Most DUIs in California are charged as misdemeanors. Driving under the influence is a common traffic crime. Many people will be caught doing it once, experience the consequences of doing it, and then decide it's safer and cheaper to simply use a taxi, ride sharing service, or stay home. But there are aggravating circumstances that could make your seemingly insignificant would-be misdemeanor DUI a felony.
For a misdemeanor DUI, the prosecution must prove two elements:
In California, there are two ways the prosecution can prove you were impaired. First, the arresting officer will administer a blood alcohol content test. This can be done using a breathalyzer or a blood test. Blood tests are more precise and subject to less error, but can offer you the advantage of occurring well after you had your last drink.
Sometimes, a blood test can yield a lower result than a breath test because the body has processed alcohol out of your system during the ride to the station. The bad news is if either of these tests come back with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you are considered legally impaired, regardless of how sober you felt or how well you performed during the field sobriety test.
The field sobriety test is the second way the prosecution can prove you were impaired. If you took breathalyzer that returned a BAC of less than 0.08%, you can still be charged with DUI. This happens when a driver fails a field sobriety test. Now, the FST alone can be disproven a number of ways. The observations made by the officer are subjective. Many times officers may wrongly administer certain parts of the test, and your lawyer should impeach the officer during trial if there is evidence indicating the officer administered the test wrong.
Another defense is that perhaps the person has historically bad balance or had an injury that prevents them from completing the test. When you contact a good DUI lawyer, all of these avenues will be explored and developed to provide you the best defense possible.
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A DUI reaches felony status several ways.
DUI Causing Injury
While all cases are different, we can take the four elements of the crime the prosecution will need to prove and break them down in order to understand what a felony DUI lawyer will need to make the state prove for a guilty verdict.
The 4 Criminal Elements
"The defendant operated the vehicle."
The prosecution will use the arresting officer, or other witness who saw the defendant operating the vehicle, in their prosecution.
"The defendant operated the vehicle while intoxicated..."
Assuming the prosecution can prove element 1, the officer will be summoned as a witness and any evidence collected as part of the officer's investigation will be presented to the court. This evidence could include observations made by the officer, receipts from a bar or restaurant showing you purchased alcoholic beverages, BAC from a breathalyzer or blood sample, and any other witness statements that may establish a factual pattern that the defendant was intoxicated.
"While intoxicated and operating the vehicle, the accused also..."
Again, assuming the first 2 elements are found true, the prosecution will attempt to establish the third element. All the prosecution needs to prove is that the defendant committed some other traffic violation. This could be something as simple as running a stop sign, or an illegal lane change. That said, simply because the defendant was intoxicated, does not automatically establish that the defendant committed an illegal act. If another person was injured in the accident, that could have been caused by their own neglect or illegal act - not necessarily the defendant's.
"The defendant's illegal act or failure to perform a legal duty caused bodily injury to another person."
Assuming the previous elements have been proven, the 4th is the easiest for the prosecution to prove. An injury to another person can be shown with medical bills, or the testimony of the person injured in the crash, or the officer who responded to a 911 call and saw the person injured.