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When does a DUI Become a Felony?

Driving after you have been drinking is never a good idea. Doing it on a regular basis and getting caught more than once can land you in serious trouble.

Anytime you get caught driving under the influence you risk being charged with a criminal offense and could lose your right to drive.

Normally, a DUI charge is classified as a misdemeanor, and you can be assessed a fine and possibly be sent to a county jail for as long as a year — but usually it is less time. In some instances, however, a DUI may turn into a felony charge, and with that comes the very real possibility of a long prison sentence.

When does a DUI become a felony?

  • If because of your DUI, someone died, you could be charged with vehicular homicide, which is a felony. You could also be charged with manslaughter or even murder.  Even if the other person did not die but was injured, you could face criminal charges.
  • If your blood alcohol content was extremely high, in most states more than twice the legal limit, the charge may be aggravated or extreme DUI. Depending on the state, this could be considered a felony charge.
  • Do you have prior DUI convictions? If so, this one may automatically be charged as a felony. Each state is different and some will consider the length of time between charges. Even if you have had the previous DUI convictions expunged, they may still count in the eyes of the law. When charges are expunged, the records are sealed as far as employers, lenders, credit card institutions, colleges or anyone else performing a background check.
  • If you get stopped for DUI and it is found that you are driving on a revoked or suspended license, that DUI could turn into a felony offense.
  • Don’t even think about driving under the influence with children in the car. This can lead to child endangerment charges in addition to the felony DUI charge.

What are the penalties for a felony DUI conviction?

The penalties for DUI can be severe, from significant fines to long prison sentences. The courts can, however, use some discretion when deciding the penalties to pronounce so every case can potentially have different results. Here are some common sentences:

  • Fines of even $10,000 or more may be imposed by the court.
  • Prison terms of seven years or more may be possible for a felony DUI convictions
  • The court may choose probation as part or all of the sentence. Your freedom will be limited and there will be several conditions that cannot be violated. This option may include counseling for drug and alcohol abuse, staying away from locations where there alcohol is being served, staying employed, and taking drug and alcohol test randomly given by your probation officer. You will also be expected to not committing any more criminal offenses or DUIs.
  • You may lose your ability to drive. Driving is not a right and can be taken away by the state. This is considered an administrative penalty. Your license may be suspended for 90 days or in some states, years depending on the conditions of your case.

If you are facing felony DUI charges, contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can to get advice about how to handle your case.


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