The California Vehicle Code prohibits driving under the influence, imposing harsh penalties for offenders found guilty of the violations. When you face a subsequent DUI charge and conviction, you will be prone to further legal consequences in the future. The multiple penalties you will receive arise from facing a fourth time DUI offense within a specified period. You will likely face felony charges under the sentencing guidelines that end in harsh jail convictions and high fine payments. Therefore, it is essential to understand the basis for a fourth time DUI conviction and the criminal elements that the prosecutor will have to prove. In doing so, you will make adequate preparations for your criminal trial proceedings to help face a more lenient sentence.
Moreover, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is highly beneficial for you, primarily because your matter will be more aggravated than a first-time offender. Subsequently, you need a skilled attorney who will present persuasive defenses and engage the prosecutor in negotiations to reduce charges. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, you will receive excellent criminal defense services from our highly qualified attorneys. With our services available in Los Angeles, you get to understand the various requirements and pointers to keep in mind as you proceed to trial. Our primary goal is to help you receive a lenient case outcome that prevents you from dealing with the adversities of severe fourth offense DUI penalties.
Circumstances Leading to a 4th Offense DUI
Before facing the specific fourth offense DUI charges, the arresting officer and prosecutor should check your records to establish whether you have met the requirements. Usually, a DUI crime is a priorable offense, meaning that its severity escalates based on previous violations.
Hence, you must have engaged in three previous DUI offenses and faced conviction within ten years from the first conviction. The DUI crimes may range between misdemeanor DUI charges to reduced wet reckless charges.
Alternatively, you may face felony charges for the fourth offense DUI if your past charges were felonies as well. In this case, the presiding judge may exercise more rigid rules when handling your current charge based on previous convictions’ severity.
Nevertheless, your criminal defense lawyer will be ready to present the best negotiation tactics with the prosecutor to help reduce or strike out current or previous charges. Additionally, the raised defenses help mitigate the penalties you are bound to receive for a fourth offense DUI with past felony charges.
Types of Previous DUI Charges
Apart from establishing that you are a previous DUI offender, the prosecutor handling your matter will also look into the exact type of charges you faced previously. The reason for conducting extensive research is to establish whether you met an actual conviction, and if so, whether the conviction records later underwent expungement.
All details related to your previous convictions will be necessary for your current fourth offense DUI, as they lay the foundation for the course of your proceedings.
Hence, a reference to the California Vehicle Code is also essential, as the statutory provision states the elements of crime and sentencing guidelines you faced in your previous convictions. Some of the past violations leading up to your fourth offense DUI charge include:
Driving Under the Influence
The most common DUI crime involves violating section 23152(a) of the Vehicle Code that prohibits driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The provision aims to ban DUIs altogether, meaning that it may apply strictly for some drivers.
For example, a person under twenty-one years will be subject to section 23152(a), as he/she should not consume any amount of alcohol. Similarly, a person on probation will also be strictly accountable under the section, as he/she should avoid the consumption of any alcohol amounts.
Exceeding the Blood Alcohol Concentration Level
Moreover, section 23152(b) of the Vehicle Code also sets a specific BAC level that motorists should not exceed. The BAC readings reveal the amount of alcohol concentration in your blood by checking your breath or blood samples.
Thus, when the traffic officer administering BAC tests establishes that you have exceeded the stipulated limits, you will face arrest and detention before proceeding to trial.
It is important to note that exceeding the 0.08% limit by a significant amount of up to 0 15% is an aggravating factor that leads to more enhanced sentences, depending on the excess levels.
Involvement in a Wet Reckless Offense
Sometimes, the prosecutor may agree to reduce your DUI violation charges to a wet reckless offense. Alternatively, you may have committed minor traffic offenses in the past related to wet recklessness under the influence.
Regardless of the mode of acquiring a wet reckless charge, you need to note that it contributes to a priorable offense analysis, as provided in section 23103.5 of the Vehicle Code.
Sometimes, your past DUI convictions may have undergone a reduction to wet reckless convictions. However, despite the mitigation, the wet reckless offense counts in determining the number of past DUI offenses that resulted in your conviction.
DUIs Causing Severe Injury or Vehicular Manslaughter
Further, your past conviction may include a felony DUI that caused severe injuries to the accident victim. The elements of the crime are available under section 23153. They involve proving that you drove the vehicle carelessly while under the influence.
Moreover, you must have directly injured the accident victim, leading to severe personal injuries. Adverse cases may also include vehicular manslaughter caused by gross negligence when driving under the influence.
The offense of vehicular manslaughter is a violation of section 191.5 of the California Penal Code, attracting long jail sentences and high fees in fines.
DUI Offenses Committed Out of State
Lastly, you may have also engaged in previous DUI offenses outside California. Under the Federal criminal system, any records of criminal charges obtained outside your state will appear in your current state records as well.
Consequently, the previous DUI violations you committed in other states will qualify you for a fourth offense DUI charge in California.
Lastly, it is crucial to remember that a prosecutor may receive authorization to refer to expunged convictions when entering your fourth offense DUI charge.
In this case, the prosecutor will use the records as a point of reference and confirmation of your previous criminal engagements for three DUI violations. Afterward, he/she will proceed to open the proceedings based on the expunged criminal records.
Elements of Crime for the Prosecutor to Prove in a Fourth Offense DUI Case
Upon confirmation that you have qualified to face the fourth time DUI charge, the prosecutor will open criminal proceedings against you. During the various hearings, he/she will declare the evidence prepared for use against you, along with all the witnesses who will testify on your past and present DUI violations.
During a criminal trial, the burden of proof to prove that you are guilty rests on the prosecutor. As a result, he/she must provide credible sources of evidence on the allegations presented during the opening statements.
Since the burden of proof requires the prosecutor to provide evidence to support each criminal element, he/ she must prepare adequately. A failure to prove the criminal element beyond a reasonable doubt will lead to the dropping of charges or a significant reduction of penalties for you.
Hence, your criminal defense lawyer will strategize on discrediting the prosecutor's evidence to raise reasonable doubt on the issue. However, in a fourth offense DUI, the prosecutor will already have the upper hand in persuading the judge of your guilt, based on the previous convictions. Despite this, your legal defenses still play an essential role in discrediting the elements of the crime.
The main factors of crime for the prosecutor to establish and prove are:
You Drove a Vehicle
Each crime must consist of two elements; the actus reus, the criminal act itself, and the mens rea, the criminal intention. Here, driving a vehicle is the illegal activity in question as it plays a significant role in the DUI violation.
The prosecutor will focus on proving that you operated the vehicle despite consuming alcohol or drugs, contrary to provisions under the California Vehicle Code. To do this, he or she needs convincing evidence that shows your direct involvement in driving.
For example, any surveillance footage from highway camera sources will help strengthen the prosecutor's argument, primarily if it clearly shows your face inside the vehicle. The footage should also show you specifically at the driver's seat, moving the car for the prosecutor to conclude that you drove.
Other sources of evidence include witness testimonies from people who saw you driving. Sometimes, the witness may be a passenger in your car who the prosecutor may have convinced to testify against you.
Additionally, police reports from the arresting traffic officers are also admissible evidential sources, provided they include relevant details. For example, if the officer saw you driving the car to a halt at the DUI checkpoint, he/she should consist of the events in the police report.
Usually, police reports may include manipulated information to accuse you of an offense falsely. While you may present the falsification of records as a defense, it is necessary to remember that the reports are admissible in court.
Consequently, you want to raise suspicion early enough to advocate for eliminating unlawful proof in the criminal proceedings’ discovery stage.
You Drove While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs
Since driving is not an offense by itself, the prosecutor must then show that you drove while under the influence. As a result, proving the element of being drunk when driving is vital.
Usually, the element displays your intention to violate the law despite knowing you are drunk. Hence, in this situation, your act of drunk driving infers your criminal intentions to break the Vehicle Code provisions.
When providing evidence on your action of driving under the influence, the prosecutor uses the set BAC limit of 0.08% as a point of reference to establish fault.
The evidential sources mainly come from the results of any DUI tests that the traffic officers subjected you to. You may have several test options, depending on the availability of facilities and the suspected type of intoxication.
Commonly, you will have to undertake a breathalyzer test, where the officer in charge uses a breathalyzer device to check for the BAC level using your breath sample. After a while, the device displays the level of alcohol concentration in a digitized format that is convertible to the Vehicle Code standards.
Alternatively, you will undertake a chemical blood test by providing a blood sample. Later, professionals test the samples to check if your blood alcohol concentration exceeded the 0.08% limit. Like a breathalyzer test, the results will include all the information necessary to determine the extent to which you surpassed the set limit.
Lastly, you may undergo a urine test that involves providing a sample for testing as well. The results will then display your BAC levels and provide a source of proof for the prosecutor.
When the prosecutor presents the result in court, they become a reliable source of information to determine that you were under the influence and the exact BAC level your body was operating on.
Apart from presenting the BAC test results as evidence, the prosecutor may decide to check the police reports concerning your arrest for feedback on field sobriety tests and other physical signs of being drunk.
For example, if you drastically failed your field sobriety test, the reports will indicate the prosecutor’s findings to use additional proof of being drunk. Physical signs of drunkenness like bloodshot eyes, a strong alcohol smell, and slurred speech are vital sources of evidence that may be useful against you in court.
You Faced Three Previous DUI Convictions
Lastly, the prosecutor needs to prove your previous DUI convictions, mainly because you are facing the fourth offense charge. Hence, it becomes necessary to establish that you are a past offender and qualify to meet the current charges.
Several sources of information are available for the prosecutor's use, as he/she gathers proof on past DUI convictions. Firstly, the prosecutor may consult the Department of Motor Vehicles in your area to obtain records of past DMV hearings.
Usually, when you face arrest for a DUI violation, you do not have to appear in court for a judge to determine your verdict and issue further directives. The DMV has a department dedicated to DUI hearings, with the officer in charge having a mandate to handle your case and provide a sentence afterward.
Hence, any previous convictions issued in a DMV office form part of the records that the prosecutor relies on to prove your past criminal engagements.
Additionally, if you underwent a court trial for your previous DUI offenses, the prosecutor may also consult the records office to access the documentary evidence. Some essential documents include copies of the DUI judgment from the presiding judge.
Moreover, the prosecutor will also request access to the court proceeding records, along with the sentencing judgments. All the details in the various documents are reliable sources of proof in determining that you faced three prior DUI convictions.
If court and DMV records are insufficient in your case, the prosecutor also has the option of retrieving your certificates of completion. These certificates are available for all DUI offenders who undergo mandatory court-ordered DUI rehabilitative programs.
For example, if you undertook a DUI school program for nine months, you will receive the certificate after completing the rehabilitative course. If the prosecutor finds certificates from three different court conviction orders, the information serves as sufficient proof in establishing the third element of the crime.
Penalties for a 4th Offense DUI
If the prosecutor’s evidence is compelling enough to show that you are guilty, the judge will proceed to the sentencing hearing. During this session, you will receive penalties based on the sentencing guidelines and your case’s circumstances.
The first option includes spending sixteen months to three years in state prison. The prison sentence ranges depending on various factors, including the severity of your matter.
Secondly, you may have to pay fine penalties of $390 to $1000 for the crime. Alternatively, you may have to pay the fine penalty and receive a jail sentence, mainly if your case includes multiple aggravating factors.
You will also have to face a license suspension period that lasts for four years. During this period, you lose your driving privileges unless you drive to work or your DUI school.
However, recent law reforms now allow you to retain your driving privileges as long as you install an Ignition Interlock Device in your car. The IID locks the car ignition system until you blow into an attached breathalyzer device to ensure that you are not about to drive under the influence.
Lastly, you may have to attend DUI school for at least eighteen months, where you will undertake rehabilitative classes that teach the dangers of alcohol addiction.
You must remember that a fourth offense DUI is a felony in California, meaning it attracts severe penalties. However, the judge uses his/her discretion to enhance or reduce the sentence within the stipulated bracket.
Aggravating Factors that Attract Harsher Sentences
If your case circumstances include aggravating factors, the judge will also consider them and enhance the sentence accordingly. Some of the factors include:
Committing a DUI Offense With a Child Under Fourteen Years in the Car
If you engaged in drunk driving with a minor under 14 in your vehicle, you would be answerable to child endangerment alongside your DUI accusations.
In some cases, the prosecutor may also choose to press separate child endangerment charges, primarily if you also drove recklessly while under the influence. Placing the child in harm's way becomes an aggravating factor for the foreseeable risk that you and the minor will face.
Surpassing the 0.08% BAC Limit Significantly
If you had a BAC level that greatly surpassed the limit, you would have introduced an aggravating factor based on the law’s gross violation. Often, the judge will enhance your sentence for having a BAC level of 0.15% more.
With the high test results and three previous DUI convictions, the judge may strictly perceive your case, leading to additional scrutiny and limited mitigation chances. Therefore, your criminal defense attorney needs to develop a sound defense strategy that advocates for the judge’s leniency.
Causing Severe Body Injury or Death When Driving Under the Influence
Doubtless, causing third party harm or irreversible damage like wrongful death will aggravate your case’s circumstances. Here, the judge’s main reason for enhancing your sentence is because the injury arises from a DUI violation.
Subsequently, the presiding judge will go over information concerning the effects you caused on accident victims. If the third-party suffered severe injuries or death, your sentence enhancement is more likely to apply.
Driving with Excessive Speed
Suppose you violate additional traffic regulations while under the influence; they become aggravating factors in your matter. Among the most dangerous road practices is using high speeds in restricted highway sections, as they may expose other motorists to impending dangers.
Consequently, when you drive under the influence at risky speeds, you will have acted carelessly, leading to additional legal liabilities. Further violations, therefore, create aggravated factors.
Defenses for a Fourth Offense DUI
When your case proceeds to trial, your criminal defense attorney should present valid legal arguments in your defense. Relying on relevant and persuasive reasons will increase your chances of receiving a lenient sentence, primarily if the aggravating factors in your case pose a severe threat.
Some defenses that your lawyer may apply are:
- You suffer from underlying health conditions that cause the BAC to rise gradually.
- There was police misconduct in arresting and subjecting the tests.
Apart from raising the defenses, your lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor to have the past convictions stricken out, mostly if they became expunged.
Working closely with your lawyer is crucial to the success of your case. Therefore, we recommend providing any critical information that can help overturn the prosecutor's accusations when raising the defenses.
Find a DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me
Dealing with a fourth offense DUI charge requires you to partner with a diligent and reliable attorney. Mostly, fourth offense DUIs attract felonies that result in harsh sentences. To avoid facing the severe consequences, contact The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm at 310-935-1675. We will be happy to provide our legal services and support you through the criminal trial process.