If you have been charged with a DUI felony, it is important that you speak with a DUI attorney as soon as possible
A person arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be charged with either a misdemeanor DUI or a felony DUI. In some instances the sentence may even be reduced to an infraction such as a "wet and reckless." If you have been arrested for DUI, it is unlikely you're drunk driving charges will result in a felony unless there are aggravating factors such as previous DUI felony arrests (or DUI misdemeanor arrests).
Those facing felony DUI charges can expect higher fines, suspension of their driver's license and other stiff penalties. The consequences of DUI arrest are particularly severe for offenders who caused an accident and/or harmed someone in that accident. With this in mind, it is extremely important that you contact a DUI lawyer if you have been the subject of a DUI felony arrest. An experienced lawyer will be able to identify the issues that need to be addressed in order to provide you with a solid defense.
Felonies are crimes that are considered to be particularly serious. This can include a crime committed by a repeat offender for drunk driving which would have been considered a misdemeanor were it not for prior offenses. Many DUI felony charges fall into this category.
Because driving under the influence is a very common offense with potentially lethal consequences, over the years states have gradually resorted to harsher penalties and charges for repeat DUI offenders. In some states this means that a DUI second offense requires a mandatory jail sentence. In others, so-called "habitual violator" laws require prosecutors and judges to charge repeat offenders with felony DUI.
Infractions and misdemeanors are criminal offenses that are considered less serious than felonies. DUI infractions are usually reserved for first time DWI committed by someone without a prior record. Misdemeanor DUIs are also typically reserved for cases in which aggravating factors are not present, but in some cases repeat offenders can still be charged with a misdemeanor rather than with a felony.
Several issues will be taken into consideration by the court in deciding whether you will face DUI felony charges, including prior offenses, aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors are things the court weighs against the defendant. Depending on the jurisdiction and the specifics of the case, they may include any of the following:
- Minor in the vehicle
- DUI in a school zone
- Arrests involving a DUI that caused an accident
- Accidents that cause harm to another party
- Degree of harm caused by the accident
- State laws
- Refusing to submit to a breath test
Any number of mitigating factors those weighing in favor of the defendant may help discourage the court from imposing felony DUI charges, including:
- Willingness to attend DUI prevention classes and alcohol/drug treatment programs
- Military service
- Clean criminal record
- Character references
The degree to which all of these factors will be considered by the court may depend on the skill of your DUI attorney and his or her ability to argue on your behalf. As a result, it is imperative that you locate a qualified attorney.
The sentence a DUI offender receives depends largely on whether he or she is convicted of misdemeanor DUI or DUI felony charges. While any DUI conviction can have unpleasant consequences, the difference in terms of penalties between a misdemeanor DUI and a felony DUI arrest can be significant.
Those convicted of DUI felony usually receive one or more of the following penalties:
- Jail time
- Increased fines for DUI arrest (Evaluate the DUI bail procedure)
- License suspension
- Longer DUI courses
- Car impound
- Ignition interlock
- Community service
Some states have laws designed for "habitual offenders" (often defined as third-time offenders), and these laws carry harsher penalties. Habitual offenders who cause harm to others while driving under the influence are dealt with particularly severely; beyond aggravated DUI, which itself carries serious consequences, courts have been known to charge such offenders with vehicular manslaughter or even vehicular homicide.
Importantly, felony convictions usually come with a mandatory jail term of at least a year, and this figure can increase depending on the gravity of the crime.
A DUI felony conviction can have a lasting impact on your life. Being convicted of any felony, DUI or otherwise, means a criminal record, which can affect your ability to get a job, your right to vote and other areas of your life.
However, not everyone charged with a DUI is convicted. If your rights were violated at any stage of the felony DUI arrest process, for example, the charges may be reduced or dismissed. This and other DUI defenses can mean the difference between a relatively light sentence and a lengthier DUI sentencing. With so much on the line it is very important that you hire an experienced DUI lawyer.
As a result of lobbying by MADD and other victims' groups, repeat offenders are far more likely to be charged with felony DUI.