Is a DUI a Felony?

Written by DUI Resources on June 13, 2020

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When you are charged with a DUI offense, everything in your life changes. Everything feels at risk.

Your first question – “Is a DUI a felony or a misdemeanor?”

The next question – “How will this affect my life?”

You need to be prepared with facts, not opinions. 

Below is some information to help you navigate your path forward.

Felony or Misdemeanor?

Usually a first time DUI will be a misdemeanor offense and not a felony offense.

But some serious circumstances can raise even the first-time offense to a felony.

If the first time DUI offender committed the following acts, the charge can be raised to a felony:

  • seriously injuring or killing a person
  • having a very high blood alcohol content (BAC)
  • transporting children while under the influence

Every state has different laws and it is important to  know the laws in your state.

What’s the Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor?

There are generally three classifications of crimes – felonies, misdemeanors and petty offenses.

Petty Offenses normally involve small fines and no jail time. 

Sometimes called summary offense, they are the lowest level of criminal offense. Driving without a license, parking tickets and speeding tickets are petty offenses in most jurisdictions.

Misdemeanors are more serious and result in larger fines and possible jail time. 

The usual jail time for a misdemeanor is less than one year and that time is normally spent in the county jail and not a state prison of a federal penitentiary. Other common misdemeanors include trespassing, petty theft, public intoxication, and indecent exposure.

Felonies are the most serious crimes like murder, burglary, aggravated assault kidnapping, and grand theft. 

Felonies are classified in first, second and third degrees, with a first degree felony being the worst. But some states have even more serious classifications, like capital felony and life felony. Felony convictions can result in large fines, considerable amounts of prison time, or even a death penalty in certain states.

Most first time DUI offenses are not considered felonies, but each state is different. 

As examples, below are how Florida, Texas and California treat DUI offenses

Florida DUI Offenses

In Florida a driver can be charged with a DUI if they are

  • In physical control of the vehicle, and
  • “Under the influence” or have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more.

“Under the influence” means a driver who is deprived of full possession of normal faculties, which is a question decided by facts and circumstances. 

But a driver with a BAC of .08% or greater is guilty of a “per se” DUI, meaning no proof of impairment is required for conviction.

In Florida DUI cases, the judge is permitted to impose following jails times, fines  and license revocations.

1st Offense

  • Up to 6 months jail time
  • $500 to $1,000 fine
  • 180 days to 1-year license revocation
  • Possible Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for 6 months 
    • required for BAC of 15% of more
  • Required one-year probation
  • 50 hours community service
  • 10-day vehicle impoundment.
  • If BAC of .15% or more, or there was a minor passenger then judge can order up to nine months in jail and a fine from $1,000 to $2,000

2nd Offense

  • Up to 9 months jail time
  • $1,000 to $2,000 fine
  • 180 days to 1-year license revocation
  • IID for 2 years
  • If 2nd offense is within 5 years of first, then judge will order
    • Minimum 10 days in jail
    • 5-year license revocation
    • 30-day vehicle impoundment
  • If minor passenger is involved, or BAC is .15% or greater then judge can order
    • 12 months in jail and 
    • Fine of $2,000 to $4,000

3rd Offense – Felony

  • Up to 12 months jail time
  • $2,000 to $5,000 fine
  • 180 days to 1 year license revocation
  • IID for 2 years
  • If 3rd offense is within 10 years of a prior offense, then judge will order
    • 30 days to five years in jail
    • Ten-year license revocation
    • 90-day vehicle impoundment
  • If a minor passenger is involved, or the driver’s BAC is .15% or greater then  the fine will be  at least $4,000

Drivers under 21 are prohibited by statute from having a BAC of .02% or more. Violation will result in a six month suspension but is not a criminal violation. But if the BAC is .05% or more, then the driver will need to complete a DUI education program before their license will be reinstated

All violators must enroll in a substance abuse course and have monthly probations check ins.

A DUI violation in Florida will stay on your record for 75 years and cannot be sealed or expunged.

Texas DWI Offenses

In Texas the term is Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), but many people use DWI and DUI interchangeable.

In Texas a driver can be charged with a DWI for operating a motor vehicle while

  • Intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, or with a 
  • BAC of .08% or more.

In Texas, intoxicated means, “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body.”

In DWI cases, the judge is permitted to impose following jail times, fines and license suspensions..

1st Offense

  • 3 days to 6 months jail time, 
    • Up to 1 year for BAC of .15% or more
  • $2,000 maximum fine,
    • Up to $4,000 fine for BAC of .15% or more
  • 90 days to 1-year license suspension

2nd Offense

  • 30 days to 1-year jail time 
  • $4,000 maximum fine
  • 180 days to 2 years license suspension

3rd Offense – Felony

  • 2 to 10 years jail time
  • $10,000 maximum fine
  • 180 days to 2 years license suspension

For drivers under 21 Texas has a “zero tolerance” law prohibiting any detectable amounts of alcohol in their body. If you are under 21 and are caught driving with any detectable amount of alcohol in your systems, you can face the following penalties:

  • Up to a $500 fine
  • A 60-day license suspension
  • 20 to 40 hours of community service
  • Mandatory alcohol-awareness classes

If you are 17 to 21 years old and have a blood alcohol of .08% or greater you can face the following penalties in Texas:

  • Up to a $2,000 fine
  • 3 to 180 days in jail
  • A 90-day license suspension

A DWI conviction in Texas stays on your record permanently, unless it is expunged or erased which is extremely difficult.

California DUI Offense

1st Offense

  • Up to 6 months jail time
  • $390 to $1,000 fine
  • 6 months license suspension
  • Convicted motorist has choice between
    • 12-month restricted license, or
    • 6-month IID

2nd Offense

  • 96 hours to 1-year jail time
  • $390 to $1,000 maximum fine
  • 2 years license suspension
  • Must complete 12-month IID requirement

3rd Offense

  • 120 days to 1-year jail time, 
  • $1,800 maximum fine
  • 3 years license suspension

In California a DUI conviction stays on your record for 10 years, unless it is expunged earlier.

DUI Convictions are Costly

The cost of a DUI conviction can be devastating. The court fine is just a small part of the total cost to you and your life.

Every state is different, but here are some ranges

  • Bail can range up to $2,500
  • Court fines and penalties for first time DUI up to  $4,000
  • Court Costs for filing paperwork and appearance   can be $800
  • DUI attorney – can cost $1,000 to 5,000
  • Towing and Impound Fees are $200 and up
  • Driver Responsibility Fees. Some states have enacted these fees of $1,000 to $2,500
  • Treatment Programs – court ordered   can be $500 and up
  • Restitution Fund – Some states like California have these funds costing $500
  • Car Insurance. Your car insurance is definitely going up with an average increase of 80%, in some states more than 300%  – $2500

The impact to your life goes beyond just the cost in dollars. In many states a conviction on your record can impact your job applications and rental applications. Any future business opportunity that requires a background check will be in jeopardy.

Your Next Step

A DUI conviction is serious, and you need to take your next steps carefully and without delay.

Getting accurate information is the first step.

Getting qualified help is the next step.

Written by DUI Resources on June 13, 2020