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Understanding California Vehicle Code 23550: Fourth-Time DUI Laws and Defense Strategies

Navigating the Legal Complexities of Felony DUI Offenses (VC 23550)

California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550) addresses the serious offense of a fourth-time DUI within a specific timeframe. This statute outlines the legal framework for charging individuals who have accumulated multiple DUI convictions. At Inland Empire Criminal Defense, we aim to provide you with insights into the nuances of this law and the potential defense strategies available if you find yourself facing charges related to a fourth-time DUI offense.

California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550): A Closer Look

Legal Definition: California Vehicle Code 23550 states, “If a person is convicted of [driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs]…within 10 years of three or more separate [DUI offenses]…that person shall be punished by imprisonment [in prison]…or in a county jail…”

This code section focuses on individuals who have a history of multiple DUI convictions within a 10-year period. If a person receives a fourth DUI conviction within this timeframe, they may face felony charges.

Proving a Case Under California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550)

To secure a conviction under this statute, the prosecution must establish the following elements:

  1. The defendant has been previously convicted of three or more DUI-related offenses.
  2. The current DUI conviction occurs within 10 years of the three separate violations.

Common Defense Strategies

When charged under California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550), several legal defense strategies can be employed to contest the accusations:

1. Lack of Prior Convictions Within 10 Years

A critical defense is to demonstrate that the defendant did not have three prior DUI convictions within 10 years of the fourth conviction. If the prior convictions occurred more than a decade ago, this can serve as a valid defense.

2. Challenging Probable Cause

It is unlawful for law enforcement to stop or arrest an individual without probable cause of illegal activity. Contesting the legitimacy of the stop or arrest can be an effective defense strategy.

3. Necessity Defense

A necessity defense may involve showing that there were compelling reasons for committing the alleged crime. In the context of a fourth-time DUI, it could be argued that there was no alternative but to drive while intoxicated due to an emergency, such as needing to transport someone to the hospital.

Penalties Under California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550)

A violation of Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550) can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. The penalties associated with each classification are as follows:


  • Custody in county jail for a minimum of 180 days, up to one year.
  • A fine ranging from $390 to $1,000.


  • State prison term of up to three years.
  • A fine ranging from $390 to $1,000.

Regardless of whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, a conviction will lead to a four-year revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license and driving privileges. Additionally, a fourth-time DUI offense will result in the defendant being designated as a habitual traffic offender for three years, per Vehicle Code 14601.3.

In cases of probation, a judge may impose the installation of an ignition interlock device as a probation condition.

Related Laws

Several related laws may come into play in DUI cases, including:

1. DUI – VC 23152a: This section covers DUI offenses where an individual operates a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. It can be charged as a misdemeanor for first-time offenders.

2. Vehicular Manslaughter – PC 192c: Under Penal Code 192c, vehicular manslaughter applies when an individual drives negligently or unlawfully, causing the death of another person. If driving under the influence and causing a fatality, a defendant may face charges under both VC 23550 and PC 192c.

3. Enhanced DUI Penalties – VC 23578: Vehicle Code 23578 allows for penalty enhancements in DUI cases involving excessive blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or test refusal. An excessive BAC is defined as a BAC of 0.15 or higher, and test refusal refers to refusing breath or urine tests. These enhancements can apply to first, second, third, and fourth DUI offenses.

In summary, a comprehensive grasp of California Vehicle Code 23550 (VC 23550) is imperative for individuals confronting a fourth-time DUI allegation. Recognizing available defense options and comprehending the potential consequences is fundamental when addressing the intricate legal aspects of these cases. If you find yourself facing such charges, it is highly advisable to seek counsel from seasoned legal experts, such as the dedicated professionals at Inland Empire Criminal Defense. Safeguard your rights and explore the most effective defense strategies by reaching out to us today at 909-939-7126. Inland Empire Criminal Defense, situated in Ontario, California, proudly serves Riverside and San Bernardino County.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Yes, Inland Empire Criminal Defense offers free consultations. This is part of our commitment to providing accessible and transparent legal services to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

We offer both in-person and over-the-phone consultations to accommodate your preferences and needs. Whether you’re in Riverside, San Bernardino, or Los Angeles County, we ensure that you can access our legal services in the way that suits you best.

Our office is typically closed on weekends. However, we do make exceptions for meetings by special arrangement. Our commitment is to be as accommodating as possible to meet the unique needs of our clients in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties.

Our legal services are specifically tailored to residents of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles Counties. For cases outside these areas, we recommend consulting to find appropriate legal assistance. Our focused approach allows us to provide specialized defense catering to the unique legal landscape of these counties.

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