Can a Prior Juvenile Adjudication Be Used to Make a DUI a Felony?

For decades the Courts have deemed a juvenile adjudication to not be a conviction for purposes of elevating a subsequent offense to a more serious crime or to be used as a prior. However, a recent California Appeals Court case has changed that. Here are the details of the case: The defendant drove his car off the rode and into a tree, suffering injuries. Blood drawn at the hospital reflected he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent. He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol DUI (Veh. Code, § 23152, subds. (a) and (b)). The information charged a prior felony vehicular manslaughter the defendant had acquired as a juvenile to elevate the current offenses to felonies pursuant to section 23550.5, subdivision (a)(3). The defendant waived a jury trial and submitted to the court the question whether his juvenile prior could be used to elevate the present offenses. After the Judge found the prior could be used, the defendant entered a plea of no contest to the DUI, admitting his BAC was 0.15 percent or higher. He appealed the use of his juvenile prior. The appeals Court upheld the felony conviction stating that a DUI conviction may be elevated to a felony where the defendant has a “prior violation” of an offense enumerated in section 23550.5, subdivision (a), within 10 years of the current offense. One of the enumerated offenses is a prior violation of Penal Code section 192, subdivision (c)(1), that was punished as a felony. Although juvenile adjudications are not “convictions” in the Welfare & Institutions Code section 203, a minor may be adjudged a ward where he or she “violates” any criminal law. It should be noted that many criminal defense attorneys acted under the assumption for years that any adjudication for a minor would not be considered a prior. However, Section 23550.5, subdivision (a)(3) uses the word “violation,” not “conviction.” The Justices determined that this demonstrates a legislative intent to include felony juvenile adjudications within the ambit of section 23550.5, subdivision (a)(3). Here, the defendant admitted a felony violation of section 192, subdivision (c)(1). This offense occurred three years before the present case. Allowing both adult convictions and juvenile adjudications to elevate a section 23152 offense to a felony effectuates the strong policy against repeat offenders reflected in vehicle code section 23550.5

About thetorranceattorney

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance criminal defense attorney located near the 405 freeway on Crenshaw Blvd. Focusing on DUI and serious criminal cases for over twenty five years. In addition to criminal cases, Matthew also defends clients at the DMV regarding license suspension hearings stemming from drunk driving arrests.
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