I recently had a case in the Van Nuys courthouse. My client was charged with a felony DUI after a multi-car accident on the 101 Freeway. What was interesting about the case is that the injury — which triggered the DUI — was not of any of the other people that she got in the accident with, but it was her own passenger. Her own passenger somehow broke her ankle during the accident in the case.
One thing people need to realize about these felony DUI’s, it can sometimes be a defense, is that the driver of the car and the defendant in the case that’s going to get the felony DUI actually has to be the one that caused the injury. If something else caused the injury in a felony DUI, then the driver’s not responsible and that’s a huge difference in these cases in the Van Nuys courthouse because instead of being charged with a felony, looking at potentially three years in prison for the felony plus another three years because you caused great bodily injury to somebody else, now you’re looking at a misdemeanor. The max on that is six month.
Typically, on a first-time misdemeanor DUI you’re going to get any jail time, so that’s a huge difference. Plus, nobody wants a felony on their record. Nobody wants to be facing prison time. So, this argument about who caused the accident is crucial. In this particular case, my client entered the 101 Freeway and somehow somebody else was flying along and hit her from behind, causing her to lose control and the passenger ends up getting injured. One thing was, there was an argument that the passenger actually caused their own injury because as they jumped out of the car as it was moving, and this was not something that was foreseeable to my client, not something that was reasonable under the circumstances.
The prosecutors were arguing that no, she didn’t jump out of the car, but it just didn’t make any sense how she got the injury to her ankle. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt either which was another strange thing, and there might have been an argument that she broke her ankle getting out of the car. So, this gives you an idea of how you could argue that the injury wasn’t caused by the person’s DUI activity; it was instead caused by someone else — like the person who got the injury or it could even be by a third party — some hit-and-run driver can fly by, hit somebody, cause an injury and then when the police come and they end up arresting the defendant for a DUI, and they’re just not sophisticated enough to figure out who actually caused the injury.
When it comes to these felony DUI’s in the Van Nuys court, another interesting thing is there can also be multiple causes of an injury. If there’s multiple causes of an injury, then how it’s evaluated is by looking at which of the multiple causes was a substantial factor? If there’s a number of substantial factors — and there’s a whole test for that , a jury instruction — then anything that’s a substantial factor is going to be responsible for the felony DUI — responsible for the injury in the case and be the cause of the injury. So, if the defendant is responsible, then the defendant is going to be guilty of the felony DUI.
So, you can see these felony DUIs are not only tricky and hard to figure out, they also come with a lot of consequences that you don’t want. Nobody wants to go to jail. Nobody wants to be facing prison. So, what we need to do in these felony DUI cases is really evaluate them step-by-step, see who caused the injury in the case, make sure the injury is bad enough to even be on par with the felony DUI. It has to be a serious injury or it’s not a felony DUI.