Napa Felony DUI Attorney

California law allows for little leniency with driving under the influence charges and convictions. Though getting charged with a DUI in Napa, CA is considered a misdemeanor in most cases, there are instances where the circumstances result in the state charging the crime on a much more serious level. Though any DUI conviction can have serious effects on your life, the potential consequences can significantly increase if you are charged with and convicted of a felony.

It is never recommended to fight a DUI charge without an attorney, but it becomes even more important to consult with an experienced DUI lawyer when you are facing felony charges. The Law Office of Conor Bell can guide you through this complicated legal situation, helping you reach the most favorable outcome. With experience as a former prosecutor and a strong history as a criminal justice attorney, Conor has immense knowledge of the justice system. This knowledge will be applied to creating a positive outcome for your case, getting you back to your life as soon as possible.

Napa Felony DUI attorney

DUI Laws in California

In general, adults that get arrested for a DUI in California will be charged with at least two crimes:

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC
    This code states that it is against the law for a person to drive a vehicle while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage. This means that drivers who display any symptoms of intoxication may be charged with a DUI even without evidence that shows their blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or above the legal limit.To be charged with this crime, prosecutors only need to prove that you drove a motor vehicle and that you were under the influence of alcohol while you were driving. Prosecutors will rely on circumstantial evidence such as driving erratically, slurred speech, smelling of alcohol, or admitting to drinking to get a conviction.
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC
    This law is known as California’s per se DUI law because it makes it automatically illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC at or above the legal limit of 0.08%. This action is against the law even if you are showing no signs of intoxication or impaired driving ability. Prosecutors must show the driver was operating a vehicle and had a BAC of 0.08% or greater at the time. A BAC will be determined with either a breath test or a blood test that will be given after your arrest.

Though you can be charged with both crimes, you are convicted of only one of these crimes. The penalties for both laws are the same, but prosecutors will often charge a defendant with both crimes in order for a greater chance of conviction. It is important to note that these laws do not only cover alcohol use– any form of intoxication that can result in impaired driving, such as prescription drug or illicit drug use, can be charged as a DUI.

Escalating a DUI to a Felony

As mentioned above, most DUI charges will be categorized as a misdemeanor. There are, however, circumstances that can elevate the charges to a felony. These circumstances include:

  • Your DUI Resulted in Serious Injuries to Another Person
    Injuries that can be considered serious in this instance can be broken bones, scars, limb loss, brain injury, or permanent disability. For your charge to be escalated in this situation, the prosecutor must show you were under the influence during the accident and that you broke another traffic rule, which caused the accident. In circumstances where the accident was caused by another driver, or you broke no laws other than driving under the influence, this charge cannot be levied against you.
  • Your DUI Caused a Person’s Death
    Similarly to a DUI that caused a serious injury, the prosecution must prove you broke a traffic rule in addition to the DUI, and that action caused the person’s death. This type of DUI can be charged as a felony, but you will also be facing an additional charge of vehicular manslaughter or murder, depending on the circumstances of the case. Vehicular manslaughter can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, with the felony version carrying much more severe consequences.You could be facing the more serious murder charge if you were previously convicted of a DUI or were made aware that driving while impaired could cause another’s death, as this shows you engaged in an activity you knew was likely to kill someone.
  • It Is Your Fourth DUI Offense in 10 Years
    If you carry three prior DUI convictions on your record within the preceding ten years, your fourth will likely be charged as a felony. DUIs will be pertinent to this charge elevation even if they were expunged from your record or were convictions in other states. Though prosecutors have the option to charge a fourth DUI as a misdemeanor or a felony, they will generally only charge the lower misdemeanor form if there are mitigating circumstances.
  • You Were Previously Convicted of a Felony DUI
    If you are facing a DUI charge and already have a felony DUI conviction on your record, the current DUI will also be charged as a felony. This felony charge will be applied regardless of the current DUI’s circumstances; in other words, it does not need to cause injury or death. Unlike getting your fourth DUI charge, there is no time limit for this type of felony DUI charge, and the charges will be elevated regardless of how long ago the conviction occurred.

Felony DUI Penalties

Though misdemeanor DUI penalties should not be downplayed, felony DUI penalties are much more severe. For comparison, a misdemeanor DUI conviction can result in:

  • No jail time to up to one year in county jail
  • Fines between $390 and $5,000
  • Ignition Interlock Device period ranging between six months and two years
  • License suspension period of four months to three years
  • Attending DUI school for a period ranging from three to 30 months

If your DUI has been elevated to a felony DUI, you will be facing the following potential penalties:

  • A state prison sentence ranging from 16 months to three years
  • Fines between $1,000 and $5,000
  • License suspension period of up to 10 years
  • Attending DUI school for 18 or 30 months
  • Three years designated as a habitual traffic offender

Other penalties can be applied if you injure or kill someone while driving intoxicated. An extra year per victim can be added to your sentence if you cause an injury. If a severe injury is caused, your sentence can increase by three to six years per victim. However, you will be facing vehicular manslaughter or murder charges in addition to a felony DUI charge if your actions while driving intoxicated cause a person’s death. Felony vehicular manslaughter can result in penalties of:

  • Four to ten years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • License suspension for at least three years
  • Potential for life in prison if you have two prior DUI convictions

Possible penalties for DUI murder include:

  • 15 years to life in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Life in prison without parole if you have previously been convicted of murder

The consequences you could face if you are charged with a felony DUI are life-altering. It is imperative that you speak with an experienced defense attorney to help find strategies that could lower your charge severity to a misdemeanor or otherwise reduce these penalties.

DUI Defenses

Your situation may seem hopeless if you have been arrested for a DUI; however, it is likely that you have a few different options to help dig yourself out of this hole. The following are potential defenses that can get your felony DUI dismissed or reduced:

  • Police Misconduct
    Police officers are required to have reasonable suspicion that a person inside a vehicle has committed a crime before they can conduct a traffic stop. If the reason for the stop was found to be illegitimate, all evidence that was collected during the stop is inadmissible. Police can also administer field sobriety tests to gather evidence, but they may not consider factors like slick roadways or a foot injury that can cause a person to fail the tests. In these instances, the field sobriety test does not necessarily show intoxication.
  • Rising BAC Level
    For a period of time, after you stop drinking, your BAC will continue to rise until it reaches its peak, where it will then begin to drop. One possible defense is stating the defendant’s BAC was below the legal limit while driving but continued to rise while in police custody and waiting for the breath or blood test.
  • Faulty Breathalyzer or Blood Test
    Breathalyzer and blood tests must be accurate, and the collected samples must be maintained with a proper evidence custody chain. Machines that have not been calibrated recently or have been poorly maintained may be incorrectly measuring BAC.

Fighting Felony DUI Charges

The Law Office of Conor Bell is capable and ready to help you fight your Napa DUI arrest. Our team is passionate about protecting your rights and ensuring a fair process through the legal system. Contact our office today if you were arrested for or charged with a felony DUI.