One of the critical questions that arise in the case of a DUI is whether it is considered a misdemeanor or a felony.
Every crime is classified based on its severity. Crimes classified as misdemeanors are typically considered less serious than those classified as felonies are. As a result, associated punishments are not usually as severe. Many people are surprised to learn that being charged driving under the influence labels an individual a criminal and even more surprised to learn that a DUI may be a felony.
Misdemeanor vs. felony
Both misdemeanors and felonies include crimes committed against property, people, or the state. The difference lies in the severity of the crime and what is considered severe may vary by country or even state. Since felonies are considered more severe, associated punishments typically involve steeper fines, longer periods in jail, or both. Punishments for misdemeanors often include rehabilitation, community service, or other alternatives to time in jail.
Factors that Determine the Classification of a DUI
Whether a DUI is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on several factors, including:
- The blood alcohol content (BAC) level at the time of arrest
- The number of prior DUI convictions
- Whether the individual was involved in a crash or caused injury to another person
- The state laws where the offense took place
First-Time DUI as a Misdemeanor
In most states, a first-time DUI is considered a misdemeanor. In these cases, the individual may face penalties such as:
- Jail time of up to a year
- Fines ranging from $500 to $2,000
- A license suspension for a period of time
- Mandatory alcohol education or treatment programs
- Community service
First-Time DUI as a Felony
In some states, a first-time DUI can be considered a felony under certain circumstances, such as:
- If the individual had a BAC level that was significantly above the legal limit
- If the individual was involved in a crash that resulted in serious injury or death to another person
- If the individual was driving on a suspended or revoked license
An individual who is drunk in public and acting unacceptably may be charged with public intoxication, which is a misdemeanor. Driving under the influence, or DUI, is a crime in every state in the U.S. and is considered one of the most serious driving offenses. Despite this, first-time DUI offenses are usually classified as misdemeanors, rendering punishments less severe.
As with many areas of the law, there are exceptions. Particular circumstances will elevate even a first-time DUI to felony status, increasing the severity of the potential punishment. Some states classify drivers whose blood-alcohol content is at least 0.08 percent as felony DUI offenders. If an individual driving under the influence of any amount of alcohol injures or kills someone, a felony charge may be leveled.
What To Do
After being arrested for DUI, use DUIRights.com to be matched with an experienced DUI lawyer in your state. Complete the online form requesting a free DUI arrest evaluation and an experienced lawyer will be in touch promptly. After reviewing the case, this attorney will explain whether a misdemeanor or felony DUI charge has been made and will discuss the potential consequences.
If there is a possibility of beating a DUI charge, particularly if a felony charge has been leveled, it is wise to plead not guilty. Work with the DUI lawyer to build a strong defense that will put reasonable doubt into the minds of the jury. Exercising your rights to a fair trial and bringing to light errors made during the DUI arrest is the best way to prevent a DUI charge from tarnishing your record.
DUIRights Support is comprised of legal writers and attorneys who are able to generate useful information about issues relating to DUI. Please use all information at your own discretion and never use the information as legal advice without consulting with an attorney.