The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol can be severe, including mandatory jail time, license suspension, and fines. Even a first-time offender can risk losing their driving privileges and end up paying more for car insurance. However, there are aggravating factors that can increase the criminal penalties. In some cases, aggravating factors can raise a misdemeanor DUI to a felony DUI.
Most criminal cases take into account the circumstances surrounding a criminal offense. The judge may consider what happened before, during, and after the crime that might impact sentencing. This includes aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors have a negative impact and make a crime more egregious. Mitigating factors lessen the severity of the crime.
Mitigating factors in a DUI may not help you avoid the minimum penalties. However, the right circumstances can help you get probation instead of jail time or make the judge more likely to let you plead down to reckless driving or another lesser penalty. Mitigating factors in a DUI may include:
Aggravating factors can increase the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Aggravating factors in a DUI may include:
The penalties for a drunk driving conviction are different in every state. A first-time drunk driving charge is generally a misdemeanor offense. Most states impose minimum penalties for a first-offense DUI, which may include:
If you are found guilty of a drunk driving offense with aggravating factors, the judge could impose the maximum DUI sentence under the sentencing guidelines. Some aggravating factors may allow for additional penalties, including increased fines, more days in jail, and an extended license suspension. Some aggravating factors may increase a DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony.
A felony charge is more serious than a misdemeanor on a criminal record. A felony may disqualify you for some jobs and professions. A felony may also make you ineligible for public benefits and government scholarships. Felons may also be prohibited from holding public office or owning a firearm.
A fatal drunk driving accident or a motor vehicle accident that causes serious injuries can be charged as a felony. Penalties for bodily injury DUI may include more than 12 months in prison, fines, and a license suspension. A fatal drunk driving crash could be charged as vehicular manslaughter. In some states, a fatal accident after a prior drunk driving arrest could be charged as murder.
In most states, getting too many DUIs within a certain period of time can lead to felony drunk driving charges. The number of drunk driving offenses and lookback periods vary by state. Some states consider the second DUI to be a felony, and other states have no law that automatically considers multiple DUIs to be felony offenses. However, in most states, a third or fourth DUI within a certain number of years will be charged as a felony.
Driving under the influence with a minor child in the vehicle is an aggravating factor. It could increase the penalties, or it could be charged as an additional child endangerment offense. Child endangerment could result in additional increased penalties. If the parent has had prior child custody issues, a DUI with the child in the car could put their visitation and parenting rights at risk.
When the police officer arrests a driver on suspicion of impaired driving, they will request a chemical test sample. In most states, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered over the limit. However, if the driver's BAC is much higher, they may face aggravated penalties. The high BAC limit varies by state but is generally around 0.15% or 0.20%.