While driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) is usually charged as a misdemeanor, most states will treat the crime as a felony offense under certain circumstances. The most common scenarios are when a driver has a third or fourth DUI conviction within seven to ten years of a prior conviction, or when a driver causes bodily injury or death to another person while DUI.
Further, some states like Arizona, will treat a DUI offense as a felony when:
a person drives intoxicated with a minor passenger, and
a motorist gets arrested for DUI with a suspended license.
The specific penalties for a felony DUI conviction will vary depending on the facts of the case and the state laws where a driver is arrested. A few common penalties, though, include:
jail time or a prison sentence,
a driver’s license suspension or revocation,
substantial fines, and
restitution to any injury victims.
People facing a felony DUI charge should consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney or DUI lawyer for help. A DUI attorney can help establish a valid DUI defense to help people contest their DUI case/criminal charges.
1. When is drunk driving a felony?
Most states will file felony DUI charges when certain aggravating factors are present. For example, many states will treat drunk driving as a felony offense when a driver:
is arrested for a third or fourth DUI within seven to ten years of prior DUI convictions1,
causes serious injury or death to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol2, and
has a prior felony DUI offense.3
Some states will also treat drunk driving as a felony DUI under other circumstances. For instance, Arizona law treats a DUI arrest as a felony offense when:
a driver of a motor vehicle drives drunk with a minor passenger (or a passenger under the age of 15), and
a motorist drives intoxicated following a driver’s license suspension.4
2. What are the penalties for a felony DUI?
The specific penalties for a felony DUI conviction will largely depend on the facts of the case and a driver’s criminal record.
With that said, however, a few common penalties include:
jail time or even a state prison sentence (for example, in Florida with a second-degree felony conviction for vehicular homicide/DUI with death)5,
the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID),
a driver’s license suspension or revocation, and
the successful completion of DUI school and/or alcohol counseling.
3. Can you challenge a felony DUI charge with a legal defense?
Yes. DUI defense lawyers draw upon several different legal strategies to help clients contest felony DUI arrests and drunk driving charges.
A few common defenses include lawyers showing that:
police stopped a driver without probable cause,
law enforcement engaged in improper investigative procedures,
there was possible contamination of your blood or urine sample,
police committed errors in performing a breathalyzer test, and
an arresting officer did not read a defendant his/her Miranda rights.
Note that drivers must consult with a criminal defense attorney or DUI law firm to help establish the best defense. Please keep in mind that most lawyers provide free consultations, which means you can get all your legal questions answered without spending a dime.
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.