Jury Instructions For a Felony DUI

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingJun 13, 2018

When it comes to a felony DUI under California Vehicle Code 23153(a), there are certain things that the prosecutors must prove to sustain a charge against somebody in one of the Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley Courts. The reason these elements are so essential is two-fold.  No. 1, this is what the prosecutors have to prove.  If they can't prove it, then the person is not guilty.  No. 2, this is a serious crime.

Felony DUI Defense Lawyer in California

If you get convicted of this, you can pretty much assure yourself of jail time or even prison time for a felony DUI because that typically means that someone has been injured. The injury is probably severe, and therefore, the prosecutors are going to be looking to punish someone in a very serious manner.

So, certain elements need to be proved for a defendant to be convicted of a felony DUI.  I want to go over those here, so you have a feel for it.  I do it because whenever a case goes to trial, that's what the jury is going to get.  They're going to get these elements.

The judge is going to read it to them.  They're going to be able to take it back when they go back to deliberate in deciding whether a person is innocent or guilty.  So why wouldn't we – if we're choosing to possibly fight a felony DUI case in Los Angeles, San Fernando, or Van Nuys, CA – why wouldn't we look at the jury instructions and figure out whether or not they can prove the case against you. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review this topic further below.

Causing Injury While Driving Under the Influence

So, pretty much the judge will be telling the jury the defendant is charged with whatever count it is with causing injury to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both. To prove this crime, the people – meaning the prosecutors – will have to prove no. 1 that the defendant drove or operated a motor vehicle. 

Now, you wouldn't think that that would be too difficult to prove, but in some cases, when the police come upon somebody, their car is stopped. They're not driving the vehicle.  So, many times, that's one of the potential defenses – no, I wasn't driving a car.  I didn't violate anything.  I was parked.  The police can sometimes up-end this by saying, " Yeah, we saw he was parked, " but we watched him drive over there.

If they can show that, they would be able to get around this.  Another area where I see this come up is that people get so drunk they pass out in the middle of the road and say, well, I wasn't driving. If you're in the middle of the road, that counts as driving, too, and they'll be giving a specific jury instruction to cover that as well.  But if you're in a parked good legal parking spot – even if your keys are in the motor – people get all confused about that.

If you're parked, and you're not moving, and the police could not prove when you were driving, they're probably not going to be able to get you for a DUI because this first element can't be met.  This is something you're going to want to sit down with an experienced DUI attorney who has handled felony DUI cases and had success.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

Element no. 2 is that when you were driving the vehicle, you were under the influence of a drug or alcohol.  This is another one that's not that easy to prove because it has to be when you were driving the vehicle that you were under the influence.

So, if they catch you 2,3,4,5 hours later, the question becomes how are they going to bring an expert in to be able to extrapolate backward to be able to say okay, if he was a .20, for example, at 7:00 p.m., what was he at 2:00 in the afternoon?  How are they going to figure that out?

It's a scientific formula, but a lot of that stuff is voodoo science, and these guys are just coming and saying a bunch of things that can be attacked and chewed up by an excellent criminal defense attorney.  So, when you drove the vehicle and when you were impaired is crucial.  That's what element 2 is all about, and it's something that the prosecutors have to prove.

Failing to Use Reasonable Care

Element no. 3 is that while driving or operating the motor vehicle being under the influence, the defendant also committed an illegal act or neglected to perform a duty.  So, this is another requirement that will have to be proved according to the jury's instructions. If the prosecutors cannot prove this element beyond a reasonable doubt, then the case will be dismissed; you will be found not guilty.

Illegal Act Caused Bodily Injury

Element no. 4 – the defendant's illegal actions caused bodily injury.  That means that you were driving recklessly, you were speeding, and whatever you did that was illegal, that's what caused the damage. This is a massive issue in felony DUIs.  I fight these cases all the time.  I've been dealing with it for the last twenty-five years.  Often, in these actions, you can't tell who caused the injury.

So, if you can't tell who caused the injury, you're not going to be able to get the person for a felony DUI.  Suppose someone is driving along and they smash into the back of another car because they're not paying attention and get hurt, and the vehicle they broke into, that person is drunk. In that case, that doesn't mean that the intoxicated person that got rear-ended is now responsible for a felony DUI.

You have to be the cause of the DUI.  So, suppose you have a case where you think the reason is at issue for a felony DUI in LA. In that case, you have to get in front of somebody like me who has been doing this a long time. We have to sit down and get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out whether this element of the jury instructions can be up-ended because if it can, we're in good shape, and we can get this case dismissed.

Call a DUI Lawyer for Help

More than meets the eye here when it comes to felony DUIs.  There's a lot of stuff going on, and you're going to need a reasonable attorney because if someone got seriously injured and you were the cause of that injury, the prosecutors are not just going to be looking to put you in jail; they may be looking to put you in prison.

So, you need somebody who has done this before, who knows how to handle these cases.  If you cause a bad-enough injury, they can assert a GBI allegation against you, and you're now looking at a strike on your record for the rest of your life.

That's another big issue when it comes to these cases, and that's that you have to cause a severe injury.  So, then the question becomes, what is severe damage?  A soft tissue injury is not a severe injury.  Someone's neck hurts, their back hurts – that's not enough.

You have to do something that causes some damage – broken bones, a laceration that's a permanent scar, some bad dislocation – so get in front of an attorney.  If it's me, I have you sit down, and we go over everything.  At the Hedding Law Firm, we figure out precisely what the bests strategy is, and then we put that strategy to work to protect you, your rights, your freedom, and your reputation.