California: Kern County Closes 1000th Felony DUI

felony-dui-in-californiaSometimes it’s hard to tell whether news is good or bad. One would think it a good thing that, since the DA formed a special unit to prosecute felony DUIs in 2010, Kern County has been able to drop the gavel on 1,000 cases.

On the other hand, 1,000 is a lot of felony DUI cases. Add to that the non-felony DUIs (the vast majority) in the county and the cases that never made it to prosecution because the perpetrator died in a crash, and you get a sense of the enormity of the drunk driving problem here.

Kern County, of which Bakersfield is the county seat, has around 840,000 people.

Felony DUI in California

Most of the time, when a driver is arrested in California for DUI, the charge ends up a misdemeanor. This is by no means a lenient charge: it can be accompanied by prison, fines, community service, and an ignition interlock requirement.

A felony DUI in California, however, is more serious. That charge can result from

  • Causing injury or death while driving under the influence
  • A fourth DUI charge within 10 years
  • Any DUI charge that is made after a previous felony DUI

It takes some work, then, to garner a felony DUI in California. Quite a few states, in contrast, make a third drunk driving offense a felony, and four – Oklahoma, Minnesota, New York, and Indiana – slap you with a felony DUI on your second offense.

And despite those barriers, a thousand people made it to court under felony DUI charges.

What is To Be Done?

Some of the work needed to remedy this situation might already be completed. In 2019 a new law goes into effect which will mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses in the state. Currently four counties have had such a law, and the pilot program has proved successful enough for the whole state to adopt it.

Because it targets repeat offenders, the ignition interlock law will reduce the number of drivers who drive drunk again and again – the device won’t let their vehicle start while they’re drunk. This will make it harder for first offenders to become second offenders, and for third offenders to make it to the felony DUI category.

Ignition interlocks are not a cure-all for drunk driving, but they are an effective measure for reducing recidivism. Once the law takes effect, we’ll see fewer alcohol-related crashes on California roads – and perhaps a somewhat lighter schedule for the Kern County Felony DUI prosecution unit.