In most cases, a felony DUI is the kind of charge only repeat drunk/drugged driving offenders face. This traffic offense is usually considered a misdemeanor, but if the whole felony vs misdemeanor debate has gotten you confused until now, allow us to explain.
People will get scared when confronted with serious-sounding words like ‘felony’ and ‘misdemeanor’. The difference between them stems from the type and duration of the punishment for the crime. To illustrate:
- If you’re found guilty of a misdemeanor, you might have to spend time in the local/county jail for up to one year.
- A felony usually entails a sentence upwards of one year, in a higher security state prison.
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We’ve previously offered you the answer to the question, ‘Is a DUI a felony in CA?’ This time around, we take a closer look at DUI felony laws in all states. Yet, by and large, the same principle applies in most of the U.S., when it comes to driving under the influence and felonies:
DUI charges can be enhanced to entail longer, harsher sentences. In certain special cases, those enhanced charges will make a DUI offense be regarded as a felony.
When is DUI a felony? State by state laws:
As of this writing, 46 U.S. states have laws that specify convictions under felony DUI legislation. And, in most states, repeat driving under the influence charges will have the offense be considered a felony. The following chart is a breakdown of state laws and terms in this respect.
Aside from issues of timespan, some states also enforce special provisions, as follows:
- In Delaware, 3rd and subsequent offenses are class G felonies.
- In Florida, 3rd and subsequent offenses within 10 years are 3rd degree felonies.
- In Hawaii and Oregon, 4th and subsequent offenses are class C felonies.
- In Illinois, 3rd and subsequent offenses are class 4 felonies.
- In Indiana, a second offense within 5 years is a class D felony.
- In Iowa and Missouri, 3rd and subsequent offenses are class D felonies.
- In Kansas, 3rd and subsequent offenses are non-person felonies.
- In Kentucky, 4th and subsequent offenses are class D felonies.
- In Minnesota, the second offense is a felony, but this depends on the circumstances of the case.
- In Nebraska, 4th and subsequent offenses in 12 years are IV felonies.
- In New Hampshire, 4th and subsequent non-injury DUIs are felonies.
- In New York, 2nd and subsequent offenses in 10 years are class E felonies.
- In North Carolina, 4th and subsequent offenses are class F felonies.
- In North Carolina, 4th and subsequent offenses in 7 years are class C felonies.
- In Ohio, 4th and subsequent offenses within 6 years are 4th degree felonies.
- In South Carolina, 4th and subsequent offenses within 10 years are class F felonies.
- In South Dakota, 3rd and subsequent offenses within 5 years are class 6 felonies.
- In Tennessee, 4th and subsequent offenses in 10 years are class E felonies.
- In Texas, 3rd and subsequent offenses are 3rd degree felonies.
- In Utah, 3rd and subsequent offenses within 10 years are 3rd degree felonies.
- In Virginia, 3rd and subsequent offenses within 10 years are class 6 felonies.
- In Wisconsin, 4th and subsequent offenses in 5 years are class H felonies.
Aside from these great differences in felony classification and time specifications, statistic cited by MADD explain that those found guilty of DUI charges tend to repeat the offense. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some 30% of first offenders will repeat their mistakes.
What other factors can turn a DUI offense into a felony?
Aside from repeat offenders, here are the DUI defendants who are liable of coming to be regarded as felons:
- DUI defendants who kill or injure someone. This principle applies to the laws in the majority of states. In some, the seriousness of the injuries will determine whether or not a driver under the influence is charged with a felony. ‘Grave bodily injury’ is reason enough for felony charges in many places around the U.S.. And, in most of them, vehicular manslaughter, i.e. killing someone while driving under the influence will bring about felony charges.
- DUI defendants who are arrested for breaking other laws at the same time. This can mean any number of things, such as:
- Driving under the influence, while your driver’s license is suspended;
- DUIs committed while your driving privileges have been restricted (e.g.: if you’re pulled over for drunken driving after you’ve been previously ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle);
- Drunk driving while on probation for another type of crime;
- Driving under the influence in a situation where this endangers the life of a child;
- Drunk/drugged driving and causing a felony hit and run.
How much time do convicted DUI felons spend in prison?
Most convicted DUI felons don’t actually serve jail time—or, at the very least, they don’t serve much of it, after all is said and done. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analyzed 161 cases of convicted DUI felons, spanning from 1999 to 2006.
The findings of the study revealed that 43% of those found guilty (i.e. 70 out of 161) served time in prison, averaging at an 18 month sentence. Of these convicts, 17 went to boot camp and/or treatment to reduce their sentence. One defendant petitioned for early release and won.
71 of the drivers analyzed received probation. Of these, 70 served 3 to 12 months in a state facility, but about 50% got out on work release. Of the remainder, 20 were sentenced to jail, but 11 of these 20 also received work release.