Recently on our DUI forum a user asked, If I was arrested for a DUI this week will I be charged with a felony DUI or a misdemeanor?
Drunken driving laws vary by state, but generally a first time drunken driving charge will be considered a misdemeanor charge. This does not mean, however, that you will not face stiff fines and penalties. Even misdemeanor DUI charges can cost you thousands of dollars in fines, penalties, and legal fees. It also does not mean that all DUI charges will be considered misdemeanors. There are several factors which could raise the charge to a felony DUI charge. These factors will be discussed below.
Injury to others and Felony DUI
In some states, if you have been arrested for DUI and your intoxicated driving has caused injury or harm to another driver or passenger you can be charged with a felony DUI. In the state of Texas, for instance, if your drunken driving causes serious bodily injury you can be charged with intoxication assault, a third degree felony. Fines and penalties for this charge can include 2 to 10 years in jail, fines over $10,000, and community service.
Other states, such as California, may allow the prosecuting attorney to determine the charges. For example, in the state of California if you drive a vehicle intoxicated and you injure or kill another person the state can decide whether you will be charged a felony DUI or a misdemeanor DUI.
High Blood alcohol concentration level
As mentioned above, state laws can vary for DUI charges, but some states will allow drivers to be charged with a felony DUI if their blood alcohol concentration level is significantly above the legal limit of 0.08%.
Multiple DUI convictions
Drivers may also be charged with DUI if they have previous DUI arrests and convictions. For example, in the state of California a driver can be arrested for a felony DUI if they have three previous DUI convictions within the last ten years. Other states also have similar rules, although the number of previous DUI convictions and the time between convictions may vary.
Driving with a minor in the car
Drivers who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs while transporting a minor child may also be charged with felony DUI. For example, in the state of Texas a driver may be charged with felony DUI if they are driving with a child who is less than fifteen years of age. If convicted you could face up to 2 years in jail and have to pay fines up to $10,000.
Driving with a suspended or revoked drivers license
In some state, drivers operating a car without a valid drivers license may be charged with a felony DUI. For example, if you are operating a vehicle without a valid license in Illinois and you are intoxicated, you can be charged with a Class 4 felony punishable by one to three years in state prison.
Drivers should contact a lawyer after a DUI arrest if they have questions about the penalties and fines they might face.