Most states classify a standard DUI (or DWI) charge as a misdemeanor. Certain aggravating factors can raise the level of the charge to a felony, though. A conviction for a felony DUI carries stiffer penalties and more lasting consequences than a misdemeanor DUI charge.
This article discusses common scenarios that can result in a felony driving under the influence (DUI) charge. The article addresses elevated blood alcohol concentration (BAC), bodily harm, and prior convictions. It also discusses child endangerment and DUI charges while operating a car with a restricted or revoked license.
Elevated Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Every state has a .08 percent per se DUI rule in effect. If a driver has a blood alcohol content of .08 or above, the state can assume the driver is above the legal limit and in violation of applicable laws.
States will commonly elevate a drunk driving charge to a felony offense if chemical tests reveal that the driver's BAC exceeds a certain elevated level set by law. This amount is usually around .16 percent. Not every state has this law, but states generally impose a harsher punishment for a high BAC.
Bodily Harm to Others
Some states raise a DUI/DWI charge to a felony if you, as the driver, cause bodily harm to another. Sometimes, prosecutors have the discretion to decide whether to prosecute a DUI case involving bodily injury as a misdemeanor or a felony.
In states like California, prosecutors have to prove that the person charged with DUI/DWI caused the injury in question. If another driver runs into the intoxicated driver while stopped at a stop sign and suffers injuries, the drunk driver didn't cause bodily harm. In that case, the DUI/DWI charge will remain a misdemeanor.
States generally charge you, as the intoxicated driver, with felony DUI if you have several prior convictions for the offense within a set time period. The number of previous convictions and the time period varies between states.
Some states, like New York, will charge you with felony DUI if you have just one prior conviction for any impaired driving crime within the past 10 years. Many states have three-strikes laws. Under those state laws, there are harsher punishments, including a possible prison sentence, for repeat offenders.
Many states have laws making it a felony to drive while under the influence with children in the vehicle. A high-profile example of this is Leandra's Law in New York. The law passed after an 11-year-old girl died when her friend's mother crashed her motor vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol. Leandra's Law applies when a child 15 years old or younger is present.
DUI/DWI while Driving on a Restricted, Suspended, or Revoked Driver's License
Many states make a DUI/DWI offense a felony if it happens while you, the offender, have a restricted, suspended license, or revoked license. Illinois, for example, makes this crime a class four felony punishable by one to three years in state prison.
Don't Face a Felony Charge Alone: Contact an Attorney Today
If police have arrested you for a felony DUI offense, it's a good idea to meet with an experienced DUI lawyer to discuss your DUI arrest. A felony DUI conviction can have lasting consequences on your life. You might face jail time, revocation of driving privileges, license suspension, or loss of your driver's license. An experienced DUI attorney can educate you on your state's DUI laws, whether this is your first offense or you have prior DUI convictions. You don't have to face felony DUI charges alone. A defense attorney can help you with your DUI defense.