Over the past several years, our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm has represented a number of clients charged with driving under the influence based on injuries caused to third parties by the client's intoxicated driving.
Particularly when the conduct is egregious, such as where the defendant was driving with an extremely high blood alcohol level and driving recklessly, and where the injuries suffered by the victim or victims are serious, there is a strong impetus in prosecutor's offices to impose jail or prison time.
Avoiding jail time in these very aggravated DUI cases is therefore a significant priority for the defense. Many DUI cases will involve injuries. If anyone other than the alleged intoxicated driver has been injured, this will make the legal consequences, and often the DUI charge itself, more serious.
It should be noted the law does not treat all physical injuries equally. California has a distinction between normal injuries and “great bodily injury” or GBI.
California Penal Code describes a great bodily injury as a "significant or substantial physical injury.” As you can see, this is a vague definition and leaves a lot of room for dispute.
However, GBI typically includes injuries that:
- almost kill the victim,
- permanently disfigure a victim,
- cause tremendous pain, or
lead to a disability. If you are charged with DUI causing a GBI injury, you will probably face felony charges that carry a 3 year prison sentence rather than the misdemeanor charges that carries a sentence up to one year. In a felony DUI causing injury case, you could face up to 6 additional years in prison.
Remember, a great bodily injury is a physical injury that is more than minor or moderate harm.
Obviously, this includes broken bones, serious cuts and abrasions, concussions, and could also include soft tissue injuries requiring medical treatment.
In the end, a jury will need to determine if an injury constitutes great bodily injury. Let's review below the best legal strategies to avoid jail time if your have been charged with DUI causing injury under California Vehicle Code 23153.
How is Great Bodily Injury Determined?
When cases involving a great bodily go to trial, the jury will need to decide whether they believe the injury in question qualifies. This means the Los Angeles County prosecution has to make a decision before the trial whether they want to claim the injury was a GBI.
They have the burden of proof and they might have to dispute the victim's injuries in court, which they would clearly like to avoid.
This means there is some wiggle room for negotiation with the prosecutor and potentially take the GBI off the list. Challenging whether an injury counts as GBI can often be an effective strategy to reduce the severity of a felony DUI.
So, the main question on the minds of most defendants who have been charged with DUI causing injury is how to avoid jail time. Let's take a close review below on the main factors judges and prosecutors look at whether to show leniency in DUI with injury cases and alternative sentencing.
Rehabilitation and Treatment
In our experience, one of the primary factors which courts and prosecutors weigh in determining whether to show leniency in DUI with injury cases is the level of commitment the defendant demonstrates to rehabilitation and treatment.
Treatment can take many forms, but one common avenue is attending Alcoholics' Anonymous, or AA, meetings.
Defendants can take a log sheet with them to AA meetings which is signed by the supervisor or the person facilitating the meeting.
A consistent track record of AA attendance, especially when not ordered by the court, can demonstrate the defendant's proactive attitude toward addressing their alcohol issue.
In serious cases, more formal treatment options such as outpatient, or even inpatient, rehabilitation treatment may be appropriate. Most rehab facilities are familiar with the court system and are used to providing written progress reports, evaluations, and other documentation to demonstrate the defendant's efforts at rehabilitation.
A court-mandated stay in a rehab facility can often be bargained for with the prosecution as a substitute to time in jail or State prison.
An additional step which is often useful in persuading the government to forego jail time in a DUI case with injuries is the voluntary wearing of an ankle bracelet which detectives blood alcohol through the skin.
These devices, typically known as “SCRAM” bracelets," are offered by private companies. The device, once installed, will monitor the wearer's blood alcohol level and generate automatic reports to both the provider and the court in the event that the device either detects alcohol consumption or that the device itself has been tampered with.
While these devices are certainly not fool-proof, and false positives do occasionally occur, SCRAM is a trusted technology in most California State courts and compliance with a SCRAM program is taken seriously by prosecuting agencies as a show of good faith in trying to achieve sobriety.
Another major factor in attempting to avoid jail in serious DUI cases is the payment of restitution to the victim or victims of the incident in as expeditious a manner as possible.
One significant concern which prosecutors and judges rightly have in any criminal case, but especially one involving serious injuries, is the financial burden, whether hospital bills, lost wages, etc., that victims suffer.
These losses often go uncompensated, leaving the victims in the position of trying to collect restitution months or years after the fact from a defendant who may not have any financial wherewithal.
For that reason, it is a substantial positive factor for a defendant when he or she can show that full restitution has been payed up front, thereby making the victims whole financially.
Finally, an extensive mitigation packet detailing the defendant's other positive efforts in life is a critical element in achieving a no-jail outcome.
Documentation in the mitigation packet should include:
- character references from friends,
- family members, and/or co-workers,
- academic or work accolades,
- proof of past volunteer work, and
- any other items which contextualize the defendant's conduct and support their strong moral character and good reputation in the community.
Without mitigating information, the court and prosecutor are left only with the conduct charged in the criminal complaint, which typically does not accurately represent the type of life being led by the defendant.
Contact our Law Firm to Develop a Strategy
The bottom line is that if you have been accused of a felony DUI causing injury, you need to immediately consult with our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys. You will need someone who has been there before and understands the most effective defense strategies to stay out of jail.
We have decades of combined experience in serious criminal cases. We need to first sit down with you to review all the facts and details of your case in order to give you an honest assessment of what you are facing and legal tactics to obtain the best possible outcome.
There are a wide variety of DUI defense strategies that can be used on your behalf, but you need a law firm who has dealt with these type of serious cases before.
Every case is different and the resolutions which are realistically possible will depend on a detailed appraisal of the facts and specific circumstances which give rise to the charges.
At Eisner Gorin LLP, we have represented numerous defendants in Los Angeles and surrounding counties who are charged with serious DUI offenses, often felonies, involving significant injuries resulting from traffic collisions.
If you, or someone you know, is facing one of these serious DUI offenses, representation by an experienced team of criminal defense attorneys familiar with the strategies to avoid jail time is critical to achieving the best possible outcome.
Call our office for an initial consultation to discuss your rights, the best strategies for addressing your particular case, and the possibility of avoiding jail time.
Eisner Gorin LLP 1875 Century Park E #705 Los Angeles, CA 90067 310-328-3776 www.egattorneys.com