Learn about potential DUI penalties for various DUI charges
A DUI/DWI conviction can have very serious, lifelong implications. Although laws vary from state to state, the criminal, civil and practical consequences are similar. A DUI first offense is usually classified as a misdemeanor and involves fines, possible jail time and/or sentencing alternatives such as community service, a driver's license restriction, and mandatory attendance at an alcohol and drug education program. If there are injuries or other aggravating factors involved, the defendant is likely to face felony charges (e.g., vehicular manslaughter). A DWI felony conviction usually means considerable jail time, monetary costs and long-lasting effects from a criminal record.
With so much at stake, it is vitally important to consult an attorney who will make sure your rights are protected during every step of the process. If the police did not follow the laws and procedures governing DUI stops and searches and seizures, your attorney may be able to get evidence suppressed or even get your case dismissed. Even if you were legally impaired, DUI attorneys may be able to arrange a plea bargain which may keep you out of jail and help you keep your job.
According to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately two-thirds of those arrested for DUI/DWI each year do not have previous DWI/DUI convictions. Prior convictions are one of several factors that determine whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and what the sentence and the long-term consequences of conviction might be. Other factors generally include:
- State laws
- Presence of a minor in the vehicle
- Level of impairment
- Severity of harm caused
- DWI/DUI in a school zone
If you have been convicted of a DWI/DUI offense, your attorney may be able to present mitigating factors to minimize your sentence. The sentencing judge may consider your job history, military service, medical and family hardships, character references and enrollment in drug and alcohol education and treatment.
Jail Time & Sentencing Alternatives
In most jurisdictions, first time offenders serve minimal if any jail time. However, in most states second offenses have a mandatory DUI jail term. Misdemeanors (usually first, second and third offenses without injury or other aggravating factors) generally carry a maximum of a year, while felony convictions generally require a minimum of one year of jail time and escalate based on the crime a life sentence is possible if someone is killed in a DWI/DUI related accident.
Sentencing alternatives may shorten or eliminate jail time and give the defendant an opportunity to keep his or her job. Some of the common sentencing alternatives include:
- House arrest
- Electronic monitoring
- Sober living environment
- Community service
- Work furlough
- Drug and alcohol counseling
You may wish to speak with a DWI/DUI attorney to learn about any applicable sentencing alternatives in your case.
DWI/DUI convictions also may mean additional penalties such as fines, license suspension, vehicle forfeiture and mandatory educational programs, even for first time offenders.
DWI/DUI Fines. Court-imposed fines and fees for first time offenders range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. For example, in New York, a first DUI offense is punishable with a fine between $500 and $1,000 or between $1,000 and $2,500 for an aggravated DUI charge (BAC over .18).* Keep in mind these estimates do not account for the cost of DUI bail. Also, fines escalate according to the severity of the charges.
Driver's License Suspension or Revocation. In almost every state your license is suspended immediately following a DUI arrest and/or refusal to submit to chemical testing. Convicted first time offenders generally lose their license for a period ranging anywhere from three months to one year. A driver's license may be revoked for many years or even permanently for more serious offenses. An attorney may be able to help you secure a restricted or hardship license, which may be conditional on participation in a drug and alcohol education program and/or other administrative programs.
Vehicle Forfeiture. Approximately half of all states confiscate your vehicle or license plates while you are under license suspension or revocation.
Ignition Interlock Device in Vehicle. An ignition interlock device (IID) analyzes a driver's breath and disables the ignition if the BAC registers above a pre-set limit. Twelve states currently mandate installation of an IID after any DWI/DUI conviction. In most other states there is judicial discretion. If your license has been suspended, you may be able to get a restricted license with the use of an IID.
DUI Education, Drug & Alcohol Treatment Programs. Many states have laws which require convicted DUI/DWI offenders complete an alcohol education program before their driving privileges can be reinstated. In some states, participation can reduce the license suspension period and/or be a sentencing alternative.
Criminal Record. Aside from jail time, fines and license suspensions, a criminal record can affect employment, credit and housing prospects, and may have other collateral consequences, including:
- Academic suspension or expulsion
- Loss of scholarships
- Denial or loss of professional and/or occupational licenses
- Loss of civil rights, including the right to vote
- Deportation or denial of citizenship for immigrants
- Social Stigma
- Increased Insurance Premiums (see sidebar)
- Suspension or termination of employment
It is important to discuss your concerns about collateral consequences with an experienced DWI/DUI attorney. Your attorney will examine all aspects of the case and fight to minimize or eliminate the charges and the consequences.
If you have been charged with DWI/DUI in connection with property damages, injury or death of another party, you may also find yourself the target of a civil suit for personal injury or wrongful death. There are several strategies a DWI/DUI attorney can employ to help protect you. An attorney will conduct a thorough accident investigation to determine the cause of the accident. If the plaintiff was partly responsible for the collision or assumed a risk (e.g., got in the car knowing the driver was intoxicated), there are several theories that can reduce or eliminate liability. In certain circumstances, your lawyer may negotiate an out-of-court settlement to eliminate the risk of a potentially large award and a substantial addition to overall DUI cost.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI/DWI offense, it is important to consult a DUI lawyer. With a proper defense strategy, jail time may be reduced and/or satisfied with sentencing alternatives that are beneficial to the defendant and to the community. When researching attorneys, it is important to note that a lower DUI lawyer cost may not be in your best interest.
* New York State Department of Motor Vehicles