A DUI is not always a felony charge in the United States, but it can be.
Several factors can cause a DUI charge to become a felony, mostly having to do with repeat offenses or the endangerment of others.
- What is a DUI?
- Is a DUI a Felony Offense?
- Factors That Elevate Misdemeanor DUI to Felony DUI
- Why Is Avoiding a DUI Felony Conviction So Important?
- What Are the Penalties for Felony DUI?
- Fighting a Felony DUI Charge
What is a DUI?
DUI stands for driving under the influence.
This can mean driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
A DUI applies when the perpetrator operates any motor vehicle, whether it’s a commercial van, passenger vehicle, or motorcycle.
These vehicles are the most common scenes of a DUI, but one can also receive this charge if they operate a lawnmower, ATV, 4-wheeler, or golf cart while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
You can receive a DUI even if you operate the vehicle on private property like a parking lot.
A DUI may also be applicable if one is impaired by drugs or alcohol and sitting in the driver’s seat of an idling vehicle (the keys are in the ignition, and the engine is on).
The alcohol content in one’s bloodstream is the determining factor if they are too impaired to be driving.
What are the 3 Types of DUI Infractions?
Below are the three types of DUI charges that someone can face if they were pulled over for drunk driving.
Misdemeanor DUI Charge
DUI charges are most commonly misdemeanors.
A misdemeanor DUI charge can easily result in a jail term of one year or a punitive fine between $600 and $1,000.
This charge often goes hand-in-hand with speeding, reckless driving, or driving without a license.
A DUI misdemeanor can have long-lasting effects such as denial of firearm permits, required breathalyzers before starting your vehicle, disclosure on job applications, or the loss of your driver’s license or other professional licenses.
Felony DUI Charges
A DUI charge can escalate to a felony charge for different reasons.
The most common is if it is a repeated DUI charge.
Usually, if an individual receives three or more DUI charges, it turns into a felony charge.
A DUI charge can also be a felony if a young child is in the car, if they injure or kill someone, or if they cause more than $500 in property damage.
Some states also escalate the charge to a felony if the BAC (blood alcohol level) was excessive, usually over .20.
A charge of DUI manslaughter is absolutely a felony.
This charge occurs when someone under the influence kills a bystander while operating a motor vehicle.
This charge can also arise to vehicular homicide, which will receive a heftier prison sentence than a manslaughter charge.
This felony charge is the most serious, and perpetrators often receive several years in prison.
Some even serve no jail time at all.
Is a DUI a Felony Offense?
A sole DUI charge will typically not be a felony offense.
Usually, the first DUI offense by an individual will be a misdemeanor.
The perpetrator often just pays a fine and takes DUI classes before getting their license back.
What Makes a DUI a Felony?
Several factors can turn a DUI misdemeanor into a felony charge.
The most common reason for escalating the charge is if it is a repeat offense.
What States Is a DUI a Felony Offense?
Every state treats DUI charges differently.
However, no state classifies your first DUI charge that did not cause damage or personal injury as a felony.
The first DUI charge will almost always be a misdemeanor.
But some states classify all DUI charges as a misdemeanor.
The following states are the least likely to escalate a DUI to a felony charge:
- New Jersey
In New Jersey, DUIs are a traffic offense, not a criminal offense.
Also, some states issue an infraction charge rather than a misdemeanor, which is a lesser offense.
Factors That Elevate Misdemeanor DUI to Felony DUI
The factors that escalate a DUI charge usually relate to repetitive DUI law-breaking or the endangerment of someone else.
The escalation of the offense is often because the situation contains another illegal activity, such as hurting someone else or destroying property.
Below is an in-depth explanation of how these factors can contribute to a DUI felony charge.
High-Level Blood-Alcohol Concentration
Some states raise a DUI charge to a felony if the driver’s BAC was excessive.
An incredibly high BAC shows that the driver was being reckless and negligent.
Many states will raise the charge if the driver’s BAC is above .16, and others raise it when the BAC is above .20.
Child endangerment is an automatic felony charge in almost every state in the US.
Driving recklessly and under the influence with a young child in the vehicle, usually under 16, will result in a felony charge.
Even if it is your first DUI offense and no one was injured, the presence of a child can escalate the charge to a felony very quickly.
Prior Convictions for DUI
Having prior DUI convictions is the most likely reason a DUI charge becomes a felony.
A repeat offender exemplifies that being charged with a misdemeanor was not enough to deter them from committing this offense.
DUI Causing Injury or Death
Most assault and homicide offenses are charged as a felony unless there are specific circumstances.
The same goes for injury or death caused by a drunk driver.
The combination of the injury or death with the DUI charge will escalate the offense to a felony.
It depends on the state, but usually, more than $500 worth of property damage is considered a felony.
If you steal a $50 shirt from a store, this is a misdemeanor, but if you steal a $500 purse, this could be a felony.
A DUI charge works the same way.
If you damage a certain monetary amount of property, it becomes a felony.
Why Is Avoiding a DUI Felony Conviction So Important?
Any felony conviction on your record can make your life much more difficult.
It will make getting a job or renting a home extremely tough if not impossible.
Some things become completely out of the realm of possibilities, such as adopting a child, voting in elections, or receiving any kind of government assistance like state housing or food stamps.
You also lose the constitutional right to bear arms as you have proved to be a threat to the general public.
It is uncommon with a DUI charge, but they make revoke your passport, restricting you from traveling abroad.
You also may lose custody of your child and parental rights if there is already some sort of custody battle going on.
What Are the Penalties for Felony DUI?
As always, these penalties vary from state to state.
The penalty for a DUI felony charge is usually a combination of prison time and a punitive fee.
The fee can range from $2,000 up to $500,000.
The prison time for a felony DUI charge can be as little as 90 days or as long as 50 years.
The latter is usually due to an injury or death caused by the perpetrator driving drunk.
Will Your Driver’s License Be Suspended?
The answer to this is almost always a yes.
Usually, your license will only be suspended for a short period, between 60 and 90 days, but sometimes it can be years.
If you commit multiple DUI offenses, there is also the possibility of your license being revoked permanently, meaning you will never be allowed to operate a motor vehicle again.
In the bigger picture, your license being revoked for a DUI is a very minor punishment, especially if you endangered others or cause property damage.
Sometimes the license of the perpetrator is revoked until they complete a course on driving under the influence.
These education courses aim to prevent the perpetrator from committing further DUI offenses.
Fighting a Felony DUI Charge
If you face a DUI conviction, there are some steps to take to try and lessen the charge or avoid it completely.
How To Fight a Felony DUI Charge
The first step to fighting a DUI conviction is finding a good DUI lawyer.
You will want an attorney that specializes in this type of case.
Next, you should try to collect evidence, whether it’s video footage, witness accounts, or BAC tests.
What Will a DUI Defense Lawyer Do on Your Behalf?
A DUI defense lawyer will argue the traffic stop was unlawful or there is insubstantial evidence that you were operating a vehicle and were under the influence.
The following flaws can be found and exploited in the prosecution’s case:
- BAC tests (blood, breath, or urine)
- Field sobriety test
- Miranda rights violations
- Misconduct on behalf of law enforcement officials
- Contradictory evidence on video
- Contradictory testimony by police officers
DUI charges are not a felony unless there are extenuating circumstances that demand a heftier charge.
You should never drive drunk, but if you find yourself facing a DUI felony charge, it’s best you find an experienced lawyer.