Punishments for a DUI can vary based on many factors, but there are specific things that can lead to sentencing enhancements.
Driving under the influence isn't illegal because the government wants to ruin our fun. The purpose of DUI laws is to avoid the injury that is more likely when people are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
With that kind of logic, it makes sense that more dangerous DUIs automatically have a harsher potential penalty. What does "more dangerous" mean? We're glad you asked.
- DUI with injury. If your drunken driving ends with someone getting injured, prosecutors will likely charge you with DUI with injury under Vehicle Code Section 23153. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Endangering children. Having a child under the age of 14 in your car if you're intoxicated is the crime of child endangerment. That's separate from the DUI charge you're also likely to get and comes with its own penalties. The fact that no one was hurt isn't a defense; it's enough that the child was in the car at the time.
- An especially high BAC. The legal blood alcohol limit in California is 0.08%. If your BAC is higher than that, you'll likely be charged with a DUI. But if your BAC is 0.16% or more (or 0.02% if you're under 21) then you can expect an enhanced penalty.
- Violating implied consent laws. As a condition of getting a California driver's license, you agree to submit to a Breathalyzer or blood test if you're stopped for a suspected DUI. If you refuse, your license is automatically suspended -- no ifs, ands, or buts.
- Excessive speed. You know what's more dangerous than drunken driving? Drunken driving while speeding. If you're caught going more than 30 miles above the speed limit on the freeway, or 20 miles above the speed limit on other roads, and you're intoxicated, you're going to have a rough time in court.
California also has harsher penalties for drivers who've previously been convicted of a DUI, so multiple offenses will cost you. The bottom line, as always: Don't drink and drive.
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