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When is a DUI a Misdemeanor?

DUI Misdemeanor Overview

A fun night out with friends turned into a bad night out involving the police. You had one too-many glasses of wine and were later arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). You spent a few hours at the police station and were given a citation and notice to appear back in court for your arraignment. You may be wondering, how much trouble am I really in? When is a DUI a misdemeanor?

Basically, a first offense DUI is a misdemeanor in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Below you will find a discussion of misdemeanor DUIs generally, when a DUI can be charged as a felony, and possible misdemeanor DUI penalties. Keep in mind, the laws are constantly changing and it is always a good idea to check the DUI laws in your state to stay up-to-date.

What is a Misdemeanor DUI?

Misdemeanors, in general, are less serious crimes than felonies and do not involve the possibility of prison time. Most misdemeanors are typically punishable by some jail time, a fine, and probation. In the context of an impaired driving offense, a misdemeanor DUI is typically charged for a first-time DUI offense without any aggravating circumstances such as having a minor child in the car, injuring or killing another person, or having prior DUI convictions. Most people who are arrested and charged face misdemeanor DUI allegations.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony DUI

In addition to facing possible jail (as opposed to prison) time, a misdemeanor DUI will not require a preliminary hearing or the convening of a grand jury, whereas a felony DUI case would. The trajectory of a misdemeanor DUI is as follows: a person is arrested, charged, arraigned, has a pretrial conference, and -- if the case doesn’t plead out at pretrial -- goes to trial. When a felony is involved, you’ll be looking at several court proceedings leading up to the trial, a minimum of one year in prison (but it can be much more depending on the facts of the case and the state), and the collateral consequences of having a felony on your record such as losing your voting rights, not being able to serve on a jury, and possibly losing your right to legally own a gun.

Prosecutors can charge a felony DUI in many different scenarios. Here are a few examples:

  • More than three DUIs in a 10-year period (even if all three priors are misdemeanors),
  • DUI causing injury, great bodily harm, or even death,
  • DUI with minor child in the vehicle, or
  • DUI while driving on a suspended license for a prior DUI.

DUI: Misdemeanor Penalties

If you are convicted, most states impose a short jail term or community service if it is a first offense. Remember, if you spent the night in jail as a result of your arrest, you may be able to use that night as “credit for time served” (CTS) against the jail sentence the judge imposes. For example, the state of Indiana posts a “Credit Time Calculator” on its website. Speak to your lawyer to learn more.

Your sentence may also include probation, a hefty fine, alcohol education classes, and a license suspension. In some states, there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence for a misdemeanor DUI, but often times you will be able to serve that sentence on an alternative work or community service program.

Consider Getting Professional Legal Help With Your Misdemeanor DUI

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor DUI, you likely have many questions. Before going to court for your arraignment, you'll want to get a better understanding of your rights and your legal options. Don't leave it up to chance; contact a local DUI attorney today.

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Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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