Every U.S. state as well as Washington D.C. outlaw driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. People who are arrested for this offense face any number of legal and monetary consequences, all of which are designed to deter drivers from re-offending.
However, the severity of the punishment that you might receive for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance depends on the nature in which the DUI charge is prosecuted in court. You can act in your own defense by understanding When is a DUI a felony and when is it a misdemeanor in the eyes of the law.
Misdemeanor versus Felony DUI Charges
Federal law mandates that all 50 states plus the District of Columbia set the legal blood alcohol content, or BAC, below 0.08 percent. Motorists whose BACs are below this limit are not considered to be inebriated and thus will not be arrested on a DWI charge.
If your BAC is over that limit, however, the law will deem that you are riving while intoxicated and thus should be subjected to any number of field sobriety tests. Depending on how well you perform on these tests, you could be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony DUI charges.
However, you may ask yourself When is a DUI a felony and when is it considered to be a misdemeanor in the state in which you live or were arrested? Is A DUI A Felony just because the law enforcement officer says it is or is there another standard by which states must adhere?
As mentioned, most states will charge you with a misdemeanor unless certain criteria apply to your offense. You should learn what these criteria are so that you can avoid felony DUI charges.
Felony DUI Charge Criteria
Under what circumstances Is a DUI a felony and when is it a misdemeanor? You could face felony charges for riving while intoxicated if you commit any of other offenses along with your DUI.
BAC of 0.16 Percent or Higher
Depending on the state in which you live or were pulled over, you could face a felony DUI charge if your BAC is 0.16 percent or higher at the time of your arrest. Many states will charge you with a felony if your blood alcohol content is at least twice if not higher than the standard per se BAC of 0.08 percent.
If your BAC is less than twice the legal limit, however, you might be charged with a misdemeanor. To avoid any DWI charge, your BAC must be below that 0.08 percent limit.
You could be charged with felony driving while drunk or high if you inflict bodily harm on someone. Whether it be a passenger in your car, a pedestrian, or another motorist on the roadway, if you harm a person while you are driving while intoxicated, you could face felony charges in court.
To be charged with a felony DWI, you must be the person at fault for the bodily harm, however. If another motorist runs into your car despite the fact that you are drunk, the other motorist will be the one getting ticketed and possibly arrested. You, in turn, will more than likely be arrested for misdemeanor DUI.
It goes without saying that if you kill anyone during the commission of your DUI, you will face felony charges as well as other charges like vehicular manslaughter or homicide. The judge will not allow you to get away with only being charged with a misdemeanor if someone dies because of your DUI.
Prior DUI Convictions
You could be charged with a felony if you have prior DWI charges and convictions on your driving and criminal record. Many judges are rather lenient with first-time offenders as long as they have not inflicted bodily harm. First-time DUI offenders typically get off with a light sentence, community service, or a modest fine.
However, judges are not quite as understanding if these offenders go on to recommit the same crime again. If you have prior convictions on your record, chances are that you will face felony charges rather than misdemeanor once you go before the judge.
Those felony charges could be levied as soon as your second DUI. Likewise, the punishment you face could be more severe and include a lengthier stint in jail, a steeper fine, and perhaps even your driver’s license being revoked or suspended.
Children in the Car
Law enforcement and judges also have little patience for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle with them. You not only put your life and the lives of other motorists and pedestrians at risk as you drive drunk. You also jeopardize the lives of children who look to you for their safety and well-being.
As such, even if it is your first DUI, you will likely be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The felony charge will result in you being punished with a heavy fine, 30 days or longer in county or city jail, and perhaps a suspension or revocation of your license to drive.
Driving on a Restricted, Suspended, or Revoked License
Finally, you will probably be charged with a felony DUI if you are arrested for this offense while driving on a license that has been restricted, suspended, or revoked. The court already implemented one of these license punishments because you already broke the law while driving. Adding another offense to those punishments will not endear you to the police nor the judge and likely result in you being charged with a felony.
When you are charged with a felony DWI, your future is in jeopardy of being negatively impacted for at least a month if not longer. When you want to avoid the harshest penalties and figure out how to move on with your life after the judge decides your case, you need a skilled DUI lawyer to help you build a defense case to take to court.
Why Hire a DUI Lawyer
Why should you get a DUI lawyer on retainer? Simply put, you stand little chance of winning your case if you represent yourself in court. Any of these circumstances put you at a disadvantage before a judge or jury who may be more concerned with the danger that you put yourself and others in while you were driving under the influence.
A lawyer can build a defense that could help you avoid harsh sentences and possibly even get the charges against you reduced or dropped. Before you go to court, you need to get a skilled lawyer on retainer so that you have someone ready to advocate for you during the legal action that could be difficult to endure at best.
How can you find a DUI lawyer ready to take your case? You should start by asking people you know for a referral or going online to read reviews of local DUI attorneys. By law, you must be given the chance to hire a DUI lawyer to represent you before you go to court. If you cannot afford to hire one, you are entitled to have one appointed for you.
Every state plus the District of Columbia have DUI laws on the books that categorize this crime as either a misdemeanor or felony. People who are charged with felony DWI often face the harshest and lengthiest of penalties that could range from a jail sentence to a revoked license.
Because your very future could be at stake, it is important that you know what circumstances elevate a DUI from a misdemeanor to felony status. You also should recognize why it is crucial that you do not go to court without a skilled and assertive DWI attorney by your side. A good DWI lawyer could help you protect your future and avoid the worst felony DUI punishments.