While the laws regarding driving under the influence of intoxicants vary from state to state, cases of driving or operating vehicles while intoxicated are considered either a misdemeanor or a felony. In many cases, charges of driving any motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater will result in a misdemeanor. However, other factors in the incident, such as personal or property damage, often will turn the charges into a far more serious felony DUI.
The majority of drunk driving cases do not involve accident or injury and usually result in a misdemeanor charge, which carries penalties that are less serious than a felony DUI charge. Charges are almost always escalated from a misdemeanor to a felony when the driver has caused serious bodily harm to one or more individuals or damaged personal property. Charges are also enhanced if the driver is a repeat offender within a given period of time, usually seven years. Charges may also be escalated at the discretion of the presiding judge.
The main difference between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction is in the sentence severity and duration. Most drivers convicted of a misdemeanor DUI can expect consequences like driver’s license suspension, fines, a short stay in county jail or a combination of these penalties. In contrast, a felony DUI conviction often carries a considerably heavier sentence and may include a sentence to be served in prison.
While any criminal charge is serious, misdemeanor DUI offenses generally do not lead to harsh penalties. However, even misdemeanor convictions lead to a criminal record. In some states, even if the person accused of DUI was acquitted, the charges will remain on their driving record permanently. If you are arrested for DUI, it’s important to contact a DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. A defense lawyer will know the laws of your state and help you contest the charges.