Felony Dui – An Overview

In California, first, second and third arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) often result in misdemeanor charges. However, the District Attorney may file felony DUI charges against the accused in cases where:

  • A fourth DUI arrest occurs within 10 years of the three prior DUI convictions;
  • The accused DUI driver causes injury or death to others;
  • Blood-alcohol level at the time of arrest or past driving record requires additional charges.

If you have been arrested for a fourth DUI, or a drunk-driving accident that involves injury or death in San Diego County, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the San Diego DUI Attorney are prepared to defend your case. Our lawyers specialize in assisting clients facing felony DUI charges and will do everything in our power to reduce the severe felony penalties and seek a reduction to misdemeanor charges.

The difference between felony and misdemeanor DUI convictions in California is substantial. A felony conviction may result in extremely heavy fines and up to life imprisonment if the case involves severe injury or death.

Penalties for a fourth DUI, not involving an injury accident, may include:

  • Up to four years in a California State Prison.
  • Fines of up to $1,000.
  • Loss of driver’s license for four years.
  • An 18-month alcohol education program.
  • A DMV designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO).

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at the San Diego DUI Attorney may help you avoid a potential felony conviction following a fourth DUI arrest. Our team of DUI defense experts specializes in DUI and Criminal Defense Law, serving clients in San Diego, Vista, El Cajon, Oceanside, Chula Vista and other San Diego County communities.


As noted above, there are several ways in which a California DUI may be filed as a Felony DUI known as VC23153 (a). For example, if the DUI (even on your first offense), involved an accident in which the victim sustained serious injuries (GBI) or death. A second example is if you receive a DUI and your prior DUI was a felony DUI, or if you have three prior DUI convictions within the last 10 years, thus making this your fourth DUI, then it may also be filed as a felony DUI. This is known as VC23153(a) and VC23153 (b). In this article we will focus on the latter which is the three prior DUI's or wet-reckless convictions within the last 10 years making your current arrest a fourth DUI charge.

California Felony Dui – Fourth Dui Charge

In California, you can be charged with a felony DUI, if you have at least three prior convictions of DUI in California (or in any other state in which that DUI would also be classified as a DUI conviction if the prior had happened in the state of California). This also includes DUI-related offenses.  For example, each time a person may have been convicted of a wet reckless will count towards your total number of DUI convictions. A wet reckless is classified as a prior DUI if it happened within 10 years of the current DUI that you you are facing. It is also very important to note, that since other states classify pleas differently, and use different verbiage for DUI plea bargains, that out of state convictions should to be carefully examined. An experienced DUI attorney will be able to determine if they will be classified as a “priorable” offense (For example, a wet-reckless may be called a wet negligent operator in another state).

Prosecutors Must Prove Previous Convictions

In order for the prosecutor to provide proof that you are guilty for a 4th offense felony DUI, under this specific category, the district attorney must establish the following. First, that you drove, or were in actual physical control of a motor vehicle, while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Second, while you were in physical control of a motor vehicle, they must establish that you had a blood-alcohol concentration of .08% or greater. Lastly, that you have been convicted of at least three prior DUI-related convictions within the last 10 years. This period of 10 years is often referred to as the “look-back” period. The prosecutor can use an array of different methods to prove that you were actually convicted of a prior DUI-related offense. The prosecutor may use previous court records, or a copy of a Department of Motor Vehicle record, which would show previous license suspensions due to prior DUI convictions. The court may also obtain any certificate of completion from any court-ordered alcohol or drug program, which would also show prior convictions of driving while under the influence. In most cases, the prosecutor will obtain California records that would be used to prove any prior California DUI or any prior convictions of a wet reckless. Similarly, the prosecutor would normally rely on DMV and court records to show proof of any out-of-state DUI convictions.

Aggressive Defense Of A 4th Dui Charge

As we would in any case, in a fourth DUI charge case, our lawyers at the San Diego DUI Attorney will use every technique available to try to reduce your DUI charge, or to dismiss your case outright. If it is determined that an outright dismissal isn't possible then our attorneys will work meticulously to review each prior DUI, or wet reckless conviction, to see if any of the priors can possibly be changed or challenged based on a procedural or evidentiary errors. Because a fourth DUI is a felony charge, it is very important that every angle of your case be looked at to try to increase any possibility that any subsequent conviction or even a prior DUI could possibly be stricken from your what record. By doing this in-depth analysis of your priors, the long-term goal is to substantially reduce your sentence and may be able to reclassify your DUI back to a misdemeanor type of DUI charge.

In many cases, when dealing with a 4th offense DUI, you must look at every legal option and leverage any legal options that you have. For example, many times we will use and outside third-party lab to retest your blood and determine if your BAC was accurate. This can often be successful in cases where the blood alcohol level is close to .08%. The attorneys at the San Diego DUI Law Firm have worked closely with local agencies (for example, Utica Technologies) that are trusted in the retesting of blood, which is sometimes referred to as blood splitting.

A second technique that is often implicated in these types of cases, is the use of a private investigator. The investigator will work as a team member, with your legal counsel, to interview any possible witnesses, arresting officers, or revisit the crime scene / accident scene. The use of these additional measures is very important when working on a defense for a felony DUI. As mentioned, the key in any DUI case is to uncover as many material facts that can benefit us, and to leverage these technicalities to assure the best possible outcome for your case.

Another strategy, and useful tool in dealing with a 4th offense DUI, is the use of a psychologist. Our Law Firm has teamed up with Dr. Judith Myers who has over 20 years of experience as a psychologist to do an “alcohol and brain evaluation”. Her evaluation and report can have a tremendous amount of leverage, and can be a strong asset in a DUI case where the defendant shows a pattern of alcohol or drug abuse. It is very important that, before any steps are taken, your attorney works closely with you in determining whether or not this type of evaluation would be beneficial to your case.

4th Dui Penalty And Sentence

The penalty for driving under the influence in California, for any type of a DUI, can be very harsh. However, the penalty for a California felony DUI can be a life-changing event. When a California felony DUI charge results from having 3 prior DUI-related convictions within the last 10 years, the punishment will vary from case to case depending on the specific facts. Some of the factors that the judge may consider are the following: If your driving behavior placed the public at imminent risk due to a high BAC level. The judge may also look at the level of your blood alcohol on your prior DUI cases to determine if there are any additional aggravating factors. Even how many prior DUI convictions you have had outside of the 10-year look-back period, and what the conditions of those DUI's were, can be considered. The sentencing guidelines for a fourth DUI are as follows:

1) A sentence of 16 months, a presumptive of 2 years and a maximum of 4 years in a state prison;

2) A base fine of $390 to $1,000 plus court costs;

3) You will be placed on a Habitual Traffic Offenders status for a period of three years; and/or

4) A revocation of your California driving privilege for a period of four years.

Comparison – Penalties For First, Second And Third Dui Offense

As you will see, the difference between and a felony DUI sentence and a misdemeanor DUI sentence can be night and day.  This is because misdemeanors are crimes that carry a maximum prison sentence of one (1) year.  Note that for a fourth/felony DUI conviction, you can face up to four (4) years in state prison.  This is why it is essential to hire an experienced attorney, and give yourself the best chance of having the charges against you reduced.

Third Offense Dui Penalties

For a third offense DUI conviction, you can expect the following:

  • A fine of up to $3,000;
  • Incarceration for a period of 120 days to (1) year;
  • License Suspension for up to three (3) years;
  • Mandatory completion of DUI classes; and/or
  • Probation for up to (5) years.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on your vehicle.

Second Offense Dui Penalties

For a second offense DUI conviction, you can expect the following penalties:

  • License Suspension for up to two (2) years;
  • Incarceration for a period of 90 days to one (1) year;
  • Mandatory completion of DUI education classes;
  • Up to $2,000 in fines; and/or
  • Up to five (5) years of probation.

First Offense Dui Penalties

For a first offense DUI conviction, you can expect the following penalties:

  • License suspension for a minimum of 30 days;
  • A jail sentence of up to two (2) days;
  • Mandatory completion of DUI education classes;
  • A fine of up to $2,000.

Keep in mind, that no matter what number offense you are being charged with, your sentence will vary on a case by case basis, at the discretion of the judge.  Any aggravating factors, such as the following, will be considered, and can enhance the penalty you actually receive:

  • Causing death or serious injury;
  • Driving at excessive speeds, or recklessly;
  • Damaging property;
  • Refusing a blood or breath test;
  • Having a BAC of .15% or greater; and/or
  • Driving with a passenger under fourteen years of age.

As you can see, with each additional DUI conviction, the penalties become more and more severe. By the fourth conviction you could be facing a significant period of incarceration. Therefore, if you are charged with any DUI offense, it is extremely important that you contact an attorney as soon as soon as possible.  

If You Have Been Charged With A Felony Dui, We Strongly Advise You To Contact The San Diego Dui Attorney To Schedule Your Free Dui Consultation.

In California, a felony DUI that stems because of Prior DUI's will be aggressively prosecuted, and require a special legal defense. The lawyers at the San Diego DUI Attorney have over 29 years of experience defending cases throughout San Diego county. If you or someone you know is facing a fourth offense DUI call our office to schedule a FREE initial consultation.

Contact Our Office Today At 619-535-7150 For A Free Dui Consultation.