Driving crimes in Los Angeles, California can attract misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the intensity of the crime. These crimes include DUI, driving on a suspended license, vehicular manslaughter, a hit and run, reckless driving, and other traffic violation offenses. The Leah Legal Firm is specialized in representing people who are accused of these charges. If you contact us, we’ll evaluate your case and devise the best approach to handle your case, including representing you in court or negotiating with the prosecutor before formal charges are pressed against you. Either way, your charges might be dropped or penalties reduced.
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An Overview of Driving Crimes
Anytime you are on the road, you may intentionally or unintentionally commit a driving crime. Driving crimes can lead to serious penalties, fines and jail terms depending on the type of the crime, the risk you pose to other road users, your previous record and whether anyone was injured. We have compiled the common driving crimes below.
- Driving Under the Influence
Under California DUI laws, it is a crime to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. DUI crimes are charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on whether:
- The offense resulted in injuries
- You have a previous DUI record
Driving under the influence is a priorable offense, meaning that the penalties for the crime increase as you commit more DUI offenses within a 10-year lookback period.
When you commit a first offense misdemeanor DUI, you may receive a probation or jail time if you are convicted. You may also be required to use an ignition interlock device for four months, get a license suspension for six months, and pay associated fines and penalties. The penalties for a first time misdemeanor DUI include:
- Informal probation of between three and five years
- A requirement to attend a court-approved DUI school for 3 to 9 months
- Fines of between $390 and $1000
- License suspension for 6 to 10 months
- A county jail term of up to 6 months
A second offense misdemeanor DUI committed within the ten years of the first offense attracts the following penalties upon a conviction:
- Summary probation of between 3 and 5 years
- A county jail term of between 96 hours and one year
- Fines of between $390 and $1000
- An 18 to 30 month California DUI school approved by the court
- Mandatory ignition interlock device (IID) installation for one year
- The DMV may suspend your license for two years
A third conviction for a California DUI within ten years of the first conviction attracts punishment that may include:
- Informal probation of between 3 and five years
- A jail term of between 120 days and one year
- Fines of between $390 and $1000
- Mandatory IID installation for three years
- License suspension of three years which may be restricted after 18 months
- The DMV assigns you the habitual traffic offender designation
Where a DUI results in injury, you may be charged for a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the arrest and your criminal background.
Where the misdemeanor offense causes injury to a third party, you may be subject to the following penalties:
- Summary probation of 3-5 years
- A county jail term of 5 days to 1 year
- An alcohol program of 3, 18 or 30 months
- Fines of between $390 and $5,000
- A 6-month mandatory IID installation
- Restitution to any injured parties
A California DUI can be charged as a felony when you have four or more DUI convictions within ten years. A felony DUI may attract the following punishments:
- A term of 16 months, two years or 3 years in state prison
- Fines of between $390 and $1000
- Mandatory installation of an IID for at least a year
- A designation as a Habitual Traffic Offender
A felony DUI with injuries to a third party attracts more serious penalties and could even lead to life imprisonment where death occurs. Some of these penalties include
- A prison term of between 16 months and 10 years in state prison and an additional and consecutive sentence of between one to 6 years. The prison sentence depends on the number of people you injured and the extent of their injuries.
- Fines of between $1015 and $5,000
- You may receive a strike on your record under the California three strikes law
- You may be required to attend a drug/ alcohol program for 18-30 months
- You earn the Habitual Traffic Offender designation for three years
- A mandatory 2 or 3-year installation of an IID
- Restitution to injured parties
- Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter occurs when you are driving a car in a lawful manner but causes the death of another person, or cause death due to criminal negligence or recklessness while driving. Vehicular manslaughter is charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the surrounding circumstances. Some of the key elements that qualify a driving crime as vehicular manslaughter include:
- You committed an infraction, misdemeanor or lawful act in a way that might cause death
- The act threatened human life under the circumstances
- You were grossly negligent in committing the act. Gross negligence occurs where you committed a reckless act that posed a danger for great bodily harm, and a reasonable person would have known the risks of engaging in such an act.
- Another person died from your actions
A misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge occurs when you knowingly participate in a collision to make a false insurance claim or commit insurance fraud, and someone dies in the collision.
Penalties for a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge due to gross negligence include misdemeanor probation, a maximum of one year in county jail, or a fine of up to $1000.
For a felony vehicular manslaughter charge, penalties include felony probation, imprisonment for 2, 4, or 6 years in the California state prison, or a fine of up to $10,000.
Where you committed vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, you can be charged a fine of up to $10,000 which may be accompanied by a 4, 6 or 10-years imprisonment in the California state prison.
The DMV will also revoke your license for at least three years.
- Driving With A Suspended License
The DMV may suspend your license for a number of reasons including:
- You have accumulated too many points on your driving license, which leads you to be declared a negligent operator
- You have a mental or physical disability
- You are convicted for a California DUI
Driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor whose penalties depend upon the cause of the suspension of your license.
- Where your license is revoked due to offenses such as drug addiction, physical or mental conditions or reckless driving, you may spend between 5 days to 6 months in county jail and pay a fine of between $300 and $1,000.
- Where the license is suspended for general reasons and chemical test refusals, you may be sentenced to a maximum of six months in county jail and a fine of between $300 to $1000.
- Where the suspension is due to a DUI, you spend a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of six months in county jail, pay a fine of $300-$1000 and install an IID.
- Where your license is suspended because you have attained the habitual offender status, you spend 30 days in county jail and pay a fine of $1,000.
- Driving Without a Valid License
Driving in California without a valid driver's license is unlawful. You can be charged for driving without a valid license when:
- You fail to renew your license
- You do not have a license
- You fail to get a license within ten days of becoming a California resident
Driving without a valid license is usually charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. First-time offenses are usually charged as infractions, but your lawyer can negotiate on your behalf to have your misdemeanor charge reduced to an infraction. As an infraction, you will be required to pay a fine of not more than $250. When charged as a misdemeanor, you can spend up to 6 months in county jail and may pay a fine of up to $1,000.
- Hit and Run
California vehicle code requires drivers involved in an accident to stop within a reasonable location closest to the scene of the accident. They are also required to help the injured parties and provide them with their personal information such as vehicle registration number, phone number, address and in some cases, insurance coverage information. Where no one is available to receive the information, they should leave a note with their personal information in the other vehicle or property. They should also notify the police about the incident within the shortest time possible. You can face a hit and run charge if you fail to stop to exchange personal information after hitting a passenger, being involved in a collision, destroying or damaging someone’s property while driving.
A hit and run misdemeanor attracts the following penalties
- A fine of up to $1,000
- A sentence of up to 6 months in county jail
- Restitution to the property owner for damages
- Up to three years of informal probation
Hit and run cases where only property is damaged are charged as misdemeanor cases. You may also be allowed to engage in a civil compromise where your charges are dismissed upon compensation to the property owner for the related damages. To qualify for a civil compromise, it should be your first offense, and there should be no aggravating circumstances or alcohol use.
A felony hit and run occur when you drive away from the scene of the accident without providing your personal information where the accident causes injury to another person. Penalties for a felony hit and run offense include:
- A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000
- 3 or 4 years in the California state prison
- Reckless Driving
VC 23103 defines reckless driving as driving with wanton disregard for the safety property or people. Wanton disregard if the driver:
- Knows that their actions present an unjustifiable and a substantial risk of harm, and
- Intentionally ignores the risk they present
Reckless driving is charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on whether any injuries occur and the extent of these injuries. Where only the reckless driver is injured, the punishment is 5-90 days in county jail or a fine of between $145 and $1000 or both.
For a first offense misdemeanor charge, you can get misdemeanor probation without jail time. However, during this probationary period, you will be required to adhere to some set conditions.
Where reckless driving causes a minor injury to a third party, then the crime is punishable by a 30-day to a one-year sentence in jail and a fine of between $200 and $1000.
Where reckless driving causes serious injury to a third party, the crime is charged as a wobbler (the prosecutor can charge it as a felony or a misdemeanor at his or her discretion). Wobbler reckless driving offense results in serious injury and the offending driver has a previous conviction for reckless driving, an exhibition of speed and driving under the influence.
Some of the injuries that make a reckless driving a wobbler case include bone fracture, impairment of a body part or organ, concussions, extensive wounds that require suturing, serious disfigurement, brain injury and loss of consciousness.
When charged as a misdemeanor, it attracts penalties such as a sentence of between 30 days and six months in county jail and a fine of $220-$1,000.
As a felony, the penalties include 16 months, two years or 3 years in county jail and/or a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Reckless driving can often be linked to other driving crimes such as vehicular manslaughter or Watson Murder.
A Watson murder is a form of second-degree murder with the following elements:
- You commit a reckless act that causes the death of another person
- The natural consequences of the reckless act can cause death
- You knowingly ignore this danger
The penalty for a Watson murder resulting from reckless driving includes a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment. The sentence increases to 25 years to life imprisonment if the victim is a peace officer.
When you drive recklessly to record it for a commercial purpose, you can be charged for a misdemeanor. The penalties you may get include a sentence of up to six months in county jail and a fine not exceeding $2000.
The prosecutor handling your case can only prosecute you for one crime when you commit reckless driving intending to record it for commercial purposes.
Reckless driving has other additional consequences including
- You earn points with the DMV which could lead to the suspension of your license
- Your insurance premiums are increased or canceled
Legal Defenses for Driving Crimes
When you are taken to court for a driving crime, you have to come up with a defense if you plead "not guilty" to those charges. Your lawyer will help you in preparing your defense and gathering evidence to support the defense. The commonly used defenses in driving crimes charges include:
You could have committed a crime such as driving without a valid license or driving recklessly to avoid causing greater harm to yourself or another person. In using necessity as a defense, you have to prove that you had no other legal alternative and that your actions did not cause greater harm than the one you were avoiding.
- The Injury to The Victim Was Not Serious
Where a driving accident causes an injury to a third party, you can indicate that the injury was not serious and did not cause serious bodily harm. When your lawyer uses this defense, your charges are likely to be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
- You Were Not Aware of an Existing Condition
For driving crimes such as driving with a suspended license, you could use lack of knowledge about the suspension as your legal defense. Lack of knowledge defense may be allowed where you can prove that you received no notification for the suspension of your driving license. For example, where you move to another location, but the letter notifying you of the suspension is mailed to your old address, you can be acquitted, or the charges reduced because of lack of knowledge.
Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me
When you are charged with a driving crime, it is best that you hire the services of an experienced criminal lawyer to help in evaluating the case, gathering evidence, and protecting your rights. At Leah Legal, we have extensive experience in handling driving crimes and related charges in Los Angeles. We understand how the legal system works, how prosecutors handle cases, and how we can help defend you. You can schedule a consultation today with one of our Los Angeles Criminal lawyers by calling 814-484-1100 to let us know more about the situation surrounding your case and how we can help you.