endangerment
Prosecutors will introduce child endangerment charges when a child was a passenger when you were arrested for a DUI causing an injury. The offense is prosecuted under PC 273a.
According to PC 273a, you endanger a child when you deliberately expose a minor to unjustifiable danger, pain, or suffering. You will face prosecution for subjecting a minor to an unreasonable risk of danger even if the child does not suffer physical harm.
The DA needs to prove at least one of the following.
- You deliberately inflicted unjustifiable physical or mental anguish on a minor
- You willfully caused or permitted a minor to sue unjustifiable physical or mental pain
- While charged with the care of a minor or having custody of the child, you intentionally caused or allowed for the minor’s person or health to be harmed or
- While charged with the care of a child or having custody of the child, you intentionally caused or permitted the child to be in a situation that posed a danger to the health or well-being of the minor.
Driving under the influence in itself poses a danger to the child. The offense’s severity increases if your actions cause harm to another or the child. However, PC 273a does not require that the child suffer great bodily injury or, in a worst-case scenario, die for you to be found guilty. It is only necessary that the risk is a likely outcome.
Let us look at the above elements in more detail.
Willful action refers to intentional acts. You do not have to have intended to break the law or cause the child harm.
Considering the DUI causing injury offense, you intentionally drove the vehicle with the child as your passenger while under the influence. However, you do not have necessarily intended to cause harm to the child or another individual.
Unjustifiable Physical Pain or Emotional Distress
When you inflict physical pain or emotional distress that is reasonably unwarranted or excessive given the circumstances, your actions are considered unjustifiable.
Child endangerment requires an element of gross or criminal negligence. Ordinary negligence refers to inattention, carelessness, or error in judgment. Criminal negligence, however, requires actions that are beyond ordinary negligence.
Criminal negligence involves:
- Reckless behavior — A departure from how an ordinary individual would act given the circumstances
- Actions amounting to a disregard for human life
- A reasonable individual would have known that acting in that manner would have resulted in harm to another
Child Endangerment Penalties
You can face misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted on child endangerment charges.
If your actions did not create a risk of harm or significant bodily injury to the child, you would face misdemeanor charges. A conviction is punishable by six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. A judge can issue probation terms that remain in effect for four years instead of the jail sentence.
Felony convictions occur when the child faces a risk of physical injury or death. Additionally, the judge will issue these penalties if you have a criminal history. You will be sent to prison to serve two, four, or six years. Further, you could part with up to $10,000 in fines upon conviction.
Should the judge opt for formal probation as opposed to a prison sentence, you will remain on probation for a minimum of four years. Further, you will be expected to serve the terms as mandated, failure to which you risk further penalties.
Note: Should the child die due to criminal negligence, the presiding judge will add four years to your prison sentence. The DA could also opt to pursue manslaughter or second-degree murder charges.
b) Felony Hit and Run Involving Injury or Death
California law requires drivers to remain at the scene of an accident. It is a crime to flee an accident scene. You will be charged under VC 20001 if you flee an accident scene that injured or killed another.
VC 20001 makes fleeing an accident scene a felony offense if another was injured. You would face misdemeanor charges if the accident resulted in property damage with no injuries.
The DA must prove the following elements for you to be found guilty under VC 20001.
- You were driving at the time when you were involved in an accident
- The crash inflicted bodily harm to another or caused his/her death
- You knew or should have reasonably known that you had been involved in a collision in which another was injured or killed
- You deliberately failed to perform one or more of the following duties.
- Stop at the accident scene
- Provide reasonable assistance to injured persons at the scene
- Share your personal information with the police officer at the scene or the injured party at the scene
Deliberate action points to willful, conscious acts and not necessarily acts intended to hurt another, break the law, or gain an advantage.
Consequences of a Felony Hit and Run Involving Injury or Death Conviction
If convicted on a misdemeanor charge, you are looking at jail time of up to one year. The judge could also impose a fine of up to $10,000 but no less than $1,000. Summary probation is an option as opposed to jail time.
Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in a prison sentence of no more than four years and/or a fine of no more than $10,000 and no less than $1,000. A judge, if convinced, can issue formal probation terms instead of a prison sentence.
Note that a judge can award restitution. However, restitution is only paid to the victims whose injuries were caused by your flight from the scene and not for the accident itself.
c) Vehicular Manslaughter
When driving under the influence results in the death of another, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
PC 191.5 requires the DA to prove that:
- You operated a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- You committed an offense when you were driving or otherwise a lawful act with the potential of causing death — An infraction or a misdemeanor is enough for this charge.
- You committed the infraction or misdemeanor or another act with gross negligence.
- Your gross negligent act resulted in the death of another.
Here is a detailed look at the above elements.
Driving Under the Influence
Prosecutors rely on VC 23152 to prove you committed a DUI offense. That is:
- If you are a non-commercial driver, you drove with a BAC of 0.08% or over
- If you are a commercial driver, you operated a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or over
- If you were under 21 years at the time of the incident, your BAC level was 0.01% or over
- Further, the DA should produce evidence of your drug influence if you were found to be inebriated by drugs and not alcohol.
Committing an Offense or a Lawful Act Likely to Cause Death
The offenses considered are misdemeanors or infractions and not felonies. DUI or DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs) is not the only crime here. You must have committed an additional offense or an otherwise lawful act with the potential of causing death to be found guilty under PC 191.5.
Negligence refers to failure to exercise due care. You can fail to exercise this care through inattention, an error in judgment, or carelessness. The following actions are examples of ordinary negligence.
- Going 5MPH over the speed limit
- Engaging in a conversation with a passenger and failing to notice you joined another’s lane without warning
Gross negligence exceeds ordinary negligence. With gross negligence, there is a reckless and deliberate disregard for the safety of others. Examples include:
- Driving in the wrong lane to beat traffic
- Speeding in a residential or a school zone
Prosecutors need only show that your actions were reckless enough to cause a risk of grave bodily harm or death and that a reasonable individual would know that acting in that manner creates a threat to human life.
Note: Driving under the influence and committing a misdemeanor or an infraction is not enough to establish gross negligence. These issues, in combination with other factors, including your level of intoxication and manner of driving, make a case for gross negligence.
Causing the Demise of Another
Your grossly negligent actions must be the natural, direct, or probable cause of the victim's death. Only then can you be found guilty under PC 191.5. Further, your actions need not be the primary cause of death. If they were substantial contributors, you would be found guilty.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter
The death of another can be pursued as either murder or as gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence. It is upon the DA to decide which charges to pursue. If charged under PC 191.5, the offense is a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of four, six, or ten years and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Probation is also an option as opposed to prison time.
Should you have priors, your sentence significantly increases. You will be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison if you have a prior conviction for:
- Driving under the influence
- Vehicular manslaughter while under the influence
- Vehicular manslaughter while operating a boat
- Gross vehicular manslaughter, a violation of PC 192
- DUI causing injury
Find a Santa Ana Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Fighting DUI causing injury charges can result in reduced charges or an acquittal. The odds of a successful outcome increase when you hire seasoned attorneys. Their experience in negotiations and trial representation helps tilt the odds in your favor.
If you are looking for legal representation for DUI causing injury charges in Anaheim, contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group for assistance at 714-766-0965.