A report last month in the San Diego Union Tribune described a car accident in Poway. The driver was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. There was nothing particularly unusual about the crash. A man was driving a BMW on Pomerado Road in the early morning hours when his car struck the rear of a Honda. The drivers of both cars lost control of their vehicles. The BMW ended up knocking over a street light and hitting a tree. The driver of the BMW was not injured, but the man driving the Honda was taken to the hospital with what the article described as “non-life-threatening injuries.”
What caught our attention was a statement contained in the first sentence of the article, saying that the driver had been placed under arrest for “suspected felony drunk driving.”
What is Felony DUI in California?
There are several situations in which a person may be charged with felony DUI. Typically, they involve charges against drivers with a prior record of driving under the influence, including having three or more prior DUI convictions, or having one or more prior felony DUI convictions. In the crash that took place in Poway, there was no mention in the articles we read to suggest that the driver of the BMW had a prior record of drunk or drugged driving.
This brings us to another possible basis for felony DUI. DUI with injury consists of driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and also committing an act forbidden by law (or neglecting to do an act imposed by law), where that act (or omission) causes an injury to anyone other than the allegedly drunk or drugged driver.
DUI Causing Injury – VC 23153
Section 23153 of the California Vehicle Code defines DUI causing injury. Under VC 23554, the offense is a wobbler, meaning it can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony. It might surprise you to know that the sentencing statute contains no guidance as to the level of the charge. Our experience is that the more serious the injury, the more likely the charge will be a felony. Similarly, the behavior of the driver (racing, driving recklessly, the level of intoxication alleged, etc.) who is being charged can also affect severity of the charge.
In the Poway case, purely going off public record information, we have no way of knowing for sure what caused the DUI to be charged as a felony. Even a review of the news release from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office sheds no light on the issue. Perhaps the evidence at the scene suggested that the BMW was traveling so fast that it supported an allegation of reckless behavior. Or perhaps the injuries to the driver of the Honda were more serious than they appear. In either event, the defendant needs the help of an experienced San Diego DUI lawyer.
Law Office of David P. Shapiro
3500 5th Avenue, Suite 304,
San Diego, CA 92103