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DUI Jail Time & Sentencing Alternatives

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A person convicted of a DUI crime faces the real possibility of a sentence that includes some jail time. Fortunately, judges often approve jail alternatives (e.g., drug and alcohol rehabilitation) to satisfy some, or all, of the jail sentence. Jail alternatives allow DUI offenders to address alcohol and/or drug addictions, maintain family and work commitments, and contribute positively to the community.

Sentencing Factors

Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers are designed to help addicts overcome problems with alcohol and/or drug abuse. Some of the key services rehabilitation centers can provide include:

  • Individual and group counseling (e.g., 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Detoxification and other healthcare
  • Alcohol and drug monitoring
  • Safe and sober living environment
  • Intake assessment and progress reports to the courts

If a DUI offender seeks treatment voluntarily in advance of the sentencing, the court tends to look favorably upon the defendant and credit time spent in rehab against the jail sentence. To learn more about the legal implications of attending alcohol and drug rehabilitation, speak to a DUI attorney.

Many jurisdictions have sentencing guidelines that leave judges some latitude when deciding how to punish a DUI offender. If you have been charged with DUI, you need a knowledgeable and skilled lawyer on your side who can work together with the judge and prosecutor to obtain the most favorable outcome for you.

DUI sentences vary depending on many factors, including the judge, the DUI laws of the state, the degree of harm and the seriousness of the offense. If you are convicted of DUI, the court will consider aggravating factors, which are factors that show the seriousness of the crime and/or show that the defendant is likely to reoffend. Examples of aggravating factors include:

  • Presence of child passengers
  • Speeding
  • Driving with a suspended, restricted or revoked license
  • Very high BAC
  • Prior DUI convictions
  • Refusal to submit to BAC testing

The court will also consider mitigating factors, which are factors that show the crime was less serious and/or that the defendant is not likely to reoffend. Examples of mitigating factors include:

  • First offense
  • Safe driving record
  • Voluntary participation in a drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation program (see sidebar)
  • Lower BAC (usually .08 or .09)
  • Impairment caused or exacerbated by lawfully prescribed medication
  • Evidence of good character and employment
  • Evidence of hardship
  • Any other factors that mitigate the seriousness of the offense


To discuss how sentencing factors might affect your case, speak to a DUI attorney.

Jail Time

In most jurisdictions, alcohol related offenses are classified as violations, misdemeanors or felonies. The type and severity of the DUI crime greatly impacts whether and how much jail time will be imposed if you are convicted.

Civil Violations. If you are cited for violating a civil DUI law, you face the possibility of an administrative license suspension (ALS) and fines. However, civil laws are not crimes and therefore do not involve jail time.

Misdemeanor DUI Crimes. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes — the maximum jail sentence is usually one year. DWI/DUI crimes that do not involve injury or other aggravating factors are ordinarily treated as misdemeanors. Little (e.g., 48 hours) if any jail time is ordered for a DUI first offense. However, for DWI repeat charges and DUI crimes with enhanced penalties, a defendant is likely to receive a sentence that includes jail time.

Felony DUI Crimes. The most serious crimes are felonies. Multiple DUIs (fourth offense, possibly less when occurring within a short period of time), DUI crimes involving serious injury or property damage and DUI crimes with other aggravating factors are typically classified as felonies. A person convicted of a felony should expect a jail sentence of one year or more, or even life in prison for the most serious violent crimes.

Skilled DUI lawyers are often able to negotiate a plea arrangement that can reduce a felony down to a misdemeanor and/or to a non-DUI crime, which can reduce the likelihood that the accused will serve time.

Sentencing Alternatives


Probation means the court has suspended all or part of the sentence during which time the defendant complies with certain terms and conditions such as:

  • Not committing another crime
  • Submitting to random drug and alcohol screening
  • Observing curfew
  • Mandatory installation of ignition interlock device on all vehicles
  • Completion of alcohol and drug education
  • Completion of alcohol and drug rehabilitation
  • Performing community service
  • Payment of fines and restitution to victims
  • Checking in with probation officer

If the conditions of probation are not met, probation will be revoked and the defendant will be sent to jail. A DUI attorney can tell you more about whether you might be a good candidate for probation.

While jail is primarily punitive in nature, jail alternatives are more rehabilitative. The prevalence of repeat DUI offenders combined with overcrowded prison systems has increased the use of jail alternatives rather than placing someone in prison.

Jail alternatives are especially useful for non-violent offenders who don't pose a threat to the community. One of the most common sentencing alternatives to jail time is probation (see sidebar), particularly for first and second offenders. Other jail alternatives include:

DUI Classes. These courses usually focus on DUI prevention and education, and are mandatory in many states. To learn more read our article on DUI classes.

Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation. Voluntary or court ordered rehabilitation (e.g., DUI classes) is useful for DUI offenders who have problems with alcohol and/or drug addiction (see sidebar).

Sober Living Environment. These private facilities provide a sober, supportive environment for DUI offenders. Residents participate in individual and group counseling, perform house chores and observe curfews.

House Arrest/Electronic Monitoring. The participant wears an electronic monitoring device at all times. The participant may be allowed to go to work, school, religious centers and other approved locations but otherwise stays home.

Weekend/Private Jail. As the name implies, some jurisdictions allow offenders to serve time on the weekends (instead of consecutively) but live at home and go to work during the week.

Work Release. Work release programs allow a DUI offender to go to work every day, but he or she must return to jail (usually a dormitory style facility) to sleep each night.

Work Furlough. Work furlough participants are assigned a job site to report to each day and may sleep at home each night — but cannot go anywhere else except to attend alcohol or drug treatment.

Community Service. The defendant is required to perform a certain number of hours of volunteer (unpaid) service in the community — usually for the government or a non-profit organization (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, YMCA).

If you have a substance abuse problem, a skilled DUI attorney may be able to persuade the court that the best solution is rehabilitation rather than jail.

DUI Lawyers

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.