DUI arrests don't always lead to convictions in court. Police officer mistakes, faulty breathalyzers and crime lab errors may get your charges reduced or dismissed. Visit our California DUI page to learn more.
I was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). My arrest took place after I caused a drunk driving accident. Does the crash lead to more severe charges?
Possibly, yes. Your DUI case will usually become more serious if you drove while intoxicated and caused a motor vehicle accident while doing so. “More serious” means you will likely face more severe penalties, especially if the accident led to:
Further, if you injured another motorist in a DUI accident, the injured person could try and file a civil lawsuit against you. If successful, the injury “victim” could receive compensation for any injuries.
1. Does a DUI with an accident lead to harsher penalties?
It can. Many states have DUI laws that set forth enhanced penalties if you commit a DUI offense and it is linked to an aggravating factor.
In general, an “aggravating factor” is a circumstance associated with the commission of a crime that increases the crime’s consequences.1
In the context of a DUI offense, common aggravating factors are if a drunk driving crash causes:
bodily injury, or
So, if a drunk driver causes a car accident and it results in any of the above, then the person would receive more serious penalties if a DUI conviction.
Consider Florida law for example. The state has a statute that says it is an aggravating factor in a DUI case if the offense results in property damage (which includes damage to another person’s car).3
If no property damage, a DUI/DWI in Florida is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail time. But a DUI with property damage is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.4
2. What happens if a DUI accident leads to a serious injury or death?
Your DUI penalties will likely increase if you drive intoxicated and cause a car accident that involves great bodily injury or death.
Consider, for example, California law. In a normal DUI without an aggravating factor, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.5 But in a DUI accident case involving great bodily injury, the crime is punishable by:
custody in state prison for up to four years, and/or
a maximum fine of $5,000.6
Note that a DUI accident involving death will lead to even more serious penalties.
For example, under Nevada law, it is a class B felony if you drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and thereby cause the death of another person. The felony charge is punishable by:
2 to 20 years in state prison,
fines ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, and
a 3-year driver’s license suspension.7
3. Will an accident impact a plea deal?
It can, yes. Most DUI crimes result in a prosecutor and defendant entering into a plea deal. A deal secures a guilty conviction for a prosecutor, and in return, helps minimize your DUI penalties.
However, prosecutors are less likely to enter into a deal if a DUI case involves an aggravating factor.
4. Can an accident “victim” file a civil lawsuit?
Yes. If you are guilty of DUI and cause a motor vehicle accident in the commission of the crime, any party suffering a personal injury in the accident can file a civil lawsuit against you.
If successful, the injured person could receive compensation (from you) for such things as:
Note that a first-time California DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of around .08% can also result in a driver’s license suspension or revocation, DUI school, and installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.