If you drive in San Jose, then it is possible for you to commit one of the driving crimes in the state. When you are facing charges for a driving crime such as drunk driving, vehicular manslaughter or reckless driving, you will need the support of a law firm like the California Criminal Lawyer Group to defend yourself.

Overview of Driving Crimes

A driving crime is a traffic violation or unlawful activity that occurs while you are operating a motor vehicle. Driving crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the specific circumstances of the crime. Misdemeanor driving crimes are mostly those that do not lead to injury of other persons. If people are injured, then the crimes are usually charged as felonies.

When you are facing charges for a driving crime, it is wise to hire a lawyer who will explain the charges to you and offer you legal help. Here are some of the common driving crimes in San Jose.

  1. Driving Under the Influence

It is illegal to drive with a BAC level of .08% or higher in California. If you are a commercial driver, the legal BAC limit of .04%. DUI is a priorable offense, meaning that the penalties increase with each subsequent violation within ten years of the first convictions. The first three DUI offenses would be misdemeanors if no injury or death occurred. The penalties include:

First offense DUI

  • 3-5 years of misdemeanor probation
  • A county jail sentence of up to six months
  • Fines of $390-$1000
  • Attending a court-approved alcohol/drug class for three or nine months
  • Installation of an IID for six months or a 6-10-months drivers’ license suspension

Second offense DUI

  • 3-5 years misdemeanor probation
  • 96 hours to one year in county jail
  • Fines of $390-$1000
  • Attending a court-approved DUI class for 18 or 30 months
  • A one-year mandatory IID installation of driver’s license suspension for two years

If you are a commercial driver, you risk losing your CDL for life. Therefore, it is essential for you to contact a DUI attorney for your case.

Third offense DUI

  • 3-5 years misdemeanor probation
  • 120 days to one year in county jail
  • Fines of $390-$1000
  • A two-year mandatory IID installation or drivers’ license suspension for three years
  • DMV designation as a habitual traffic offender

Subsequent DUI

If you are convicted for a fourth or higher DUI offense within ten years, then you are guilty of a felony. The penalties include:

  • 16 months, 2 or 3 years in state prison
  • Fines of $390- $1000
  • Mandatory installation of an IID for one year or a drivers’ license suspension for up to four years
  • DMV designation as a habitual traffic offender

If a DUI results in injury, the offense becomes a wobbler. When convicted as a misdemeanor, the penalties include:

  • Misdemeanor probation for 3-5 years
  • 5 days-1 year in county jail
  • Fines of $390-$5000
  • Attending an alcohol program for 3,18 or 30 months
  • Mandatory IID installation for six months or a one-year drivers’ license suspension
  • Paying victim restitution

For a felony DUI with injury,

  • 16 months to ten years in state prison
  • An additional and consecutive state prison term of one to six years depending on the number and nature of injuries
  • A strike on your record
  • Fines of $1015-$5000
  • Attending an alcohol program for 18-30 months
  • Designation as a habitual traffic offender for three years
  • Mandatory installation of an IID for two to three years
  • Restitution to injured parties

Your penalties can be significantly increased in the presence of aggravating factors such as:

  • Refusal to submit a chemical test
  • Causing an accident
  • DUI with a child of 14 years or younger
  • Driving at excessive speeds
  • Underage DUI (driver under 21)

When you are charged with any DUI offense, you need to schedule a DMV hearing within 10 calendar days to prevent the automatic suspension of your license.

Your lawyer will also help you in obtaining a restricted license and SR-22 insurance before you recover your license.

  1. Reckless Driving VC 23103

Reckless driving refers to the crime of driving with malicious disregard for the safety of other people and property. For a conviction for reckless driving, the prosecution must prove that:

  • You drove on a highway or off-street parking; a highway is an area maintained publicly and is meant for use by the public for travel using a vehicle. An off-street parking facility is one which is open to the public for parking cars (whether it is publicly or privately owned)
  • With wanton disregard for the safety of others and property. Wanton disregard for safety refers to acting in a manner that presents a substantial and unjustified risk of harm, and you intentionally ignore the risk.

Reckless driving is charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specific circumstances of the crime, such as the number of people injured and the nature of the injuries.

Misdemeanor reckless driving

You get charged for a misdemeanor if only you were injured, or the third parties were mildly injured. Third parties include passengers in your car, pedestrians, and people in other cars.

The penalties for reckless driving when no one other than the driver was injured include:

  • Between five and 90 days in county jail
  • Between $145-$1000 in fines


  • Misdemeanor probation especially for a first offense

When minor injuries to third parties result, the penalties include:

  • A term of between 30 days and six months in county jail
  • Between $220 and $1000 in fines

Reckless driving can be charged as a wobbler under the following circumstances:

  • The third parties suffered serious injury
  • The third parties suffered specific serious injuries. Specific injuries include loss of consciousness, concussions, bone fractures, impairment, brain damage, and wounds requiring extensive stitching. When charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include a jail term of between 30 days and six months in county jail, and fines of $220-$1000. As a felony, the penalties include a county jail term of 16 months, 2 or 3 years and fines not exceeding $10,000.
  • You have prior reckless driving convictions for reckless driving, DUI or exhibition of speed. When convicted as a misdemeanor offense, the penalties include fines between $220 and $1000 and a county jail term of between 30 days and six months. When charged as a felony, the sentence may be 16 months, two years or three years in county jail and fines of up to $10,000.

When the third party dies, you may face charges for Watson murder or vehicular manslaughter.

  1. Watson Murder PC 187

Watson murder or second-degree murder usually charged alongside other driving crimes such as DUI and reckless driving, when another person dies. The prosecution has to prove that these elements were present:

  • You committed an intentional act that resulted in someone’s death
  • The natural consequences of that action were dangerous to human life
  • You still acted with conscious disregard for the danger your action posed

In addition, the prosecution may use facts such as a very high BAC level (at least .15%), or you were driving in an extremely reckless manner to charge you with a Watson murder.

Watson murder is not dependent on your intent, by consciously ignoring the danger you pose to other persons, you have acted with implied malice, which is the qualifier in Watson murder. The prosecution can prove implied malice by:

  • Proving that you were read the Watson admonition in a prior DUI
  • You attended a court-approved DUI school
  • You had special knowledge that your actions pose a danger to human life, for example, an EMT is aware of the risks of drunk driving

Watson murder is a felony in California. The penalties include:

  • A California state prison term of 15 years to life
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • A strike under the California Three Strikes Laws

If you have two or more strike for prior offenses and commit another felony offense, you get a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.

If there are any survivors, you may face additional prison time. You will spend an additional three to six years for each victim who suffered great bodily injury and between one and three years for every victim who suffers a less serious injury.

Potential defenses you can use include:

  • You were not driving under the influence or recklessly
  • You were not at fault for the accident
  • You did not act with implied malice
  • The police or prosecution engaged in misconduct

If the defense is successful, the charges may be dismissed or reduced to vehicular manslaughter, which has less strict penalties.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter PC 192(c)

Vehicular manslaughter is a crime resulting in the death of another person other than the driver due to the commission of a lawful or unlawful act. You can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if:

  • You acted with gross negligence (vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence)
  • You acted with negligence (ordinary vehicular manslaughter)
  • You committed vehicular manslaughter for financial gain

The elements of vehicular manslaughter depends on whether you displayed gross negligence or ordinary negligence. The elements of vehicular manslaughter involving gross negligence include:

  • You committed a misdemeanor or infraction while driving a car, or committed a lawful act in a manner likely to cause death
  • The act was dangerous to human life under the circumstances
  • You acted with gross negligence
  • You act led to the death of a third party

Gross negligence refers to actions that are reckless, high-risk, and likely to cause great physical injury or death and are committed even when you know the danger they pose. Gross negligence deviates from the way a reasonable individual would act under similar circumstances and is a display of disregard for the safety of others.

Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is charged as a wobbler offense depending on the facts of the crime and your criminal history. The penalties for a misdemeanor include informal probation, a county jail term of up to one year and a fine not exceeding $1000.

For a felony offense, the penalties are stricter and may include felony probation or imprisonment in state prison for 2, 4 or 6 years and fines not exceeding $10,000.

The elements of ordinary vehicular manslaughter include:

  • Committing an infraction, misdemeanor, or a lawful action in a way that threatens human life while operating a vehicle
  • The act you committed is dangerous to human life
  • You acted with ordinary negligence when committing the act. Ordinary negligence implies that you acted with ordinary carelessness, which prevented you from preventing foreseeable harm to someone else.
  • Another person died as a direct, natural or probable result of your action

The penalties for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter include informal probation or a county jail term of up to one year and a fine not exceeding $1000.

Vehicular manslaughter for monetary gain is the crime of:

  • Knowingly causing or participating in a collision
  • With the intention of making a false insurance claim or for financial gain or to defraud an insurer or another person
  • Someone dies as a result of the collision

Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is usually charged as a felony with penalties such as imprisonment 4, 6 or 10 in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Additional penalties for vehicular manslaughter include license suspension or revocation for at least three years.

To fight charges of vehicular manslaughter, your defense attorney can apply legal defenses such as:

  • You did not act with negligence or gross negligence
  • The victim did not die as a result of your negligence
  • The act was reasonable under the circumstances, especially in an emergency

In some cases, you may be charged with related crimes such as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and Watson murder.

  1. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs VC 23152 (f) and (g)

Driving under the influence of drugs is the crime of driving while illegal or prescription drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs impair your judgment. Impairment means you cannot exercise ordinary caution that a sober and reasonable person would, in a similar situation. A DUI of drugs is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the crime and your criminal history.

The law of California defines a drug as a substance that, when taken affects your brain, nervous system or muscles, thus affecting your ability to drive with reasonable care and caution that a sober person would exercise under similar circumstances.

California does not have a defined legal limit for drugs in the system. Therefore, law enforcement relies on the identification of symptoms of intoxication, and the opinion of a drug recognition expert. A drug recognition expert is one who is trained in identifying signs of someone who is intoxicated with narcotics.

A drug recognition expert will take you through a 12-step process to determine whether you are intoxicated and the drugs you may have used. The officers will then take a blood, urine, or saliva sample to test for the presence of drugs in your system. Blood samples are the most commonly used due to their reliability.

A DUI of drugs is a priorable offense. The first three offenses are charged as misdemeanors with penalties such as:

  • A DUI probation for 3 to 5 years
  • Fines
  • California DUI school
  • Suspension of your driver’s license
  • Possible jail term

A fourth subsequent offense within ten years of the first offense is charged as a felony. You can also be charged with felony DUI of Drugs if you have been convicted of a DUI felony before or you caused injury or death to another person.

The penalties for felony DUI of Drugs include:

  • 16 months to four years imprisonment
  • Fines of between $1000 and $5000 depending on the nature of the crime
  • Revocation or suspension of your driver’s license
  • Formal probation

A criminal attorney can use certain strategies to defend you against DUI of drugs charges. Defending you against these charges includes challenging the credibility of the prosecution’s charges, using blood-split motions (where helpful) and defenses such as tolerance.

You become tolerant of a drug when you need higher amounts to achieve the same high. It means that if you are tolerant to a drug, the amount likely to cause impairment could be higher than that in your system at the time you were driving.

  1. Driving With A Suspended or Revoked License

Driving when you know that your license is suspended or revoked is a crime in California. Your license can be revoked because:

  • You have accumulated a lot of points on your license (you are a negligent operator)
  • You have a mental or physical disability
  • You were convicted for a DUI

When you are charged with a violation of VC 14601, the prosecution has to prove that:

  • You drove with a suspended or revoked license
  • You knew your driving privileges were revoked or suspended

The prosecution has a bigger task proving that you knew of the revocation or suspension of your drivers’ license. The prosecution presumes your knowledge of your suspended driving rights if:

  • The DMV mailed you a notice of the suspension or revocation of your license
  • The notice was sent to your most recent address reported by you to the DMV, a court or a law enforcement agency
  • The notice was not returned
  • A police officer served you with a revocation or suspension notice
  • A judge informed you of the suspension or revocation when sentencing you for a violation

Your license can be suspended for a variety of reasons, which also affects the penalties you get. The common reasons for license revocations and suspensions in California include:

  • Revocation for specific offenses such as reckless driving, a physical or mental disability, you have been declared a negligent or incompetent operator and alcohol/drug abuse
  • Revocation or suspension for general offenses VC 14601.1 which makes it illegal to drive when the DMV has suspended your license for any reason
  • Revocation or suspension for DUI VC 14601.2, which makes it illegal to drive when your license was revoked or suspended due to a DUI conviction
  • Habitual traffic offenders VC 14601.3; a habitual traffic offender is one who has had to or more serious driving crimes convictions for reckless driving, DUI, an exhibition of speed, and VC 14601 violations within 12 months. You can also be declared a habitual traffic offender if you have three or more accidents in which a person was injured or property of at least $750.
  • License suspension or revocation for DUI Offenses VC 14601. you can be charged with driving with a suspended or revoked license if you commit the following offenses:
  • you refuse to submit a chemical test
  • you drove with a BAC of at least .01% while on DUI probation
  • you committed a DUI offense as an underage driver (under 21) and either refused to submit to a chemical test or had a BAC of .01% or higher

Driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor offense. The penalties for the crime depend on the reason for the suspension/revocation, your driving history, and whether you have prior driving with a suspended/revoked license conviction.

If your license was suspended for specific offenses, the penalties include:

  • 5 days to six months in county jail
  • A fine of $300-$1000

If the suspension/revocation was for general offenses, or chemical test refusals and related DUI offenses, the penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Fines between $300 and $1000

For suspension for a DUI, the penalties are:

  • Between 10 days and 6 months in county jail
  • Fines of $300-$1000
  • Mandatory installation of an IID

If you are a habitual traffic offender driving with a suspended or revoked license, the penalties are:

  • 30 days in county jail
  • A fine of $1000

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Charges for driving crimes can upset your life in many ways. From preventing transportation, to earning a living, you risk missing job opportunities, if your criminal record remains. In addition, facing jail time will keep you from the people and things you love. The California Criminal Lawyer Group represents defendants charged with driving crimes to have their charges reduced or dismissed and provide legal support after the criminal proceedings. Contact us at 408-622-0204 for a free consultation.