I've done thousands of DUI cases over the last 30 years, and probably one of the worst things that can happen is that you are involved in an accident. Of course, there's a sliding scale on that.
There are minor accidents involving nobody – just crashing to the curb or a light pole or some bushes or something like that, which is not that big deal. However, it does exacerbate the DUI under California Vehicle Code 23152 VC.
Then, there are those situations where somebody is killed in an accident or seriously hurt, and you are being blamed. You are facing a felony and time in state prison. Then, of course, there's everything in between involving an accident in a DUI case.
The bottom line is that you have to look at the circumstances of the case – how the accident occurs. If the accident happens because someone is driving under the influence, that's one thing. But, if the accident occurs because another party is negligent, that's another thing.
So, accidents are essential in DUI cases because there will be extra punishment if you hurt another person. California has several statutes for driving under the influence, including:
- Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC – driving under the influence;
- Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC – driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or more;
- Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC – driving under the influence of drugs,
- Vehicle Code 23153 VC – DUI causing injury,
- Vehicle Code 20001 VC – felony hit and run.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will examine this subject in more detail below.
Felony DUI Involving a Traffic Accident
So, we're looking at causation when somebody is charged with a felony DUI related to an accident and an injury. In other words:
- Who caused the injuries to the other person?
- Was it the person who was driving under the influence?
- Was it the person themselves who caused their injury because they were driving dangerously, or was it a third party that caused the injuries?
As long as it is not you who caused the injuries, if you're charged with DUI, you've got a good argument to say that I'm not responsible for those injuries. I don't have to pay restitution for those injuries, and I shouldn't be charged with a felony because I didn't cause any injuries related to a DUI.
DUI Causing Injury – Vehicle Code 23153 VC
California Vehicle Code 23153(a) and 23153(b) define driving under the influence causing injury as:
- “It is unlawful for someone, while under the influence of alcohol or drug, or having .08% of alcohol in their blood (BAC), to drive a vehicle and commit an act prohibited by law, or neglect a duty, which causes bodily injury to someone other than the driver.”
Vehicle Code 23153(a) VC prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol, resulting in injury regardless of a defendant's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). On the other hand, Vehicle Code 23153(b) VC depends on a scientific determination that the driver causing someone's injury had a blood alcohol concentration of .08% by weight or greater at the time of driving.
To be found guilty of violating VC 23153(a), the District Attorney has to prove the defendant could not drive with the ordinary caution of a sober driver, which is described in California Criminal Jury Instructions 2100.
Further, under Vehicle Code 23153 VC, you have to act negligently, break the law, and drive under the influence. In other words, it must be shown that your act of negligence caused the injury to another person.
The Aggravated Crime of DUI Causing Death
If someone commits the DUI crime that causes someone's death rather than just an injury, then prosecutors could pursue felony DUI charges under Penal Code 191.5 PC which defines vehicular manslaughter that which occurs without a defendant's malice aforethought, generally referring to the intention to kill.
The prosecution must still prove either gross negligence or the commission of an unlawful or lawful act in an illegal manner. In other words, there must be a wrongful act by the defendant. Prosecutors could also charge a felony DUI crime causing death under Penal Code 187, a second-degree Watson murder after the California Supreme Court case.
Watson held that drunk driving with a prior driving conviction could constitute the malice aforethought necessary for a PC 187 second-degree murder conviction.
Why Do You Need an Experienced Defense Lawyer?
So, suppose you're involved in an accident, and you're also being charged with driving under the influence, also known as DUI. In that case, you're going to want to get the best attorney you can because there are extra punishments that go along with a DUI accident scenario, such as:
- First, you will have to pay for the other person's car;
- Secondly, you're going to have to pay for the other person's injuries if they have doctor bills, and
- Third, you will have to pay for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the injuries you caused because you were driving under the influence.
A perfect example is that if a person lost three weeks from work because of an injury, technically, you will have to pay that. You're going to be ordered by the Judge to pay that.
How Can You Avoid Jail Time for a DUI Accident Case?
Another bad thing about accidents and DUIs is that if injuries are attached to the accident, the prosecutors want either jail or prison time. Nobody wants to go to prison, but nobody wants to be hurt on the road because somebody was driving under the influence of alcohol or some drug.
So, we have to look at the accident's circumstances when we assess how bad it is and what prosecutors are likely to want to settle a case involving an accident. Sometimes, we can get something short of jail time, such as:
- community service,
- Cal Trans,
- community labor,
- a fine,
- doing Mothers Against Drunk Driving one-day seminar called the MADD, or
- They can make you go to the hospital and morgue to see what happens when people drink and drive.
There's a whole host of punishments available to the prosecutors on a DUI accident case, depending on what happened and how it happened. Sometimes we argue that the person is not driving under the influence. Therefore, they wouldn't be responsible for the injury that occurred unless they were negligent, in which case it's just a civil case.
What Are the Best Defenses for DUI Accident Charges?
So, we've got to look at the facts and circumstances and determine first whether or not you were driving under the influence of alcohol so that you cannot safely operate a motor vehicle. Of course, if you got in an accident, the prosecutors have a pretty good argument you couldn't safely operate a motor vehicle.
Second, we will look at whether or not you caused the accident. In other words, is the accident your fault? If there's more than one cause of the accident, this is an interesting thing related to DUI. You're going to be responsible for it if you're one of the causes.
I have a lot of cases where my client is the cause of the accident, the person who is injured is the cause of the accident; maybe there's a third person who is the cause of the accident. But, if it's determined that you are a substantial factor – in other words, you're a substantial part of the causation – and you were driving under the influence of alcohol, they're going to get you for the DUI, and if it's a bad enough injury, they'll get you for a felony.
The last thing I would say on the subject of DUIs and accidents is that if somebody gets hurt in an accident and you're driving under the influence, and you're part of the accident, the way the law is set up is that it is presumed that you are the one that caused the injuries.
To avoid a DUI with a felony and be responsible for those injuries, you will have to rebut the presumption. In other words, bring evidence that shows you were not the cause of the accident. Something or someone else was the cause of it. Therefore, I'm not responsible for the injuries. I shouldn't have a felony, and I shouldn't have to pay all the money associated with that person's injuries.
If you want the best, you've come to the right place. I've been doing this for 30 years. I've worked for the prosecutors. I've worked for a judge, and since the early 1990s, I've worked for people just like you, helping them get the best result. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case review by phone or by filling out our contact form.