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Fourth-Time DUI

Fourth-Time DUI in California - Vehicle Code 23550 VC

California Vehicle Code 23550 VC is the statute defining a fourth-time driving under the influence (DUI) crime. You commit this offense if you receive a fourth DUI within ten years of three or more prior DUI convictions.

Like most states, California law imposes progressively harsher penalties on drivers for successive DUIs. The stakes escalate dramatically, however, if you are charged with a fourth DUI offense within ten years.

Vehicle Code 23550 VC defines a fourth-time driving under the influence crime in California.

Under Vehicle Code 23550 VC, a conviction for a fourth-time DUI carries severe consequences. You could face felony DUI charges, potentially leading to a three-year sentence in state prison.

VC 23550 says, "(a) If a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 and the offense occurred within ten years of three or more separate violations of Section 23103, as specified in Section 23103.5, or Section 23152 or 23153, or any combination thereof, that resulted in convictions, that person shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code, or in a county jail for not less than 180 days nor more than one year, and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).

The person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle shall be revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles pursuant to paragraph (7) of subdivision (a) of Section 13352. The court shall require the person to surrender the driver's license to the court in accordance with Section 13550.

(b) A person convicted of a violation of Section 23152 punishable under this section shall be designated as a habitual traffic offender for a period of three years following the conviction. The person shall be advised of this designation pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 13350."

What Legally Constitutes a Fourth-Time DUI?

Vehicle Code 23550 VC is a penalty enhancement for individuals convicted of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) offenses multiple times within a specific period. Under VC 23550, you are guilty of a fourth-time DUI if you:

  • Are convicted of drunk driving,
  • Have three or more prior DUI convictions and
  • The fourth conviction is within ten years of the three separate violations.

Under California law, a fourth-time DUI is characterized by the driver being convicted of three or more separate DUI offenses within ten years. This period is calculated from the date of the first DUI offense to the date of the latest incident.

A DUI charge encompasses operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination thereof, with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher for most drivers, 0.04% for commercial drivers and rideshare or taxi drivers, and any detectable amount for drivers under 21.

The specific offenses that may count as prior DUI convictions under this law include:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (VC 23152);
  • DUI causing injury (VC 23153); or
  • A "wet reckless" plea deal (per VC 23103.5), that is, pleading guilty to reckless driving with alcohol as a factor in return for a dismissal of DUI charges. This results in lighter penalties but still counts as a DUI conviction for purposes of this law.

The prior convictions must be for separate incidents for the offense to count as a fourth-time DUI. In other words, if you're charged with multiple DUI offenses related to a single event, the event only counts as one prior.

What are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Law enforcement pulls Fred over for weaving through traffic and showing signs of erratic driving. Upon conducting a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer exam, Fred registers a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.10%, surpassing California's legal limit of 0.08%.

Driving Under the Influence

A review of his criminal record shows Fred was convicted of DUI offenses three other times in the past ten years, including "pleading down" to wet reckless for his first offense. Fred can be charged as a fourth-time offender under VC 23550.

EXAMPLE 2: Samantha's car breaks down on a highway. When police arrived to assist, they noticed the smell of wine on her breath from the two glasses she'd had earlier that evening.

A blood alcohol test registers a BAC of 0.09%. A review of her record shows three prior DUI convictions, the oldest occurring 12 years ago. Although Samantha may still face legal consequences for operating a vehicle under the influence, she would not be charged for a fourth DUI under VC 23550 because her first offense was more than ten years ago.

What are Related Laws?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 23550 VC fourth-time DUI, such as the following:

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) - DUI. This is the primary law prohibiting operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, typically filed as a misdemeanor. If you display signs of intoxication, you can be charged under this law even if there is no evidence that your blood alcohol concentration measures above the legal limit of .08%.
  • Penal Code 192(c) PC - Vehicular manslaughter. This law makes it a crime to drive negligently or unlawfully and thereby cause someone's death. If you are driving while intoxicated (fourth time in 10 years) and kill somebody, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter and a fourth-time DUI.
  • Vehicle Code 23578 VC - Enhanced penalties for excessive BAC or test refusal. This law could impose penalty enhancements in DUI cases involving excessive BAC (.15% or higher) or a breath test refusal. This enhancement can apply to a first, second, third, and fourth DUI offense.

What are the Possible Penalties for Fourth-Time DUI?

A fourth DUI in California is classified as a "wobbler" offense. This means the prosecution can file charges as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, such as the severity of the incident and the driver's prior criminal history.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Charges

If you're charged with a misdemeanor, penalties can include:

  • Fines between $390 and $1000 and
  • A minimum of 6 months in county jail (potentially up to one year).

If you're charged with a felony, penalties can include:

  • Fines between $390 and $1000 and
  • Up to three years in state prison.

Additional Consequences

Regardless of whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony, if you're convicted of a fourth-time DUI, you will face the following consequences in addition to fines or jail time:

  • Having your driver's license revoked for four years.
  • Being labeled with "habitual traffic offender" (HTO) status under Vehicle Code 14601.3 for three years. This status means you can face additional fines and jail time if you drive during this time.
  • If you're granted probation instead of jail time, the judge may require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle.

What are the Common Defenses?

Despite the seriousness of charges under VC 23550, an experienced California criminal defense attorney may employ several strategies to challenge the charges, including but not limited to:

  • Questioning the Legality of the Traffic Stop: Arguing that the initial traffic stop was conducted without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
  • Accuracy of BAC Testing: This involves challenging the accuracy and administration of breathalyzer or blood tests, including calibrating testing devices and handling blood samples.
  • Rising Blood Alcohol Defense: Asserting that your BAC was below the legal limit while driving but rose to an illegal level by the time testing occurred.
  • Necessity: Also called "guilty with a reason," this defense shows that you violated the law out of necessity, such as driving a seriously injured person to the hospital because no one else was available.

Contact our law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is in Los Angeles, CA.

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