DUI laws in the United States are not only severe, but also different according to each state. However, almost all states agree on one thing: DUI is a criminal offense. Unlike a minor traffic violation (as it is considered in New Jersey and Wisconsin) that doesn’t have the same consequences, getting a DUI on the territory of almost every other state in the U.S. comes with a lot of strings attached. Today, we are going to go more in depth into answering the question: is a DUI a criminal offense? Moreover, we are going to look at what kind of penalties you should expect as a result of a DUI.
Is a DUI a Criminal Offense?
We’ve already established that the answer to the question “is a DUI a criminal offense?” is yes. That is why, apart from administrative penalties such as getting your license suspended, you also get some penalties that are under criminal law. These are: parole, paying fines, and going to prison. You will also get a criminal record, that you may or may not manage to clear at some point in the future.
However, we should take a look at what constitutes a criminal offense and how the states regard it. For most states, there are two types of criminal offenses: a misdemeanor and a felony. Usually, a misdemeanor is not such a serious offense, and it includes things such as theft. A felony is a much more serious offense. It includes people who kidnap, murder, or rape.
DUI as Misdemeanor
What about DUIs? Where are they situated? Well, in most cases, a DUI is considered a misdemeanor, if this is the driver’s first time getting sentenced with a DUI. In some states, if enough time has passed between offenses, even your second or third DUI can still be considered just a misdemeanor. If this is the case, you only have to spend up to 1 year in prison.
DUI as Felony
There are circumstances that can lead to a DUI being considered a felony, or a misdemeanor turning into a felony. We are going to discuss these in a moment. But before we do that, let’s have a look at what it means to get a DUI as felony. For instance, one difference would be that you risk spending more than one year in jail. Furthermore, the fines will also be more substantial, and the time you will have to spend without a driver’s license will increase as well.
How Does a Misdemeanor DUI Turn into a Felony DUI?
Whether the DUI is considered a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the laws of the state where you were caught drunk driving. For instance, in one state you could get sentenced with a misdemeanor DUI, while in another state but under the same circumstances, you will qualify for a felony DUI. However, there are some general guidelines that usually turn a misdemeanor into a felony and which we can apply to almost every state in the U.S. They are called aggravating circumstances or aggravating factors.
Blood Alcohol Concentration Level
In most states in the U.S., the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.08% if you are 21 years old or older. In some cases, you can get a felony DUI if your BAC is unusually high at the moment of the arrest. For instance, if the police officer finds your BAC to be of 0.16%, you will most likely get sentenced with a felony DUI instead of a misdemeanor DUI.
You or Someone Else Gets Injured
If you get into an accident while drunk driving, but you don’t hurt yourself or other people, you might still get away with a misdemeanor DUI. However, if you injure yourself, other passengers, or people on the road, this is definitely enough for a felony DUI.
This Is Not Your First DUI
If this is the first time you were drunk driving, then you might be lucky enough to only get a misdemeanor DUI. However, if this is already your second (or more) offense, you run the risk of getting sentenced with a felony DUI. This depends a lot on the state where you were driving, since some of them have a lookback period of 7 years, while other have one of 10 years.
There Is a Child in the Vehicle
If at the moment when you were drunk driving, there was also a child with you in the car, then most states will find you guilty of a felony DUI right away. Usually, in the case of a DUI offense, a child refers to anyone under the age of 16.
Your License Is Suspended
Naturally, if your license is suspended, you shouldn’t be caught driving. However, if you don’t have a driver’s license and you are also caught drunk driving, the chances of you getting a felony DUI instead of a misdemeanor DUI are pretty high.
If you are sentenced with a felony DUI, there are several penalties that you should expect. Probably the most important one is the time you will have to spend in jail. In this respect, DUI laws are quite strict, and you risk getting sentenced to as much as 7 years in prison, depending on the severity of the offense. Then, you will also have to pay fines. The amount also differs, but sometimes you can end up paying up to $10.000. Finally, you might also have to spend some time under probation, go through alcohol education programs, and lose your driving privileges indeterminately.
What Happens When There Is Serious Injury?
Some DUI cases often end with one or more people being severely injured, or even killed. If this happens, every state in the U.S will charge the guilty person with all or some of the following things: vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligence, vehicular homicide, or assault with a deadly weapon.
Summing up Everything
The main thing you should take from today’s guide is that the answer to the question “is a DUI a criminal offense?” is yes. Almost all states in the U.S. consider a DUI a criminal offense, be it taken as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If the penalties in the case of a misdemeanor DUI are less severe, you should pay attention to those aggravating circumstances that could turn your conviction into a felony. Other than that, we advise everyone to keep themselves and others safe by not drinking and then driving, no matter the state in which they are.