driving

Is Driving While Intoxicated (DWI/DUI) a Felony or a Misdemeanor Offense?

Drunk driving is referred to by a variety of titles in different states, such as “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) and “Driving While Intoxicated” (DWI). No matter how the authorities refer to the offense, there’s a prohibition for drunk driving in every state. Furthermore, all states have laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, known as DUI statutes. In general, a DUI conviction might be based on the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) or on actual impairment caused by drugs/alcohol, depending on the circumstances.

A first-time DUI conviction is often treated as a misdemeanor. However, there are some conditions in which a DUI might be prosecuted as a felony. These circumstances differ from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Intoxicated driving is considered a traffic offense or a misdemeanor in many states. Still, those charges can be enhanced from standard misdemeanor DUI to felony DUI depending upon other factors.

To determine the level of your drinking habits, you may be required to take an alcohol test and prove your alcohol knowledge. Doing this will determine how drinking can negatively impact your life and health.

What Is a DUI Felony?

A DUI can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony in most cases, depending on the situation. A conventional first offense will nearly always be classified as a misdemeanor regardless of the circumstances. When someone is killed or seriously hurt due to a drunk driving accident, the offender may face felony charges – even if it is their first violation. Vehicular homicide can be enforced when a drunk driver is engaged in a fatal accident.

Prior DUI convictions can cause a DUI to be escalated to the status of an indictable crime. DUI convictions for the third or subsequent time are classed as felonies in some states. In contrast, first and second DUI convictions are classified as misdemeanors in the other states. DUI can also be classified as a crime in some states if found with an exceptionally high BAC or transporting children.

What’s the Main Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony DUI?

The primary distinction between a misdemeanor and felony DUI is the severity of the consequences of a conviction. When you get convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, the maximum sentence is one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 in addition to other penalties. When you commit a felony DUI, the penalties can be severe. Felony DUIs result in years of prison time and fines that could cost thousands of dollars to pay off each month or year spent behind bars depending on how long your sentence lasts. As a result, the license suspension time for a DUI conviction classified as a felony will generally be longer than for a misdemeanor DUI conviction. Additionally, felony convictions can result in other repercussions, such as losing one’s right to vote.

Factors That Turn Misdemeanor DUI to Felony DUI 

While rules differ from state to state, some common aggravating factors can lead to felony DUI charges.

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Prior Convictions for DUI 

If you have past DUI charges, the number of convictions and the length of time between convictions that can justify a felony DUI prosecution vary from state to state. Some states increased the penalty for a DUI within the last five years, while some increased the punishment for a DUI within the previous ten years. Some states increased the term for any prior conviction, regardless of how long ago it occurred. Suppose you have had your driving privileges restricted due to driving under the influence, and you find yourself in the same situation again. In that case, you may be charged with a crime in several states. The same rules apply if you are ordered to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle due to a past DUI. In a nutshell, you may be charged with a felonious offense if you are caught twice making the same mistake.

Bodily Harm 

In most states, felony charges can be filed against a drunk driver if they cause the death or injury of another person. When an accident results in physical injury, it is more common for the driver to be the one who caused the collision in the first place. 

A felony DUI case may be filed against you if you run a stop sign while inebriated and collide with another car and if your passengers or those in the other vehicle are hurt. However, if you were under the influence at the time of the accident, but someone else rear-ended you at a stop sign, resulting in a collision, it is less likely that your conviction will be raised to felony DUI. 

Carrying a Suspended License or Breaking Other Laws while Driving 

There’re several ways that you can get in trouble with the law. One of those is driving while intoxicated or having a suspended license, which both carry penalties such as imprisonment for up to five years, depending on where this happens. DUI charges can be escalated to felony status in some states if you are arrested for driving under the influence while also breaking other crimes at the same time. If you have a restricted, suspended, or revoked driver’s license, being arrested for DUI will only put you in a more dire situation.  

High-Level Blood-Alcohol Concentration 

In case your blood alcohol content was exceptionally high, you might be prosecuted for felony DUI in a few states. For example, driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent or more is a felony in various states (the legal limit for a standard DUI is 0.08 percent). On the other hand, some states are considerably stricter, with the limitation of 0.16 percent to be considered punishable by felony charges.

Driving with Children in the Car

In most states, if you are drunk driving with a child in the vehicle, your sentence will be increased, even if the child is your own. Minors under 18 are eligible for the augmentation; however, the age cut-offs differ from state to state.  

Misdemeanor 

  • One-year jail time (Maximum)
  • Fines of $1,000 (or less)
  • Possibility of probation

Felony 

  • One-year jail time (Minimum)
  • Fines of $1,000 (or above)
  • Possibility of parole and probation
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Refusal to Take a Breath Test 

In some states, refusing to undergo a breath test can result in worse fines than submitting to the testing would have resulted if you had agreed to the procedure. Refusal can result in the instant cancellation of your driver’s license in some states, while in others, it might result in obligatory jail time. In June 2016, the Supreme Court declared a more severe punishment might be imposed for those who refuse to submit a blood or urine test unless the police first obtain a warrant for your refusal.  

Property Damage 

In case you are involved in a car accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your penalties will be increased in most states; your penalties will be even more significant in case you do not have the proper auto insurance.

Misdemeanor and Felony DUI Penalties

Drunk driving rules differ from state to state, and new legislation is introduced almost every year. Suppose you are charged with felony DUI, you will require the services of capable New Jersey DWI Lawyers, who will attempt to decrease your sentence or reduce your charges. Although this may be a waste of resources in some states because the penalties are mandated by state law and cannot be amended, it may benefit others.

DUI convictions for misdemeanor and felony offenses are generally subject to penalties. While the potential repercussions of a felony DUI usually are far more severe than those of a misdemeanor DUI, there are several exceptions.

You will almost certainly lose the following benefits as well as substantial penalties and mandatory jail time if you are charged with felony DUI.

  • Driving privileges
  • Civil rights
  • Custody or visitation privileges

Also necessary is using a monitoring device (either a breath-alcohol ignition interlock device or a blood-alcohol continuous monitoring device) while driving (SCRAM ankle bracelet).  

To understand how binge drinking and other forms of problem drinking can influence your health and life, you may be required to enroll in an alcohol treatment or alcohol education program. A counselor will assess your drinking patterns to see whether they indicate alcohol dependency or alcohol abuse and provide treatment recommendations. Furthermore, most states have legislation requiring anyone convicted of drunk driving to undergo an alcohol assessment.

How Can You Get Help?

Being charged with and convicted of drunk or drugged driving can have a significant and long-lasting impact on your life. Irrespective of the circumstances surrounding your DWI or DUI arrest, you have the right to and deserve a strong and devoted legal defense that will work tirelessly to obtain the best possible outcome for you.

Hence, it is important to get the services of an expert attorney as quickly as possible following a DWI arrest. A DUI defense attorney can obtain the most favorable outcome possible in your situation. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are here to help you if you have been charged with driving while intoxicated or under the influence (DWI or DUI).  Fight your case and prevent costly and long-lasting consequences.

 

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