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California Law Regarding DUI Priors From Other States

Do prior convictions for DUIs in other states qualify as priors in California?

The answer is yes, but, according to California law, it must be a “qualifying offense”, meaning that the prior must have the same elements as a conviction for DUI in California. What this means is that in order to be convicted for DUI in California, the prosecution must prove two basic elements: 1) That you drove, and 2) That you drove with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. Other states have similar or the same elements. So, if you have had a DUI in another state, where the elements are different, it would not qualify as a “qualifying conviction” and therefore, could not be considered a prior for purposes of an enhanced sentence in California.

In a recent case entitled People v. Self, the trial court allowed a prior Arizona conviction for DUI to enhance his conviction in California. Self appealed the conviction on the grounds that Arizona’s DUI elements are different. Arizona law states that you are in violation by “the slightest impairment from drugs or alcohol.” California law states that you are dui if your blood alcohol is .08 or higher. Clearly the elements are different.

The appellate court determined that the state court erred in allowing the Arizona conviction to be a “qualifying conviction” and thus the enhancement was not allowed.

What is Sentence Enhancements?

If you are convicted for Vehicle Code Section 23152, driving under the influence, your sentence is increased if you have three or more “qualifying convictions” for: 1) reckless driving, 2) driving under the influence, or 3) driving under the influence resulting in bodily injury or death. If however, any conviction is more than 10 years old, it will not be considered a “prior” for purposes of an enhanced sentence.

Other sentence enhancements include: 1) A blood alcohol level of 0.15 or higher; 2) If children were in the vehicle with you at the time; 3) If you were under the age of 21 years; 4) If you refuse to take a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine; and 5) If you were involved in an accident.

Below is a further explanation of the potential enhancements:

Prior Convictions: If you have a qualifying prior conviction within 10 years, as explained above, the jail time, fees and fines and license suspension are increased. If you have 3 or more prior convictions, the district attorney can and will file the case as a felony DUI. A conviction for felony DUI may result in State Prison time.

Reckless Driving: Speeding or reckless driving can increase your jail time for up to 60 days.

Child Endangerment: If at the time of the occurrence, you have a child under the age of 14 years in the car with you, an enhancement will be added. Additional jail time is added for each prior.

There are a number of situations in which the district attorney can add enhancement charges to a driving under the influence case. As indicated above, the enhancements can significantly increase the penalties. One goal of a good criminal defense attorney should be to have the enhancement charges dropped or dismissed thereby reducing the exposure to more time and more severe penalties. Contacting an experienced DUI attorney can make the difference between jail time and probation.