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Legal Review: The Differences Between Misdemeanor and Felony DUI Charges

All states have laws criminalizing the operation of a vehicle while intoxicated. In most states, this offense is called DUI, an acronym for driving under the influence. Some states use different references for the offense, such as OWI (operating while intoxicated) or DWI (driving while intoxicated).

While intoxication can result from various substances, alcohol intoxication is the most widespread. The federal limit for operating a vehicle on public roads is 0.08 percent BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration). However, states have the prerogative of setting their own limits as long as it stays within the federal limit. All states follow the federal standard except Utah, which adopted a 0.05 percent BAC limit in 2018.

It Can Be Either

“Most DUI arrests occur during a traffic stop when the police suspect you of operating a car while intoxicated. However, you can also face a DUI charge when you aren’t actually driving. For example, you could be charged with DUI for sleeping in a car while intoxicated,” says Attorney Shawn Sukumar of Shawn Sukumar Attorney at Law.

After an arrest, you must appear before a court to classify the driving under the influence charge as a misdemeanor or a felony. The circumstances of your arrest usually determine the resulting charge.

What Is the Difference

Most DUI arrests culminate in a misdemeanor charge, but there are circumstances when the charges may be upgraded into felony charges. Only Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia do not have DUI felony charges in their books.

If you have been arrested for DUI in any other state, it is important to understand what circumstances can upgrade your charges into felony charges to ensure you know what you are up against. While each state will look at different circumstances as aggravating factors, some are common across all states, including:

  • Having a child in a car. Having a child in the car while intoxicated is considered child endangerment, thus attracting severe consequences.
  • Excessive BAC. A BAC slightly higher than the federal limit will result in a misdemeanor, but a concentration that is way too high, such as twice the legal limit, will result in a felony charge in most states.
  • Injury or death and property damage. If an arrest occurs during a police stop, you will likely face a misdemeanor charge; however, if your intoxication is established after an accident resulting in a death, injury, or property damage, you will probably face a felony charge.
  • Repeat offenses. If you had a conviction less than five years ago, a new arrest is more likely to result in a felony charge.

Consequences of a DUI Conviction

The consequences of a DUI conviction depend on the charge you face, but some penalties remain the same irrespective of the type of charge, including license suspension, mandatory DUI education, and IID installation.

All DUI can result in jail time. However, misdemeanor convictions carry shorter sentences of not more than one year and fines of up to $1000. Felony convictions, on the other hand, carry penalties of more than one year and penalties that could run into thousands of dollars.

Since DUI is a criminal offense, a conviction will mean getting a criminal record that could have long-lasting consequences, such as limited employment opportunities. Also, a conviction will cause your insurance premiums to increase significantly.

In light of the potential consequences of a DUI conviction, it is important not to take the charges lightly, so ensure that you have a lawyer working on your case.

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