People may be convicted of drunk driving, also referred to as driving under the influence (DUI), in two ways—as a felony or a misdemeanor. The decision to charge a driver of a misdemeanor or a felony DUI depends on the details of the case. In most cases, the first offense is a misdemeanor. However, there are a few instances where a misdemeanor charge can elevate to a felony, even if it is the offender’s first offense.
When a DUI Conviction Becomes a Felony
A DIU can be a felony. While it is true that the laws governing DUIs vary from state to state, a DUI conviction can elevate to a DUI felony if the following statements are found to be true.
The DUI Offender Has Previous DUI Convictions
In most cases, the first and second DUI convictions are misdemeanors. However, the third and subsequent charges can be elevated to a felony. Thus, a DUI can become a felony if certain factors come into play. Also, if driving privileges have been suspended due to previous convictions, and the police catch the driver under the influence again, the state can charge the driver with a felony charge. Another instance that can result in a felony charge is a stop for drunk driving with a court-ordered ignition interlock device on the vehicle.
The DUI Offender Had an Elevated Blood Alcohol Content
In every state in the United States, the standard blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent. Depending on the state, having a particularly high BAC can result in a DUI as a felony, even if it is the first offense. In most states, a BAC level of 0.16 percent elevates the misdemeanor charge to a felony. A higher level of BAC can result in harsher punishments when convicted.
The DUI Offender Caused Others to Sustain Personal Injuries
A DUI offender killing or injuring a pedestrian or another motorist could lead to a felony charge, even if it is their first offense. If the driver ran a red light while intoxicated and hit another vehicle, the driver could be charged with a felony if the passengers in the other vehicle were injured. On the other hand, the driver is less likely to face a felony charge if he was driving under the influence and another vehicle rear-ends the intoxicated driver, causing injuries.
The Offender Had Children in The Car
If the driver was arrested for a DUI, and the police discovered minors in the car, the driver could be charged with a felony charge due to negligence. In fact, there are state-specific laws that govern this ideology such as those listed under Louisiana Statutes § RS 14:98.
The Offender Breaking Unrelated State Laws
The DUI misdemeanor charge could be elevated to a felony charge if the driver was arrested while breaking other state or federal laws. For example, an arresting officer searching a car and finding an unregistered firearm or illegal drugs can result in a DUI felony charge. Similarly, driving under the influence with a suspended license can also be considered as a felony.
The Consequences of a DUI Felony Charge
The life of the offender can change drastically after being charged with a felony DUI. Depending on the details of the case, a lawyer will try to lessen the penalties or reduce the sentence. Although in some states, hiring legal representation will have no impact on the court’s decision since the penalties are mandated by state law and cannot be changed.
The Road Ahead
As stated, each state has its own penalties, but a felony DUI charge typically includes:
- Incarceration in a state prison
- Fines in the value of anywhere between $1,000 to over $10,000
- Possibility of parole or probation
If there is mandatory jail time and significant fines, the driver may also be likely to lose the following:
- Driving privileges, either permanently or temporarily
- Specific civil rights including the right to own a weapon or vote
- Visitation privileges or custody if a child was in the vehicle during the arrest
Morris Bart, LLC Can Help
If you have been the victim of the negligent actions of a driver under the influence, you may have the right to compensation for your losses. The Morris Bart law firm can help you during this difficult time. Call us now at 1-800-537-8185 for a free case evaluation.