In California, DUI is categorized as a priorable offense. This means that its penalties increase with each subsequent charge. Therefore, a criminal charge of 4th offense DUI carries exceptionally severe penalties.
If you or your loved one has been charged with 4th offense DUI in Los Angeles, we invite you to contact us at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney for a free consultation. We will help you build a robust defense strategy.
Do not risk your future by attempting to speak for yourself. A conviction of 4th offense DUI may lead to lengthy imprisonment terms and hefty fines. This article will explain everything you need to know about California's 4th offense DUI charges. Let us get started.
The Legal Definition of 4th Offense DUI
Vehicle Code 23550 is California’s primary law on the 4th offense DUI. According to VC 23550, you will be charged with the criminal offense of 4th offense DUI if you have three prior DUI convictions, and you are arrested for DUI within ten years from the date of your last conviction.
Therefore, you can only be charged with 4th offense DUI if you have been previously convicted of 3rd offense, 2nd offense, and 1st offense DUIs. In California, 4th offense DUI is categorized as a felony.
Comparing 1st Offense, 2nd Offense, 3rd Offense, and 4th Offense DUIs
Californian prosecutors usually charge 1st offense, 2nd offense, and 3rd offense DUIs as misdemeanors. You will be charged with 1st offense DUI if you do not have any prior DUI convictions. The penalties for 1st offense DUI include a county jail term of up to six months and a fine ranging between $390 - $1,000.
The California Department of Prosecution will charge you with 2nd offense DUI if you have one prior DUI conviction on your record. The punishment for 2nd offense DUI is a county jail term of a maximum of one year and a fine ranging between $390 - $1,000.
You will face a 3rd offense DUI charge if you have two prior DUI convictions on your record. Its penalties are similar to 2nd offense DUI: a county jail term not exceeding one year and a fine whose value is between $390 - $1,000. However, because DUI is a priorable offense, the judge will impose a more severe penalty if you have been convicted of 3rd offense DUI than if you were convicted of 2nd offense DUI.
Unlike 1st offense, 2nd offense, and 3rd offense DUIs categorized as misdemeanors, 4th offense DUI is classified as a felony. It also carries the most severe penalties. But, in some situations, you may be charged with either 1st offense, 2nd offense, or 3rd offense as a felony, especially if you caused an accident that resulted in another person's death or injury.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for You to be Convicted of 4th Offense DUI
For you to be convicted of 4th offense DUI, the prosecutor must prove the following three elements:
- You were driving
- You were under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- You have three prior DUI convictions
Although these elements may seem straightforward, prosecutors in Los Angeles usually find it difficult to prove them. Note that the standard of proof in California criminal cases is on the prosecution, and the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors must have sufficient evidence to prove all of these elements – which they normally don't have. If they do, your defense attorney can question their credibility. Let us discuss each of these elements comprehensively:
1. You Were Driving
The prosecutor must prove that you were driving. He/she must show that you were in actual control of the vehicle.
In some cases, this element can form the basis of a robust defense strategy. For instance, if the police arrested you while you were sleeping inside your car, you can convince the jury that you were not driving.
Just because a person was behind the steering wheel does not imply that he/she was driving. You may be behind the wheel for an entirely different purpose.
2. You Were under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs
The prosecutor must demonstrate that you were intoxicated. He/she can prove this by:
- Convincing the court that you were physically impaired
- Presenting to the jury your field sobriety test results
- Adducing your BAC test results as evidence
A law enforcement officer can flag you down if he/she has a reasonable suspicion that you’ve broken a particular traffic law. Typically, California police officers flag down motorists if they notice that they are driving recklessly or carelessly.
Once you’ve pulled over, the police officer may request you to show him/her your driver’s license while he/she observes your physical dispositions. If the police officer notices any physical signs of intoxication, he/she may subject you to a Field Sobriety Test (FST) or a BAC chemical breath test. Some examples of these signs include red eyes, incoherent speech, and a flushed face. The prosecutor may rely on these symptoms to prove that you were physically impaired.
Typically, California law enforcement officers use three types of FSTs: the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The prosecutor will use these test results to illustrate that you were intoxicated.
Moreover, the police may subject you to a BAC chemical breath test. Note that California’s maximum BAC limit is 0.08%. If your BAC was or exceeded 0.08%, the prosecutor might have an easy time proving that you were under the influence – simply because he/she won’t be required to demonstrate that you were physically impaired.
3. You Have Three Prior DUI Convictions
This element is relatively easy to prove. The prosecutor will rely on your DMV and court records to show the judge that you had previous DUI convictions.
Remember, these convictions should be within a ten-year timeframe. In most cases, California courts do not view out-of-state convictions as prior DUI convictions.
Note that if you had previously accepted a wet reckless plea bargain, it would count as a prior DUI conviction. Also, any expunged DUI conviction will still count as a previous conviction.
Penalties for 4th Offense DUI
Remember, 4th offense DUI is categorized as a felony. Its penalties include:
- State imprisonment for 16 months, two years, or four years
- A fine ranging between $390 - $1,000
- Designation as a habitual traffic offender for three years
- Four-year driver’s license revocation period
- 30-month DUI educational program
You may face more severe penalties if:
- Your BAC was or exceeded 0.15%
- You caused an accident, which resulted in the death or bodily injuries of another person
- You were speeding
- You refused to take a BAC test
- You had a child inside your vehicle who was below 14 years old
- You were less than 21 years old when you committed the offense
Are There any Alternative Sentencing Options for 4th Offense DUI?
Yes, there are various alternative sentencing options for the 4th offense DUI. Some of them include:
- Community service
- Incarceration in a private jail
- Cal-Trans roadside work
- Residence in a sober-living environment
- Electronic monitoring
Most attorneys who haven’t specialized in DUI cases do not know that these sentencing alternatives exist. Even if they know them, they do not have the technical know-how to convince the prosecutor and the judge to agree to them. This is why you must hire a lawyer who is an expert in DUI cases.
Administrative Penalties for 4th Offense DUI
The law enforcement officer will confiscate your license after he/she has arrested you. He/she will then notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) about your arrest.
To restore your driving privileges, you should apply for a DMV hearing within ten days from the arrest date. If you don't, the DMV will suspend your license for a maximum of four years.
The DMV will also revoke your license for up to four years if you lose the DUI DMV hearing. Typically, DUI DMV hearings are informal. Currently, most of them are conducted over the phone.
Although these hearings are informal, you will still be required to adduce evidence to show why your license should not be revoked. You will also be permitted to cross-examine the government’s witnesses.
It is not easy to win a DMV hearing, especially if you have three prior DUI convictions. If you are in such a situation, it would be best to hire a DUI attorney to help you build a robust defense strategy.
You will get back your license if you win the DMV hearing. Although the DMV hearing and the DUI court trial are distinct processes, the DMV hearing's outcome can affect the outcome of the DUI court trial. For instance, if you win the DMV hearing, the prosecutor may decide to drop your charges. Likewise, if you lose the hearing, the prosecutor may use the DMV evidence to convince the jury that you are guilty.
If the DMV suspends your license, you can consider applying for a restricted license. This restricted license will permit you to drive to and from work and the DUI school. The DMV may also require you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) before receiving the restricted license. You will be personally responsible for the costs of the IID installation and maintenance.
SR-22 Insurance Requirements for 4th Offense DUI
You will require SR-22 insurance if you want to apply for a restricted license or restore your driving privileges when the suspension period lapses fully. Contrary to popular belief, SR-22 insurance is not a type of insurance; it is simply a form that you must file with the DMV before your driving privileges are restored.
This form enables the DMV to verify that you’ve purchased liability insurance. You can file this form by yourself, or your insurance company can file it on your behalf.
Expect to pay a much higher premium. This is because your insurer will contact the DMV to ask why you require SR-22 insurance. This way, they will know that you have four DUI convictions on your record.
You will maintain the SR-22 status for two years from the conviction date. If you don't, the DMV will cancel your license. When these two years lapse, you should call your insurance company and notify them about it. If you don't, they may continue filing the SR-22 form on your behalf.
Immigration Consequences of a 4th Offense DUI Conviction
According to Federal Immigration Laws, a 4th offense DUI conviction can result in deportation for non-US citizens. It can also make someone ‘inadmissible’ to the United States. If an immigrant is made ‘inadmissible,’ he/she may not:
- Reenter the United States
- Become a US citizen
- Apply for a green card
- Apply for an ‘adjustment of status’ from illegal to legal
You will most likely face deportation and become ‘inadmissible’ to the United States if you have been convicted of 4th offense DUI with an aggravating factor. If you are in such a situation, you should hire an attorney who is an expert in both DUI defense and immigration law.
In most cases, a 4th offense DUI conviction involving alcohol does not lead to any immigration consequences. On the other hand, a DUI involving drugs will most likely result in deportation or becoming marked as ‘inadmissible’ for a non-US citizen. This is because, under the Federal Immigration Laws, individuals convicted of criminal offenses involving drugs are both inadmissible and deportable.
If you are a non-citizen, do not make a mistake of accepting a plea bargain without consulting an attorney. If you do so, you may be convicted of an offense with more negative immigration consequences than 4th offense DUI.
Remember, the judge can impose a state prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or four years upon conviction for 4th offense DUI. According to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an immigrant can be marked ‘inadmissible’ if the total sentence for all their convictions is or exceed five years. Some 4th DUI convicts have served imprisonment terms of more than five years. These convicts can be marked as ‘inadmissible’ if they are foreign nationals.
Legal Defenses to 4th Offense DUI
The legal defenses to 4th offense DUI are similar to those for any other DUI charge. But, you will need a more robust defense strategy to fight 4th offense DUI charges.
Although character evidence is inadmissible in California courts, most jury members rely on it to determine whether they should convict a defendant. Since you already have three prior DUI convictions, you might have a difficult time proving to them that you are innocent – especially if you do not have a criminal defense attorney to represent you.
To be acquitted, you must convince the jury that you did not drive while intoxicated. In some cases, the prosecutor may not have sufficient evidence to prove that you were driving while under the influence. Remember, the standard of proof in California criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor fails to reach this high standard, the judge will dismiss your case.
Even though the prosecutor may be having enough evidence to show that you were driving while intoxicated, your attorney can question its credibility with some specific defense strategies. Below, we discuss the most common California legal defenses to 4th offense DUI:
1. You Were not Intoxicated
The prosecutor must prove that you were intoxicated. He/she can demonstrate that you were under the influence by asserting that you exhibited certain physical signs of intoxication.
Undoubtedly, the arresting officer will testify in court that you showed some physical symptoms of intoxication, such as red eyes, an unsteady gait, a flushed face, a slurred speech, and an alcoholic odor. All these physical symptoms of intoxication are listed on a pre-printed DUI arrest form, commonly referred to as Form 5.2.5. In most cases, law enforcement officers check off these signs without any form of elaboration.
Your attorney can convince the court that you had other conditions, which led to these symptoms. For example, eye irritation, fatigue, and allergies are all common causes of red eyes.
The prosecutor can also rely on FSTs and BAC tests to show that you were intoxicated. Your defense lawyer can cast doubt on the credibility of these tests.
For example, if the prosecutor asserts that you performed poorly in the FST, your attorney can argue that you were merely anxious or exhausted. Moreover, BAC tests are not always accurate. Certain factors can cause falsely high results, including:
- Presence of mouth alcohol
- Rising blood alcohol
- Certain medical conditions, including Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and diabetes
- Certain high-protein, low-carb diets, such as Atkins, Paleo, or Keto
2. Non-compliance with DUI Investigation Regulations
Law enforcement officers should adhere to specific regulations when conducting a DUI investigation. In most cases, they don't.
For instance, the arresting officer should first observe you for 15 minutes, before he/she subjects you to a BAC chemical breath test. Questioning whether this observation took place is one of the most common DUI defense strategies.
Typically, many police officers do not 'observe' during these 15 minutes. Instead, they configure the BAC testing kit and fill in some paperwork.
The DUI investigation officer should also adhere to California's Title 17 Regulations on Blood and Breath Testing. These regulations stipulate how the police should conduct BAC tests. Some of the requirements set out in these regulations include:
- The blood test should be conducted by a qualified medical professional
- The testing kit should be well-maintained and properly calibrated
- The blood sample should be properly collected, handled, and stored
Your attorney can easily dispute the credibility of the prosecution’s evidence if the police failed to comply with any DUI investigation regulations. As a result, you will be acquitted.
3. Violation of Human Rights
Law enforcement officers should not violate any of your human rights during DUI investigations. If they do so, the court will reject the evidence they acquired.
A police officer should only flag you down if he/she has a probable cause. This means that the police officer should have a reasonable suspicion that you are driving recklessly, or you've broken a particular traffic law. However, this defense will not be applicable if you were motioned to pull over at a DUI checkpoint.
The police should also not search your vehicle or your person without having a warrant. If they do so, they will have violated your right to privacy.
Moreover, a law enforcement officer should not force you to confess that you had just taken some bottles of alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, he/she should not subject you to torture and harassment. You should also be informed about your Miranda rights during arrest, including the right to seek legal representation.
If the police violated any of your human rights during a DUI investigation or arrest, your criminal defense attorney could apply for a suppression hearing. During this hearing, the court will exclude all the evidence the police officer acquired during the arrest or investigation. As a result, the prosecutor will be left with insufficient evidence, and he/she may drop your charges.
4. Violations of the Rules of Evidence
In California, there are specific rules that the prosecutor should follow when adducing evidence. If the prosecutor does not do so, the judge will reject his/her evidence and order him/her to drop your charges. For example, the prosecution should not adduce hearsay evidence because it is considered inadmissible.
Also, the prosecutor may rely on videos recorded during the arrest. California's Evidence Laws require that these videos should show the defendant. They should also show the right date and time. In most cases, they don't, and your criminal defense lawyer can quickly discredit them.
Find a Los Angeles DUI Attorney Near Me
If you or your loved one faces a 4th offense DUI charge, we invite you to contact The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney for a free consultation. Call us today at 310-564-2605 to speak to a DUI attorney and discuss your case.