California laws on drunk driving are some of the most stringent in the country. Drunk driving involves operating a vehicle under alcohol or drug influence. If you operate a vehicle while under the influence and cause injuries to a third party, you could be arrested and charged under California Vehicle Code 23153. Depending on the seriousness of the injuries you caused and your criminal history, the prosecutor can file misdemeanor or felony charges.
A conviction for DUI causing injury attracts serious legal and collateral consequences. Besides spending time behind bars, the conviction leaves a permanent record that could impact other aspects of your life. Additionally, you could lose your driving privileges through a suspension or revocation of your license.
If you or a loved one is charged with violating CVC 23153, you will require the advice of a skilled attorney to navigate the case. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we offer competent legal guidance to all our clients battling drunk driving-related charges in Pasadena, CA.
Understanding California Vehicle Code 23153
Drunk driving impairs a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely and increases the risk of accidents. Californian law is stringent on defendants facing charges of drunk driving. Your case is more severe when you cause an accident and injuries to another person while drunk driving. When establishing your liability under Vehicle Code 23153, the prosecutor must assert these elements of the crime:
- You Drove a Vehicle
You cannot be charged with drunk driving or DUI-related offenses without sufficient evidence to prove that you drove the vehicle. Therefore, the prosecution should be able to establish this fact at the beginning of your trial.
- You Drove Under Alcohol or Drug Influence
Under Vehicle Code 23153, you are considered drunk driving under the following circumstances:
- Your BAC exceeded the 0.08% legal limit during the
- Your behavior was influenced by alcohol or drug use.
The prosecution establishes this element by presenting evidence of your chemical test results before and after the arrest.
- You Engaged in an illegal act or Failed to Act.
Liability under Vehicle Code 13152 requires you to have violated some laws or failed to use ordinary care to prevent foreseeable harm to others. An unlawful act, in this case, could be anything from running a red light to swerving. The court determines whether your actions were negligent by comparing your conduct with that of a reasonable individual under similar circumstances.
- Your Unlawful or Negligent Acts Cause Injury to Another Person
Before the court finds you guilty of DUI causing injury, the prosecution must prove that your actions cause injury to a victim. Without an injury, your case cannot go beyond a standard DUI.
Penalties for DUI Causing Injury in California
DUI causing injury is a California wobbler. A wobbler is an offense that attracts misdemeanor or felony charges based on the circumstances of the case. Some factors that could affect the nature of your charges are your criminal record and the severity of the injuries you caused to the alleged victim. When you are a first-time offender, the prosecution could file misdemeanor charges.
A misdemeanor conviction for DUI causing injury attracts the following penalties:
- A one-year jail sentence
- Fines that do not exceed $2,000
- A three-year driver’s license suspension
- You to thirty months of DUI school
- Victim restitution
Misdemeanor Probation for DUI causing Injuries
Three main sentencing options for DUI-related cases include jail time, fines, and probation. Probation is an alternative to spending time in jail and is offered to first-time offenders or individuals with no substantial criminal history. A probation sentence is not automatic. Your attorney must negotiate with the prosecution to send you to probation.
The probation sentence sees you spend a portion of your jail sentence on community service. Misdemeanor probation for DUI-causing injury lasts for three to five years. While on probation for violating Vehicle Code 13153, the judge sets the following conditions:
- Avoid committing other crimes during probation
- Random drug and alcohol testing
- Install an ignition interlock device to all your vehicles
- Perform community service
- Pay all your court fines and victim restitution
Failure to follow through with one or more probation rules could result in an arrest and charges for probation violation. The most severe consequence of a probation violation is the revocation of your probation and reinstatement of the original or maximum jail sentence.
Under the following circumstances, the prosecution will file felony charges for DUI causing injuries:
- You face charges for a third offense under VC 23153. Your criminal history is a significant factor in determining your criminal charges. If you have two or more prior convictions for DUI causing injury, your charge is automatically treated as a felony.
- The current DUI charge is your fourth offense. Whether or not your previous DUI charges involved an injury, a fourth or subsequent DUI conviction is a felony.
- You caused serious injuries. In cases where you cause severe bodily harm to another person while driving under the influence, the prosecution will file felony charges.
As a felony, a violation of California VC 23153 is punishable by:
- A prison sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years
- An additional year in prison for every victim who suffered an injury
- Fines not exceeding $5,000
- Driver’s license revocation for five years
- Up to thirty months of DUI school
- Three years as a habitual traffic offender. Being a habitual traffic offender is a status you carry for many tears. With this status, you risk facing additional criminal charges after an arrest for driving on a suspended license.
California Three Strikes Sentencing Law
California law is strict when dealing with individuals who drive under the alcohol influence in California. When DUI causes injury, you could face a felony criminal charge. California’s three strikes law is a sentencing scheme that imposes a prison sentence of twenty-five years to life for defendants facing a third conviction for a serious or violent felony.
A violation of VC 23153 is a strike under California's three strikes law. Therefore, if you already have two strikes on your record, your conviction under this statute will attract a minimum of twenty-five years in prison with no possibility of parole.
Great Bodily Injury Enhancement
When you face an arrest and charges for felony DUI with injuries, the prosecution will seek the harshest penalty that the evidence against you could support. Besides the penalties you face after a conviction for DUI with injuries, the prosecution may seek an enhanced sentence for causing great bodily injury to the alleged victims of your crime. Great bodily injury is a substantial physical injury, including broken bones, concussions, brain injuries, and contusions.
If the GBI enhancement applies to your crime, you risk facing three to six years of additional time in prison. The length of the additional sentence will vary based on the nature of the victim. If the victim of your DUI with injuries is a child under five years or an individual over seventy years, you will face a minimum of five years in addition to your felony conviction sentence.
Reducing a DUI with Injury Charge to a Misdemeanor
In California, a felony conviction has far-reaching consequences than a misdemeanor conviction under the same statute. If the prosecution in your case files felony charges for DUI causing injury, your DUI lawyer can fight to have the charges reduced to a misdemeanor. Not all defendants are eligible for a charge reduction. You would not be eligible for the reduction if the felony charge were based on your criminal history.
If the felony charge stemmed from the severity of the victim’s injuries, your attorney might be able to negotiate for a reduction with the prosecution. By arguing that the victim’s injuries existed before the accident or disputing their severity, you can face misdemeanor charges which lesser incarceration and few collateral consequences.
License Suspension for DUI Causing Injury
Losing your driver’s license is one of the harshest consequences of a conviction for drunk driving and related offenses. When the DMV learns about your VC 23153 arrest, they seek to suspend or revoke your driving privileges. Often, the Administrative license suspension occurs before you face trial for your criminal charges. During the arrest, the law enforcement officer will confiscate your license and issue a notification that informs you of an upcoming suspension.
After an arrest, you have up to 10 days to request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicle. A DMV hearing is an informal proceeding where you can challenge the administrative suspension of your license. Investigations for DUI-causing injuries can take a while. Therefore, keeping your driving privileges is key.
At the hearing, you can exercise these rights:
- Right to review the evidence presented against you
- Right to present witnesses brought by the prosecution
- Right to cross-examine the witnesses presented by the prosecution
The burden of proof needed at this hearing is by a preponderance of evidence which is a lower standard than what’s necessary at your criminal trial. Therefore, you must be aggressive to keep your driver’s license. Some defenses you can use include the following:
- An arrest without probable cause
- A violation of your constitutional rights during the arrest
- Argue that you were not the person driving the vehicle at the time of the accident
- Challenge the accuracy of the test results that indicate impairment
Although the DMV hearing differs from your criminal trial, you can use the evidence presented against you by the prosecution to build a defense against your VC 23153 charges. If you win your DMV hearing, the DMV will set aside the suspension or revocation. You will retain the right to operate your vehicle in California as you await the outcome of your DUI criminal case. With the guidance of a skilled attorney, you can note the flaws in the prosecutor’s case at the DMV hearing and use the flaws to build your defense in the criminal case.
However, if you lose the hearing, you will face a three-year driver’s license suspension. While some drivers can obtain a restricted license after an administrative suspension, You will not have the same privilege if you face charges for DUI with injury. Seeking legal guidance to navigate your DMV hearing is key to keeping your driver’s license.
Legal Defenses Against California Vehicle Code 23153 Charges
The consequences of a conviction for violating CVC 23153 are serious and sometimes life-changing. Therefore, you must be aggressive in fighting to avoid a conviction. Common defenses you can employ against your charges include:
You were not Driving the Vehicle
You cannot face a conviction for DUI causing injury unless the prosecution proves that you were operating the vehicle at the time of the accident. When police officers arrive at an accident scene, most people will have alighted from their vehicles or left the scene. Therefore, it may be challenging for the police or prosecutor to prove that you were driving. Without this evidence, the charges against you will not end in a conviction.
No Illegal Act
The prosecutor in your case must prove that you engaged in a wrongful act while drunk driving, which resulted in the victim’s injuries. Without camera footage, it may be challenging for the prosecution to establish negligence or the presence of an illegal act. Without this evidence, your VC 23153 charges will not stick, and the prosecution will be forced to reduce your charges to standard DUI which attracts lesser penalties.
You were not Drunk
When operating on a standard driver’s license, you are considered to be under the influence if your blood alcohol content was 0.08% at the time of the arrest. If your BAC was below the limit, the prosecution will base their case on other evidence that could indicate your impairment, including bloodshot eyes, unsteady gait, and slurred speech. With the guidance of a skilled attorney, you can refute this evidence by providing alternative reasons for your symptoms.
Arrest without a Probable Cause
A law enforcement officer cannot arrest you for DUI with injury without probable cause. A probable cause arises when the officer believes that you violate VC 23153. An arrest without probable cause violates your constitutional rights, and you can seek to suppress the evidence obtained during an unlawful arrest.
Rising BAC Defense
The basis of an arrest and prosecution for DUI with injury is that you were driving under the influence. Therefore, fighting drunk driving allegations could help you avoid a conviction. A rising BAC defense is used to argue that at the time you drove, your BAC was lower than the legal limit, and the alcohol content rose between the arrest and submitting to the chemical tests.
Faulty Testing Procedures
Your BAC test results are key evidence in your VC 23163. Therefore, establishing doubt about the accuracy of the test results could help you avoid a conviction. Breath and blood chemical test results could be subject to an error if the breathalyzer devices are not calibrated correctly or your blood sample is poorly stored. When there is doubt in the accuracy of your chemical test results, the prosecution’s case is weak, and they can offer you a plea deal or drop the charges.
One of the key elements that must be clear before you face a conviction for DUI with injury is that another person suffered an injury due to your drunk driving action. Although you cannot be convicted under VC 23153 without sufficient evidence of injury, the prosecutor could charge you with drunk driving under California Vehicle Code 23152.
Offenses Related to DUI Causing Injury
When you are charged with DUI with injury in California, the prosecution can introduce the following related offenses to your case:
Driving Under the Influence
Under California Vehicle Code 23152, you commit the crime of DUI when you operate a motor vehicle under alcohol or drug influence. A driver is considered intoxicated when they operate with a BAC that exceeds the legal limit or their conduct is impaired by alcohol use.
Unlike VC 23153, you do not need to cause an accident or injury to be charged with drunk driving. The danger you pose to yourself and other road users while engaging in this conduct makes it a crime. In most cases, a DUI charge is a reduction from your DUI causing injury charges. When the prosecution lacks the evidence to find you guilty of DUI with injury, they can reduce your charges to simple DUI.
Violation of CVC 23152 is always charged as a misdemeanor. A conviction for the offense will attract a jail sentence of up to one year, $1,000 in fines, and a driver’s license suspension. Sometimes, you could escape incarceration y serving probation.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Under California PC 191.5(a), you commit a crime by driving while intoxicated with alcohol, act with negligence, and cause an accident that results in another person’s death. If you kill someone in a drunk driving accident, the prosecutor will file charges for violating California PC 192.5(a) instead of DUI-causing injuries. The elements that lead to a conviction for this offense include:
- You operated a car while under alcohol or drug influence. Intoxication, in this case, is measured using your conduct while driving and your BAC.
- You committed an illegal act while drunk driving. The illegal act needed to complete this crime does not have to be serious.
- Your actions were grossly negligent. Gross negligence is any conduct that is more serious than ordinary recklessness.
- Your conduct resulted in another person’s death.
Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony. A conviction for the offense carries the following penalties:
- A prison sentence of four, six, or ten years
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Formal probation
Besides the criminal penalties, you could lose your driving privileges for three years in revocation by the DMV. You must consult a DUI lawyer if you are charged with violating PC 191.5.
Felony Hit and Run with Injury
California Vehicle Code 2001 makes it a crime to flee an accident scene after causing injury or death to someone. After an accident in California, all involved drivers must stop, assist the injured and remain at the scene until the police officers arrive. Failure to do this could attract serious criminal charges. When proving your liability under VC 2001, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- You were involved in an accident while driving a vehicle
- The accident resulted in the injury or death of another individual
- You knew or must have known of your involvement in the accident
- You willfully failed to do your legal duties
You can face charges and a conviction for felony hit and run even when you were not intoxicated. To obtain a conviction, the prosecution does not need to prove that you intended to break the law or harm someone through your actions.
Violation of VC 2001 can attract misdemeanor or felony charges. As a misdemeanor, the crime attracts a one-year jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. On the other hand, a felony conviction for the crime is punishable by a prison sentence of four years and a $10,000 fine.
Find a Skilled DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me
Facing an arrest for drunk driving in California is a daunting experience. Whether your conduct was impaired or your BAC exceeded the limit, California law is harsh when prosecuting DUI cases. Your situation worsens when you cause an accident while under the influence, and the prosecution files charges for DUI-causing injuries.
The consequences of a conviction for DUI causing injury go beyond incarceration and hefty fines. You could lose your driver’s license through a suspension by the court or by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The moments following an arrest for DUI with injuries can be extremely stressful and confusing. Therefore, hiring and retaining a DUI defense attorney is critical for your case.
A skilled attorney will investigate the facts of your case and present a strong defense to avoid the harsh consequences of a conviction. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we understand the importance of protecting your legal rights. If you face DUI charges in Pasadena, CA, contact us today at 626-689-2277.