People often associate driving under the influence (DUI) with criminal charges. However, impaired drivers may be convicted of drunk driving: 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 case details.
In DUI 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. A DUI conviction can have numerous negative consequences and might require legal counsel.
When a DUI Conviction Becomes a Felony
Driving under the influence (DUI), sometimes known as driving while intoxicated (DWI), 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.
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 DUI felony charge is a stop for drunk driving with a court-ordered ignition interlock device on the vehicle.
An Elevated Blood Alcohol Content
In every state in the United States, the standard blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08%. Depending on the state, having a particularly high BAC can result in a DUI as a felony, even for a first offense.
In most states, a BAC level of 0.16% elevates the misdemeanor charge to a felony. A higher level of BAC can result in harsher punishments when convicted. It’s important to note that any amount of alcohol can affect your driving ability.
People Were Injured
A DUI offender killing or injuring a pedestrian or another motorist could lead to a felony charge, even for a first offense. If the driver ran a red light while intoxicated and hit another vehicle, the driver could be charged with a DUI 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.
Children Were 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.
Violating Unrelated 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 a felony.
Consequences of a DUI Felony Charge
Car crashes caused by drivers using alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs can have tragic results. To discourage impaired driving, most states have heavy penalties for anyone charged with a felony DUI.
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
- Suspended driving privileges
The life of the offender can change drastically. Depending on the details of the case, a DUI lawyer will try to lessen the penalties or reduce the sentence.
State Mandated Penalties
In some states, the penalties are mandated by state law and cannot be reduced. 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
In addition to legal consequences, anyone convicted of a DUI may experience backlash from friends and family. Drunk driving is reckless and endangers lives.
According to the Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,142 people were killed by drunk driving in 2019. The problem is so widespread that nearly everyone has been affected or knows someone who has been affected by drunk driving.
Will a DUI Appear on a Background Check?
A DUI felony conviction will appear on a background check. This means prospective employers and landlords will see the DUI. It may affect their decision to hire or rent to you.
Does a DUI Conviction Ever Go Away?
DUI convictions are visible in two ways: on your driving record and your criminal record. Depending on the state, a DUI may result in points on your license that automatically fall off your driving record after 10 years. However, this is not the case for every state. In Illinois, a DUI will remain on your driving record for life.
A criminal record is a separate matter. A DUI will stay on your criminal record permanently. The only exception is if the charge has been expunged or sealed.
What to Do if You Are Charged With a DUI
If you have been charged with a DUI, you must take it seriously. You could face fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time. You can also lose your job. If you have been charged with a DUI, you should:
- Secure alternative transportation
- Prepare for your court case
- Look into SR-22 vehicle insurance
It would also be wise to consult with legal counsel. A DUI attorney will protect your best interests and ensure your case is handled properly. Many law firms offer free consultations so new clients can learn about their legal options risk-free.