When Is a DUI a Felony in San Diego?

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When Is a DUI a Felony in San Diego

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be dangerous for you and others on the road. It is illegal to get behind the wheel of your car if you are intoxicated or high, and doing so puts you at risk for being stopped and charged with a DUI. Most DUIs will be misdemeanors, but some are charged as felonies.

DUI Laws in California

In California, as with every other state, it is illegal to operate a vehicle if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can be arrested for a DUI if:

  • You are over 21, and you are driving with a blood alcohol level over .08% OR you are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  •  You are over 21, and you are driving a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol level over .04% OR you are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or
  • You are under 21, and you are driving with a blood alcohol level over .01% OR you are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In California, most DUIs will be classified as misdemeanors. 

When a DUI Turns into a Felony

While in most instances a DUI will be charged as a misdemeanor, there may be some circumstances in which it will be a felony. These include:

  • The DUI is your fourth DUI offense in ten years;
  • You have a prior felony DUI; or
  • The DUI caused someone bodily injury or death.

If your DUI encompasses any of the above, it can automatically be classified as a felony.  However, the prosecution can still charge the case as a misdemeanor if they so choose.  In reality, this seldom occurs since most prosecutorial agencies are very strict on DUI cases.  

Felony DUIs and Penalties

The penalties for a felony DUI will depend on the severity of the situation. 

The Fourth DUI Offense in Ten Years

First, second, and third DUI offenses are typically charged as misdemeanors. But if you’ve received a fourth DUI in ten years, regardless of whether your previous DUIs were misdemeanors, your DUI can and will likely be classified as a felony.

A fourth DUI offense requires three other DUI offenses, which may include:

  • Prior misdemeanor DUIs;
  • Wet reckless convictions; or
  • Any out-of-state convictions that would be equivalent to a DUI in California.

The penalties associated with a fourth DUI include:

  • 16 months to 3 years in prison;
  • Fines of up to $1,000 (plus penalty assessments that may increase the fine by thousands);
  • Having your license revoked for up to 4 years; and
  • Habitual traffic offender status for three years.

Your fourth DUI does not necessarily need to be charged as a felony and could be charged as a misdemeanor in some circumstances. This is one of the reasons it is imperative you have a qualified San Diego DUI attorney.

A Prior Felony DUI

If you are arrested for DUI and have previously been convicted of a felony DUI, the circumstances surrounding your new DUI do not matter; you can and likely will be charged with felony DUI. 

Penalties can be similar to those for fourth DUI offenses.

DUI Caused Someone Serious Injury or Death

DUI causing someone bodily injury or death can come with more severe repercussions. The penalties associated with severe injury or death of another include:

  • Up to $5,000 in fines;
  • 16 months to 6 years in prison (if an allegation is proven that the victim suffered great bodily injury);
  • 30 months of DUI school; and
  • Suspension of driver license for five years.

If your DUI caused someone bodily harm or death, it is imperative to contact a California DUI attorney.

When to Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a felony DUI, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you contact an attorney, the quicker they can get started working on your case. Don’t wait to get legal help.

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, is a nationally recognized criminal defense firm in San Diego, California. We are always ready for any challenge and willing to do whatever it takes to protect your freedom and future. Our team has been to jury trial over a hundred times, giving us the experience you need from a criminal defense firm. Additionally, firm owner Kerry L. Armstrong has been certified as a criminal law specialist by the State Bar of California.  We offer free and confidential case evaluations. Contact us today, and let’s discuss your case.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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