If you are facing a felony or a misdemeanor DUI, here’s a guide to help you understand the legal definitions of these charges, and what they involve.
There is a lot of confusion about the differences. And you may simply be asking things like what is a felony? If you are facing a misdemeanor or felony DUI – or a loved one is – here is what you need to know.
The Felony Definition Is:
In broad terms, a felony is considered to be a severe crime. Felony sentences lead to imprisonment for one year or longer, USLegal.com reports. Murder, rape, and burglary are all considered serious offenses and harsh penalties come along with the felony title. Under state law, inmates serving time for felonious crimes are sent to state prisons. This is because sentences that are shorter than one year are carried out at county jails.
Felonies are usually classified by how serious they are. So, of course, the more worse the crime, the harsher the penalty. Felony classification is also by the jurisdiction where they happened. And, the kind of crime committed. In these instances, there are categories that rank the severity of the crime.
A Class A felony is punished more severely than a Class B felony or Class C felony. The statute of limitations regarding felonies varies according to jurisdiction.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is a criminal act that’s not as severe as a felony. As with the felony definition, misdemeanor laws vary from one jurisdiction to another. Misdemeanors include such acts as disturbing the peace and petty theft. They also include drunk driving that doesn’t result in injuries to others and public drunkenness. Other criminal acts in this category are simple assault and battery, and traffic violations. They are usually tried in local municipal or justice courts and punishments may include fines or incarceration in county jails.
Most commonly, they are considered Class 1 through Class 3, or Class A through Class C. As with felonies, Classes 1 or A are ranked as the most serious crimes and carry the strictest penalties. In some jurisdictions, there are “unclassified” misdemeanors — also called Class 4 or Class D misdemeanors. These are decided on a case-by-case basis, with a judge deciding what the punishment will be.
In some cases, a misdemeanor DUI or DWI can be elevated to felony status, depending upon these factors, according to VeryWellMind:
If the incident results in injuries or death.
In most states, if a driver injures or kills someone, felony charges will likely be filed. If you run a red light and hit another car while intoxicated and injure your passengers or people in the other car, there’s a good chance you’ll be charged with a felony. Felony charges aren’t as likely if someone rear ends you at a red light or stop sign and injures you or your passengers, even if you have been drinking.
If you’re breaking other laws or driving on a suspended license
Depending upon the jurisdiction, if you are arrested for DUI while also breaking other laws, your charges may be elevated to felony status. Or, if you’re driving on a suspended license and are arrested for an additional DUI, some states will elevate this to a felony. The same holds true if your license is restricted or revoked.
If you’re caught driving with an elevated Blood Alcohol Count (BAC)
In all 50 states, you’re considered to be driving impaired if your BAC content is .08 percent. Some states have a set BAC level which automatically triggers felony charges. This level is often around 0.16 percent. In other states, a higher BAC level can result in stricter punishment if you’re convicted of a misdemeanor DUI. VeryWellMind notes that the higher your BAC is, the harsher the punishment will be.
If you are driving DUI with kids in your vehicle
Many states have specific laws that raise this to a felony if there are children in the car. Depending upon the state, a passenger in your car may be classified as a child if they are in their teen years. As is the case in New York, where Leandra’s Law was enacted. They named it after a young girl who was killed while riding in a car being driven by the intoxicated mother of one of her friends. Under this law, a child is defined as being 15-years-old or younger.
If you’ve been previously convicted of a DUI
Again, this can vary from one state to the next. How many prior convictions — and in what period of time they happened — are used to elevate a misdemeanor to a felony.
What to expect if you’ve been charged with a felony or misdemeanor DUI
The video below explains some of the things you can expect if this is the first time you’ve been charged with a DUI.
Most states categorize a first-time DUI arrest as a misdemeanor, FreeAdviceLegal reports. If you are charged with a misdemeanor DUI, some form of sentencing or punishment will be mandatory. Which means that you need to understand that there are long-term consequences of a DUI conviction.
You may also face this:
While there’s a good chance you’ll be placed on probation if this is your first arrest, there’s also a good chance you’ll wind up serving time in the county jail because you’ve been put on probation. It all depends on the laws in your state because courts can order you to serve time if it’s deemed necessary. And your license will also be suspended for a period of time, even if this is your first DUI.
A DUI costs time and money
If you don’t have a DUI history, you may be able to apply for an occupational driver’s license or a hardship license, which would allow you to continue going to work or school. But costs for probation aren’t cheap either. You’ll be subject to court costs, probation fees, and urinalysis fees, and your monthly payment could be about the same as a car payment. You’ll also be expected to attend and complete drug and alcohol counseling and to spend some time doing community service.
There’s also an administrative element to keep in mind:
Some states, for instance, will automatically suspend your license if you refuse to take a breath test — before you are convicted.
The most important aspect of your first DUI is this: Even if you aren’t convicted, perhaps because you were placed on probation or your sentence was deferred, that sentence will remain on your record and can be used against you later. If you wind up with a second DUI charge later, your first sentence will be added to that. Stiffer penalties and a longer sentence will result.
What are the consequences if you’ve had more than one DUI offense?
Depending upon the state, if you’re slapped with another DUI, that conviction may be elevated to a felony. This can depend on where you are arrested. In New Mexico, your case won’t be elevated to felony status unless it’s your fourth DUI, while in Texas, your third DUI will garner felony charges.
How a felony or misdemeanor can affect employment and auto insurance rates:
Even if you only have one DUI conviction, it can affect either of these. Some employers run criminal history checks and may balk if a criminal record shows up. Some employers don’t hire individuals with DUI’s on their records and may view you as a safety risk. They may also worry that doing so will raise their insurance rates.
Your auto insurance rates will go up. If your DUI resulted in an accident, your insurance company may not cover the cost of your accident. Many insurance policies exclude coverage for damages that occurred during the commission of a DUI-related felony.
But you can break free
If you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor DUI or DWI, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. Your attorney can help you negotiate the legal system — and turn an unpleasant situation into one that’s much better.
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