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Most drivers who are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs do not reoffend and take steps to change the behavior that led to the DUI arrest and conviction. However, some drivers continue to drive while under the influence and subsequently continue to pick up DUI arrests. In the past, DUI was not treated very seriously and those with multiple previous DUI convictions did not face overly severe punishments. However, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (“MADD”) brought attention to the dangers of impaired driving, specifically the great number of traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers. MADD uncovered many cases in which fatal traffic collisions were caused by impaired drivers with numerous prior DUI convictions that carried little or no consequences. As a result, the law has been changed to significantly increase the penalties for drivers who have multiple prior DUI convictions.
There is no limit to the number of prior DUI convictions that a person can accumulate over the course of a lifetime. However, when a driver is charged with four or more DUI offenses occurring within a ten year period, the fourth or subsequent offense will be considered a felony and the defendant can be sentenced to prison for up to three years. When considering prior offenses, California courts will look at convictions from any county in California and even DUI or DWI convictions from other states. The prosecution will have access to the defendant’s driving record and rap sheet and will be able to determine how many times he or she has been convicted of driving under the influence.
Technically, a person can continue to commit DUI offenses even after serving time in prison for a felony DUI offense. The state has set up numerous roadblocks to prevent these drivers from getting behind the wheel, however some repeat DUI offenders find ways to continue to drive while impaired. The California Department of Motor Vehicles will designate a driver a Habitual Traffic Offender after a third DUI offense and their driving privileges will be subsequently revoked for any other violations of the DUI laws. However, not having a valid license does not stop many people from driving and it is not unusual to see DUI offenses committed by those who are not legally permitted to drive a motor vehicle.
It is important to remember that a person arrested for DUI can only be charged with a felony when he or she has three or more prior convictions that occurred within the previous ten years. In many cases, defendants may have numerous DUI convictions that occurred 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier. These cases would not be considered prior offenses under the law and would not trigger mandatory sentencing provisions. However, it is critical to remember that prosecutors and judges would be aware of these prior convictions and would likely take them into account when imposing sentence on the defendant’s current offense.