In every state, driving under the influence (DUI), also called driving while intoxicated (DWI) in some states, is a criminal offense, meaning you can be placed under arrest and face charges in court. Whether those charges are misdemeanors or felonies depends on a number of factors. In all states, a first-time offense is a misdemeanor while felony charges can result from second and subsequent offenses. Also considered is your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest, whether or not you caused an accident and if any injuries or property damage resulted from that accident.
A misdemeanor is a lesser charge, which can carry a sentence of up to a year in the county jail, license suspension, fines and community service, depending on your state. In most states, a misdemeanor will only be recorded on your public record for 10 years from the date of the offense. A felony charge is more serious. In this case, you could face a sentence of a year or more in the state prison along with fines and license suspension. In addition, felonies remain permanently on your public record, meaning they are accessible to anyone who might do a background check, such as a potential employer or landlord. In most cases, it is up to the prosecuting attorney in the county you are charged to decide if you will face a misdemeanor or felony for a first offense. Some states also allow this discretion for a second offense, but nearly all states require that you face felony charges if you are charged a third time.
Being charged with DUI/DWI is a serious matter. You should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney, and it’s best to choose an attorney with experience in dealing with DUI/DWI cases in the state where you are charged. Every state has different rules and standards, so it is important to have legal assistance from someone who is familiar with the laws in that state. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, a lawyer may be able to work out a plea deal for you that could result in a lesser penalty or even having the charges reduced.
You should contact an attorney as soon as possible after you are released from jail. The sooner an attorney can begin working on your case, the easier it may be to create a desirable result. The one thing you should not try to do is handle any DUI case, even a first offense, on your own. An experienced attorney will be more capable of doing all that is possible to limit the damage of these charges and help you get back to a normal life.