You are in big trouble if you get arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI). If that same arrest results in felony charges, though, you are in extremely serious trouble. Even misdemeanor DUI charges can bring consequences like a loss of driving privileges and high fines if you are convicted. To find out more about what makes an ordinary DUI a felony and what punishments can be expected, read below.
Second or More DUI Arrests
In almost all cases, first-time DUI offenders get charged with a misdemeanor. If the offender has already been arrested and convicted of a previous DUI, either a misdemeanor or a felony, then they can automatically be charged with a felony for a second arrest within a certain period of time. For example, in New York state, a second charge of driving while intoxicated is a felony. The laws vary widely in regard to DUI (also called DWI in some states) from state to state.
Other Aggravating Factors
In addition to second or more arrests, the exact circumstances of your arrest can influence the charges. Take a look at some factors that can turn a misdemeanor into a felony charge:
- Driving drunk without a license.
- Minor children in the vehicle at the time of the arrest.
- The arrest was in conjunction with an accident.
- Others were injured. For example, if you hit a runner alongside the road and were arrested for DUI at the time.
- Excessive blood alcohol levels. As tested by a breathalyzer, the legal limit in all states stands at .08% or lower. Readings much higher than that might get you a felony charge.
What To Expect in Punishments
- Loss of driving privileges – Some of those convicted of misdemeanor DUI charges can apply for and receive a special hardship driver's licenses but felony offenders are not as likely to get that privilege. In addition, offenders might have to wait longer after the conviction before applying to be reinstated and some suffer from a revocation, which is a far more serious and long-term suspension of driving privileges.
- Incarceration – Some states have mandatory sentencing guidelines that require the judge to send felony DUI defendants to jail.
- Higher fines and fees than misdemeanor DUI charges.
Coping With the Charges
Regardless of what level of DUI you've been charged with, it vital that you take action to get your name cleared. DUI convictions can add up to explosive results if you fail to seek justice. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your case and see what can be done to get the charges reduced or dropped due to technicalities and illegal moves by law enforcement during the stop and arrest.