Is a DUI a Felony?
Most DUIs are misdemeanors in every state, since over 85% are first offenders. However, when certain aggravating factors exist in a DUI case (i.e., you injure or kill another person), even a first offense DUI-DWI can be a felony offense, with all the enhanced DUI penalties (e.g., being required to use an ignition interlock device) under state drunk driving laws. Plus, in some states (like Arizona or Indiana) state laws may call for certain motorists to be facing felony charges if the blood alcohol content is at an extremely high BAC level. Those felony DUI punishments range from total loss of the right to drive to state prison time.
Information from an experienced DUI attorney who is a specialist about “when is a DUI a felony” can help assuage your fears and trepidations about the impact of your DUI offense, if convicted. Hanging in the balance can be a felony criminal record for life, related job impact, loss of family income, and your driving privileges restricted, suspended or revoked, depending on state laws on DWI-DUI.
DUI: Is It a Felony?
As mentioned above, State lawmakers decide how all crimes (including driving while impaired) will be punished, DUI felony or misdemeanor. In most states, driving under the influence laws call for a 3rd or fourth DUI offense to be felony DUI charges. Some states (e.g., Michigan) have OWI laws that make the time period unlimited, meaning offenses at any point in time for the driver’s lifetime. For Michigan, a 3rd DUI in your lifetime is a DUI felony.
Other states like Alabama, Georgia, California and Florida utilize a 10-year look back period for determining who can be indicted for felony drunk driving, simply based on repeat DUI convictions for a motorist. A smaller number of states use a 5-year or 7-year look back, and 10 years is the most common in counting the current drunk driving offense. Plus, be aware that a drunk driving charge from another state will be counted, unless your DUI lawyer can convince your court that the other state’s OUI law is substantially different in its “elements” than the driver’s state laws.
DUI Child Endangerment: Children in the Vehicle
All but a small handful of states have drunk driving laws (usually called “child endangerment DUI”) that are in place to deter motor vehicle operators from driving with a child or children in the vehicle. In a few states, the 1st offense DUI driver with one child as his or her passenger escalates the case to a felony. Other states, like for DUI Georgia, counts each child passenger as a NEW and separate OMVI charge, so that three children under age 14 as passengers creates the potential for 4 DUIs in one driving episode. So, the driver would have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th DUI in one case, with all driver license suspensions and jail time potentially being stacked, end to end.
Serious Bodily Injury Due to a DUI-DWI
Almost every state has laws that distinguish DUI misdemeanor or felony when an accident with another vehicle or pedestrian by an intoxicated driver is accused. OVI felonies can be for a DUI first offense, or any other repeat offender. Laws on DUI usually say that scarring, burns, sutures (stitches), broken bones, traumatic brain injury, or loss of use of an appendage (finger) or limb, would qualify as a DUI-DWI felony.
Different states define what types of serious bodily injuries will be deemed “serious,” but common categories are broken bones, scarring from burns of other causes, organic brain injury, loss of sight in one or both eyes, sutures (stitches from being sewn up), or loss of use of an arm, leg, toe, finger or other appendage.
So, if such injuries occurred to a pedestrian, a passenger in the accused driver’s vehicle, or to any other operator of any vehicle or passenger of any type of vehicle (bicycle, motorcycle, scooter, skateboard), the accused driver can expect to be charged with a DUI felony if his or her impaired driving caused bodily injuries or one or more deaths.
Death to Another Person From Driving Intoxicated or Drugged
When a drunk driver or drugged driver has caused the death of another person, it’s almost always prosecuted as a felony. These cases are named differently in various states, but are commonly called homicide by vehicle (vehicular homicide), vehicular manslaughter, or even for second-degree murder in California, North Carolina or Alabama.
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