Although each state carries a different set of specific laws, in most areas driving under the influence is dictated by a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher. If you are found behind the wheel under these conditions, you can expect to face DUI charges. The court system determines the severity of those charges and extent of your punishment based on a number of factors.
Misdemeanor DUI is Reserved for Lesser Offenses
Most DUI offenders can expect to face misdemeanor charges. First, second and third offenses are almost always prosecuted under this lesser charge, and in many cases even later offenses will be charged with misdemeanors. There is no hard and fast rule regarding what sort of punishment you will receive for a misdemeanor DUI offense. The specifics will be based on the laws in the area where the offense occurred, and technology as well as law enforcement crackdowns on certain crimes cause these penalties to change on a somewhat regular basis.
In general, however, misdemeanor DUI is a lesser offense. Of course, the term lesser is comparative.
In Florida you may face only a fine of less than $1000. In contrast, those convicted of misdemeanor DUI in California could find themselves spending a couple of days in jail, and are often required to attend specific courses related to responsible alcohol use. Offenders in Texas can almost always expect to attend these courses, and will receive probation even for a first offense.
Other penalties for those convicted of misdemeanor DUI include:
- Mandatory attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous or another treatment program
- Temporary loss of driving privileges
- Installation of an interlock device in the offender’s automobile. These devices contain blood alcohol content testing equipment, and will keep a car from starting for a driver who is under the influence.
Some states even publicly identify DUI offenders. Misdemeanor DUI offenders in Ohio for example may be forced to use a special license plate informing fellow drivers of the transgression.
Because there is so much variation in penalties, and because most jurisdictions do not provide court-appointed defense for misdemeanor DUI charges, most offenders can benefit from hiring a DUI lawyer who is familiar with the local laws.
Circumstances Resulting in Felony DUI Charges
Repeat offenders can be guaranteed that they will eventually receive felony charges for continuing to drive under the influence. When it becomes clear that the lesser penalties of a misdemeanor DUI charge are not serving as a deterrent to these dangerous behaviors, the legal punishment can escalate very quickly.
In addition to repeat offenses, other aspects can raise your risk of receiving a felony DUI charge. If your DUI arrest results in an accident, and particularly if someone is injured, most states mandate that you be charged with a felony. This is also true if you are apprehended driving under the influence with a minor in the car.
Being convicted of felony DUI will have serious adverse effects on your life.
Some states impose fines exceeding $100,000, and while a misdemeanor DUI may mean a short stay in a county jail, felony DUI convictions often carry prison sentences. In California, home to some of the harshest DUI laws in the nation, perpetrators can serve up to 10 years in prison.
Additionally, you will likely face long-term restrictions on your driving privileges, and since felony DUI convictions cannot be expunged from a criminal record under any circumstances, you may face difficulties when seeking future employment.
Not only are there income restrictions on eligibility for a public defender in felony DUI cases, a DUI lawyer has specific experience defending these types of cases. Public defenders, on the other hand, handle a wide variety of charges. If you find yourself facing felony DUI charges, you should seriously consider hiring a qualified DUI or criminal law attorney.