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How to Defend DUI Causing Injury Charges

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Sep 10, 2021

Review of Vehicle Code 23153 VC DUI Causing Injury Laws and Defenses

California Vehicle Code 23153 defines the crime of DUI causing injury. Put simply, this statute makes driving under the influence more serious in a situation where someone was injured.

How to Defend DUI Causing Injury Charges – Vehicle Code 23153
VC 23153 DUI causing injury can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.

It's generally described as somebody driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and then you cause physical harm to someone as a result. 

This DUI related crime is the more aggravated form of the standard driving under the influence offense and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, known as a “wobbler.

California has several statutes for driving under the influence, including:

  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) - driving under the influence;
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) - driving with blood alcohol content 0.08%, or more;
  • Vehicle Code 23152(f) - driving under the influence of drugs.

To give you a better understanding, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are reviewing the laws more closely below.

What is the Legal Definition of VC 23153?

California Vehicle Code 23153(a) and 23153(b) legally defines driving under the influence causing injury as:

  • “It's unlawful for someone, while under the influence of alcoholic or drug, or having .08% of alcohol in their blood (BAC), to drive a vehicle and commit an act prohibited by law, or neglect a duty imposed by law, which causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver.”

Vehicle Code 23153(a) VC makes it a crime to drive under the influence of alcohol resulting in injury, regardless of the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the defendant. 

Vehicle Code 23153(b) VC, by contrast, will depend on a scientific determination the driver who caused an injury to another person had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of driving that was .08% by weight, or higher.

In order to be found guilty under VC 23153(a), the prosecutor has to prove defendant lacked the ability to drive with the ordinary caution of a sober driver as described under CALCRIM 2100 California Criminal Jury Instructions.

Further, under California Vehicle Code 23153 VC, you must act in a negligent manner, or break a law, in addition to driving under the influence. Put simply, it has to be shown your act of negligence caused the injury to another person. 

The Ordinary Misdemeanor DUI Offense

California defines its ordinary DUI offense, addressing those offenses without aggravating circumstances, under Vehicle Code 23152 VC.

For an ordinary misdemeanor DUI charge, the prosecution must show that the defendant drove a vehicle while “under the influence of any alcoholic beverage….” A person who has a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater is presumptively operating the vehicle under the influence.

The statute reduces the level to .04 percent for drivers of commercial vehicles or passenger transport for hire.

Under Vehicle Code 23538 VC and related law, punishment for a first DUI offense without aggravating circumstances is:

  • up to six months in jail,
  • a fine between $390 and $1,000,
  • probation for three to five years, and
  • three or nine months of DUI education.

The Aggravated Offense of DUI Causing Injury

If, though, the defendant committing the DUI crime also causes another person's injury, then prosecutors may charge the DUI crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony under Vehicle Code 23153.

Their decision on how to file the case will depend on the seriousness of the injury, the reprehensibility of the defendant's wrong, and other factors.

As noted above, Vehicle Code 23153 describes the DUI causing injury crime as while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, to drive a vehicle and concurrently break the law, or neglect a duty, and proximately cause bodily injury to any person.

Vehicle Code 23153 uses the same definitions and presumptions of intoxication as Vehicle Code 23152.

The defendant must have been intoxicated, and the statute presumes so if the defendant's blood alcohol content was at least .08 percent, or .04 percent for commercial or passenger-transport drivers.

Elements of the Crime for Vehicle Code 23153

California Criminal Jury Instructions 2100 states these elements for the Vehicle Code 23153 offense of DUI causing injury:

  • the defendant drove a vehicle;
  • when the defendant drove, the defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or drug;
  • while driving under the influence, the defendant committed an illegal act or neglected to perform a legal duty;
  • the defendant's illegal act or failure to perform a legal duty caused bodily injury to another person.

In order to be convicted under Vehicle Code 23153(b) VC, it depends on the determination you caused injury with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher while you were driving as described under CALCRIM 2101.

 The Aggravated Offense of DUI Causing Death

If the defendant committing the DUI crime causes another person's death, rather than just another person's injury, then prosecutors will pursue felony DUI charges under Penal Code 191.5 PC

PC 191.5 is the statute defining vehicular manslaughter which occurs without the defendant's malice aforethought, generally referring to the intention to kill.

Watson DUI Murder Charges in California
If a drink driver caused the death of someone, they can be charged with second-degree murder.

But the prosecution must still prove either gross negligence or the commission of an unlawful act or lawful act in an unlawful manner. The offense must, in other words, include some wrongful act by the defendant.

Prosecutors may also charge a felony DUI crime causing death under Penal Code 187. A felony charge under this statute is known as second-degree Watson murder after the California Supreme Court case of that name.

Watson held that drunk driving with a prior driving conviction can constitute the malice aforethought necessary for a Penal Code 187 second-degree murder conviction.

Prosecutors charge felony DUI causing death under Penal Code 187 when the defendant has at least one prior DUI conviction.

What are the Punishments?

Defendants charged with misdemeanor DUI causing injury face a minimum of five days and up to one year in jail, plus a fine between $390 and $5,000, DUI school, vehicle ignition interlock device, and license suspension and restriction.

If instead prosecutors pursue felony DUI causing injury, the defendant faces two, three, or four years in prison, a fine between $1,015 and $5,000, up to thirty months of DUI school, driver's license revocation, and victim restitution.

In cases where the victim suffered great bodily injury, the punishment increases to three to six years in prison, with an additional one year for each person suffering an injury.

Defendants charged with felony DUI causing death face up to life in prison and a strike on their record under California's three strikes law.

Related California Crimes

If the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant's unlawful driving or driving in neglect of duty caused a person's injury, then the defendant may face a charge under the ordinary DUI statute Vehicle Code 23152 VC for driving a vehicle while intoxicated.

The prosecution may also charge or plea bargain to a reckless driving offense under Vehicle Code 23103 VC. Other related crimes include:

  • Vehicle Code 20001 VC – Felony Hit and Run,
  • Penal Code 191.5(a) PC – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated,
  • Penal Code 191.5(b) PC – Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated,
  • Penal Code 273a PC – Child Endangerment.

Defenses to VC 23153 DUI Causing Injury

If you were charged with DUI causing injury, our criminal defense lawyers could use a wide range of common defenses, including:

  • chemical test was inaccurate,
  • you did not cause injuries to the other driver,
  • constitutional rights violations.

Defendants facing DUI causing injury charges may have evidence on which to contest that the intoxicated driving was the factual or legal cause of the person's injury.

Defenses to VC 23153 DUI Causing Injury
There are several defense strategies we can use to fight DUI causing injury charges.

Defendants may also contest the charge with evidence that the defendant did not commit an unlawful act or neglect a lawful duty while driving.

Some accidents happen without driver fault. Defendants may also contest the underlying allegation that the defendant was intoxicated by challenging the administration or interpretation of alcohol testing.

Put simply, we might be able to argue the chemical test administered was not accurate due to poor calibration or maintenance or improper technique by the person performing the test.

Further, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to persuade the prosecution from filing formal criminal charges before court as the focus is on mitigating factors. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County and you can reach us for an initial consultation at (310) 328-3776.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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