According to California Vehicle Code §23152, driving under the influence of alcohol is unlawful. Also, it is unlawful to drive a car with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher. Driving under the influence in California can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.
The penalties in either case for a fourth-time DUI can be severe. You could serve up to three years in state prison for a DUI 4th offense in the worst case. In addition, you could lose your driving privileges for several years, pay thousands of dollars in fines, and be labeled as a Habitual Traffic Offender.
Knowing more about the penalties and potential defenses to DUI charges can help you understand your options for fighting drunk driving charges. Keep reading for answers to frequently asked questions about California DUI 4th charges.
Is a Fourth DUI in California a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Fourth DUI offenses in California are wobblers. A wobbler is a criminal offense that can be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony. Whether the prosecutor pursues a 4th DUI as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on several factors. However, some factors result in an automatic felony DUI charge.
For example, if you have any prior felony DUI convictions, a 4th DUI charge is a felony. Unlike other DUI charges that must be within ten years to impact your current drunk driving charge, felony DUIs do not have a time limit. Therefore, even if your felony DUI occurred 20 years ago, it results in a felony charge for the current DUI offense.
Also, if you caused someone to be killed or sustain a severe injury while driving under the influence, your DUI charge is automatically a felony charge. It does not matter whether this is your first or fourth DUI offense.
What Are the Penalties for a Fourth-Time DUI Conviction in California?
The penalties for a fourth-time DUI conviction within ten years in California include:
- County jail sentence between 180 days and one year if the charge is a misdemeanor
- State prison sentence between 16 months and three years if the charge is a felony
- Driver’s license revocation for four years
- Fines between $390 to $1,000
- Designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) for three years
It may be possible for a person to obtain driving privileges if they have an ignition interlock device installed for three years. The only way to avoid losing driving privileges would be to win both the
Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing at the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the criminal case in Superior Court.
A judge may also impose other penalties for a DUI 4th conviction. For example, you may be ordered to complete informal probation or a DUI education program. In addition, you could be ordered to pay restitution if your drunk driving offense resulted in harm to another person.
Furthermore, judges consider other factors when deciding how to punish a fourth-time DUI charge. A prosecutor may argue that you deserve a harsher sentence because your DUI arrest involved aggravating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- Causing a DUI accident
- Driving under the influence with a child under the age of 14 years in the vehicle (child endangerment)
- Underage DUI
- Refusing to take a breathalyzer or chemical test to determine blood alcohol content
- Driving with a BAC of .15% or higher
Depending on the circumstances of your DUI arrest, the prosecution could decide to charge you with other criminal offenses. If so, you could also face additional criminal penalties.
How Can I Fight a Fourth DUI Arrest?
A conviction for driving under the influence fourth offense can have a devastating impact on your life. If you serve a lengthy jail or prison sentence, you could lose your job. Not being able to drive affects your family too.
Being arrested for drunk driving does not mean that you are convicted. Instead, the state must prove that you are guilty of the charges. You also have the right to fight the charges by raising one or more defenses and challenging the evidence presented in court.
Defenses to DUI charges could include, but are not limited to:
- The breathalyzer was malfunctioning, defective, or used incorrectly
- The police officer did not perform the Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) correctly
- You had a medical condition that made it appear you were intoxicated when you were not
- The police officer lacked probable cause for your arrest or reasonable suspicion for a DUI stop
- You had acid reflux, GERD, or dental work that could have caused a false positive on a breathalyzer test
- The samples for a chemical test were not handled correctly or contaminated
- You were given non-standard field sobriety tests that are unreliable
- Your chemical test results were caused by rising blood alcohol
- The breathalyzer was not calibrated correctly
If the police officer or other law enforcement agents violated your legal rights, the evidence in your case could be inadmissible in court. Without evidence, the prosecutor may not have a case, which could result in the DUI charges being dismissed.
Can I Expunge a 4th DUI Conviction?
Expunging a DUI conviction means that the judge allows you to withdraw your guilty plea or verdict. The DUI case is then dismissed.
Expungement is available for misdemeanor and felony charges if the following conditions are met:
- The conviction does not result in a prison sentence
- You complete all terms of your probation
- The conviction was from state court
- You complete all other terms of your sentence, including paying fines, community service, and treatment programs
- You do not have outstanding criminal charges and are not serving time for another criminal conviction
Expungement does not wipe the DUI charge off your driving record or criminal record. However, it does cause the DUI case to show as “dismissed.” Even though the DUI remains on your record, employers and others often treat a dismissed DUI much more favorably than a DUI conviction.
What Happens if I Get Another DUI in California?
There are no limits to how many times you can be charged with driving under the influence in California. However, if you are charged with a 5th DUI offense within ten years, a judge may impose the maximum prison sentence.
The judge may also increase all other penalties to the maximum level. It would depend on the facts of the case and whether the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor.
Penalties for driving under the influence increase with each subsequent drunk driving conviction within ten years because DUIs are a priorable offense in California. It does not matter whether the DUIs were in California or another state.
California DUI offenses that count as priorable DUI convictions for sentencing purposes include:
- Wet reckless driving under VC §23103.5
- Driving under the influence under VC §23152a
- Driving with a BAC of .08% or higher under VC §23152b
- Drunk driving with injury under VC 23153
- Any expunged DUI convictions
- Convictions occurring out-of-state that would result in violation of a California DUI law
Fighting DUI charges is the best way to avoid the negative consequences that a DUI conviction can have on your future. Seeking legal help with your DUI defense gives you the best chance of winning your case.
How Can a California DUI Defense Lawyer Help Me?
Facing a fourth DUI charge in California is a serious matter. You can trust yourself or a public defender to handle the matter, but that is not in your best interest.
Defending yourself means that you are held to the same standards as an attorney. The court nor the prosecutor helps you with your case. It is the prosecutor’s job to get a guilty verdict. The judge is an impartial office of the court.
Therefore, you are responsible for knowing and understanding court procedures and criminal law. Unfortunately, if you do not know all of the laws that apply to your case, you could miss a defense that could help you win your case.
Public defenders may not have the experience or time to handle your case correctly. They do not have the resources of a private lawyer. Because they are overworked and understaffed, public defenders may not work as diligently and aggressively to get you the best possible outcome for your DUI case.
A private California DUI defense attorney thoroughly analyzes each aspect of your case for potential defenses. Then, the lawyer gathers evidence and works to build a solid defense against the DUI charges.
Because seasoned DUI defense attorneys do not shy away from going to trial, prosecutors may be more willing to negotiate a reasonable plea deal. Public defenders may be encouraged to accept plea deals that are not in your best interest to settle cases.
Get the Facts About California DUI Cases Now
Before you agree to a plea deal, talk to a DUI defense lawyer near you about your case. Learn about your legal options from a trusted source to ensure you choose the best option to defend yourself against fourth-time DUI charges in California.