Driving under the influence cases in California often involves injuries. If somebody is injured in a DUI accident, the ordinary misdemeanor drunk driving case becomes much more severe, but not all injuries are considered the same.
There is a difference between chronic injuries and great bodily injuries (GBI), which are described as significant or substantial physical injuries.
There is no set definition of a GBI, and the description of “significant” is vague. This means an experienced criminal defense lawyer can target the issue of a great bodily injury when defending their client.
DUIs in California are bad enough alone because the state is one of the worst in the United States to punish people who get DUIs.
If you add a great bodily injury allegation on top of it, you're talking about prison time. If there are no other charges, you're looking at probably, at a maximum of six years in prison -- three years for the felony DUI causing injury and an additional three years for causing great bodily harm.
California Penal Code 12022.7 PC is the statute for great bodily injury (GBI) sentencing enhancement that adds 3 to 6 years in state prison.
Our Los Angeles DUI attorneys will review the issue more closely below.
What is a Great Bodily Injury?
There is a difference between just injury for a DUI and causing great bodily injury. A great bodily injury will need to be some severe injury.
Typically, in California, a great bodily injury would include the following injuries to someone:
- Nearly killed or placed at high risk of death,
- Loss of a body part or organ,
- Sustained permanent disfigurement,
- Injury causing tremendous physical pain,
- Impairment or disability.
For example, if during the DUI someone broke their leg, that would be classified as great bodily injury.
Whereas during the DUI, somebody claimed that their neck and back hurt like your typical car crash, that would not be great bodily injury. Arguably, it would not be a severe great bodily injury for purposes of a felony DUI, which is the dividing line.
If someone is claiming soft tissue injuries, we could often convince prosecutors not to file the case as a felony.
Exaggerated Injury Claims
Prosecutors realize that you can make a lot of money in the personal injury game if you claim that somehow you were hurt or injured by an individual involving a traffic accident.
Unfortunately, that has terrible criminal ramifications. I had had cases where the prosecutors believed the person when they said they were injured, took all of this time off work, and tried to drum up a personal injury case.
Now, we have to show the prosecutors that this person is over-inflating their injuries and putting us in a position where we have to try to fight injuries that simply don't exist.
They're going to a chiropractor, going to some doctor and getting all of these treatments -- claiming their back hurts, claiming their neck hurts -- but in reality, they are just saying that. There's no way to corroborate it one way or another.
How is a Great Bodily Injury Determined?
Now, if they're getting MRIs and x-rays and those x-rays and MRIs show significant injuries, that's a different story. Now, you're talking about great bodily harm, etc.
When driving under the influence cases involving a great bodily injury go to trial, the jury is responsible for deciding whether they believe the injuries qualify for a GBI enhancement.
You simply don't know how a jury will make their decision, and it could depend on the statements made by the victim in court.
Before the case goes to a jury trial the prosecutor must decide to make an allegation of a great bodily injury in the DUI case.
If they decide to seek a GBI, they have the burden of proof, including disputing the victim's injuries in court.
In many cases, the defendant's criminal defense lawyer will have the chance to negotiate with the prosecution to remove the great bodily injury allegation from the case.
Challenging whether or not an injury should be considered a great bodily injury is frequently an effective defense strategy to reduce the severity of the driving under the influence case.
Suppose you are charged with California Vehicle Code 23153 VC DUI causing injury, and a great bodily injury is alleged.
In that case, you will typically be facing a felony DUI case punishable by up to three years in prison.
How Can You Avoid a Great Bodily Injury Allegation?
The bottom line is this. If you or a loved one is charged with a DUI causing injury and they are alleging a great bodily injury allegation, you have to get an attorney like me who's been doing this for nearly 30 years.
Not only is it possible to try and get rid of the great bodily injury allegation -- which causes you also to have a strike on your record, and again, potentially serve prison time -- but also trying to negotiate some good resolution for you. See related: How to Avoid a GBI Allegation.
There are defenses sometimes in these cases where someone gets in an accident.
They are very hurt and claim all of these bad injuries, and the defendant is getting charged with DUI with great bodily injury -- but one defense is, the accident was not your fault.
So, if the accident wasn't your fault, then you're in a position to argue that if it's not my fault, then I didn't cause those injuries. If I didn't cause those injuries, you can't charge me with great bodily injury, and that's true. So, that's one potential defense.
There are all sorts of different defenses to these crimes, but certainly, not everyone applies to every single case.
That's one area where I see people get a little confused is when they think they can choose any defense that's available for their case when the facts and circumstances don't support that defense.
So, again, that's when you get somebody like me. I worked for the District Attorney's office early in my career in 1992, and in1993, I worked for a Superior Court Judge as his right-hand man.
Then, in 1994, I opened my criminal defense firm, defending people with DUIs, and great bodily injury allegations with a great deal of success.
So, if you need help, pick up the phone. Make the call. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.
The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and offers a free case review at 213-542-0963.