Charges for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, also known as DUI or DWI, respectively, can either be misdemeanor or felony charges. There are several factors that determine what level the charges someone faces are, the most common of which are the circumstances surrounding the charges and whether someone has been convicted of a DUI or DWI before. Naturally, felony DUI charges generally carry penalties that are more severe than misdemeanor charges; however, most DUI charges are considered misdemeanors.
The most common factors aside from a previous conviction that go into determining the level of a DUI charge are the accused person’s blood alcohol concentration and whether someone else was injured due to the actions of the driver. In some cases, having a BAC of more than two times the legal limit, which is 0.08, can turn a misdemeanor DUI into a felony DUI. Additionally, if an intoxicated driver caused an accident that resulted in property damage or harm to an individual, the charges may be elevated and are sometimes referred to as “aggravated DUI.”
Just because someone has been convicted of a DUI before does not mean that the next time he or she is cited, he or she will automatically face felony DUI charges. In some states, it takes three, four or even more convictions for a DUI to become a felony charge.
If someone is convicted, the penalties for a misdemeanor DUI can include jail time, suspension of the person’s driver’s license, probation and fines. For a felony, the same penalties apply, but they may include a prison sentence of a year or more.
Understanding the charges someone faces, whether it is a felony or misdemeanor, as well as possible penalties is important when determining how to deal with them. An attorney may be able to explain an individual’s situation and options as well as help the person decide if the best route is to plead not guilty or to attempt to arrange a plea bargain. With a plea bargain, people may be able to reduce the charges they face and even expunge them from their record.