Not all driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests in California result in the same criminal charges. The criminal justice system takes into account all of the evidence that law enforcement collected and observed when making decisions about criminal charges.
The detection of one or more aggravating factors motivates prosecutors to apply harsher charges and seek stiffer penalties. Criminal codes authorize this because the law views aggravating factors as choices or behaviors that worsen the potential for harm to society.
A DUI/DWI charge can be enhanced due to:
- Extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
- Repeat offenses
- Minor in the vehicle
- Accident involving injury or death
- Altercation with police officer
Misdemeanor to felony
DUI/DWI arrests normally produce misdemeanor charges. First-time offenders and even repeat offenders may avoid felony charges as long as aggravating factors did not occur.
Car accidents or hitting a pedestrian, however, have a high chance of escalating the case to a felony. Should a person found to be intoxicated cause a fatality while driving, involuntary manslaughter charges are possible.
Potential penalties for aggravated DUI/DWI
Sentencing guidelines raise the floor on minimum penalties for people accused of intoxicated driving with aggravating factors. In cases involving a fatality, a conviction could send someone to prison. For less extreme cases, minimum jail sentences increase for repeat offenders or those found to endanger children or resist arrest.
Defendants have more to concern them than the risk of incarceration. Whether or not a court imposes jail time, a convicted person can expect prolonged license suspension and probation. Courts often order people to pay for and attend DUI education programs. An ignition interlock device may be ordered, which imposes more fees on someone convicted of this offense.