FAQ: When is a DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor Charge?

FAQ: When is a DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor Charge?

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: March 20, 2024 1:48pm CDT

FAQ: When is a DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor Charge?

If you are facing a DUI charge, you may be feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do next. You may be wondering if you need a DUI lawyer and, if so, how to go about finding one.

Don’t worry—you’re not alone. Felonies and misdemeanors for driving under the influence can be confusing. In this article, we’ll provide you with some general guidance on DUI charges and how to go about hiring a DUI lawyer if you decide you need one.

When is a DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor charge?

In the United States, a DUI is typically charged as a misdemeanor, but it can be charged as a felony in certain circumstances.

Even in Arizona, where the laws are most strict, a DUI is typically a misdemeanor. However, it can be charged as a felony if the accused has three or more prior DUI Convictions within the past seven years or if the DUI resulted in serious bodily injury or death.

A BAC of 0.8% or higher is considered legally intoxicated in all states and the minimum level for driving under the influence in all states (some states have stricter provisions for specific vehicle types).

Meanwhile, in Arizona, if a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .15% or higher, they will be charged with an extreme DUI, and if the BAC is .20% or higher, the driver will face aggravated DUI charges.

Other things that can make a DUI a felony include having a child in the car, hurting someone, or killing someone while driving drunk. You should contact an experienced DUI lawyer if you have been accused of a DUI. They can help you go over the details of your case.

Is DUI a Felony?

A DUI can be a felony. Although a DUI is typically considered a misdemeanor in most states, Whether a DUI is considered a felony depends on the circumstances. Most of the time, the factors that make a DUI a felony are how bad the events surrounding it are and if the driver has been convicted of DUI before.

DUI felony conviction prison sentence

In some states, a DUI is considered a felony on the first offense if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 or greater. Also, a DUI is probably a felony if it leads to serious injuries or death. In most cases, a DUI is considered a felony after multiple convictions.

For example, a fourth DUI offense is always a felony in California; no matter what the circumstances are in some states, the third DUI may be considered a felony depending on the offense’s severity and prior convictions.

You should know that in DUI cases, a felony conviction is much worse than a misdemeanor conviction. Felonies can carry much harsher penalties than misdemeanor convictions. Depending on the laws of the state, these penalties could include:

Types of DUI Penalties (Depending on State Law):

  • High fines, which could be more than $1,000 in most states.
  • Long jail terms
  • License suspensions that last for a long time
  • Installing an ignition interlock device.
  • Going to an alcohol treatment program.

You should talk to an experienced lawyer who can explain your options and give you the help you need to ensure you get the best advice and representation.

When does a DUI Turn into a Felony?

A DUI (driving under the influence) charge can become a felony if certain aggravating factors are present. The most common factors that can elevate a DUI charge to a felony are when the DUI results in property damage, injury, or death.

If a drunk driver causes a crash that causes a lot of damage to property or serious injuries to people, the driver is more likely to be charged with felony DUI and may face more severe consequences.

If a DUI leads to someone’s death, the driver could be accused of vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide, which are very serious felonies.

Examples of Felony DUI

Besides property damage, injuries, and deaths, there are other legal factors that can make a DUI charge a felony. Some examples of what can make a DUI a felony include:

  • Driving with a suspended license (Temporarily taken away)
  • Driving with a revoked license that has been suspended (Fully or taken away)
  • Driving with a child in the car
  • Having a prior DUI conviction

Also, depending on the state, a person may also be charged with a felony DUI for a fourth offense within a certain period.

First offense DUI

The penalties for a felony DUI conviction can be severe, as depending on the state, the driver can face prison sentences of up to a year or more, as well as hefty fines, probation, and the revocation of their driver’s license.

In some situations, the driver may also have to add an ignition interlock device to their car.

So, a DUI charge can become a felony if it leads to damage to property, injury, or death or if there are other factors that make it worse. When charged as a felony, the consequences can be much more severe and have lasting impacts on the driver’s life.

What State Has the Strictest DUI Laws?

Arizona is the state that has the strictest DUI laws, which come with some of the toughest penalties among the 50 states. There are many ways you can get a DUI felony charge in Arizona. Some, even if it is your first drunk driving offense.

Types of DUI

  • First-Offense DUI: A first-offense DUI is a charge for driving under the influence for the first time. It is a misdemeanor and can result in fines, jail time, and the suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Second-offense DUI: It is a charge for driving under the influence a second time. It is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first-offense DUI, such as increased fines, jail time, and the suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Extreme DUI: If a driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 or higher, they may be charged. It is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first or second DUI, like higher fines, jail time, and having your driver’s license taken away.
  • Extreme DUI with Prior Conviction: A charge of extreme DUI AZ is applied when the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.15 or higher, and they have been convicted of DUI in the past. It is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first or second DUI, like higher fines, jail time, and having your driver’s license taken away.
  • Aggravated DUI in general: An “aggravated DUI” is driving drunk with a license that has been suspended, revoked, canceled, refused, or has restrictions. This charge applies when a person is found to be driving while their driver’s license is not valid. It is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first or second DUI, like higher fines, jail time, and taking your driver’s license away.
  • Aggravated DUI with Two Prior Convictions in the Past Five Years: An aggravated DUI with two prior convictions in the past five years is a charge of driving under the influence with two prior convictions within the last five years. It is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first- or second-offense DUI, such as increased fines, jail time, and the suspension of your driver’s license.
  • Aggravated DUI With a Child Under 15 in the Car: An aggravated DUI charge for driving under the influence with a child under the age of 15 in the car. An aggravated DUI with a child under 15 in the vehicle is a felony and can lead to harsher punishments than a first- or second-offense DUI. The penalties can include increased fines, jail time, and your driver’s license suspension.

Misdemeanor or felony DUI case

How Many DUIs Does It Take to Get a Felony?

In many states, the answer to the question of how many DUIs it takes to get a felony depends on the number of prior DUI convictions. Generally speaking, a DUI is a misdemeanor offense.

Yet, that may change if an individual has three or more DUI convictions within a certain period, as they may be charged with a felony. It is typically referred to as a “third strike” or “habitual offender” DUI. In some states, a felony DUI charge can be triggered by two prior DUI convictions.

Felony DUIs Can Carry 10 Year Prison Sentences in Some States

The repercussions for a felony DUI are much harsher than those for a misdemeanor DUI. Depending on the state, a felony DUI conviction can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, fines, and a mandatory license suspension.

A felony DUI conviction will stay on a person’s record forever and cannot be expunged, making it hard for them to get a job, a place to live, or other opportunities.

Talking to a criminal defense lawyer with a lot of experience is important. This legal professional can review your case and advise you on the next steps.

Is a DUI a Misdemeanor?

DUI (Driving under the Influence) is typically considered a misdemeanor offense. A misdemeanor is a crime that is not as serious as a felony, and defendants convicted of misdemeanors are usually given punishments that include:

DUI Misdemeanor Punishments

  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Up to one year in jail

In most states, a first-time DUI is typically considered a misdemeanor and not a felony. However, depending on the crime’s severity and whether the person has been convicted of a crime before, a DUI can be upgraded to a felony charge.

Other factors that could lead to a felony DUI charge include causing injury or death or having a minor in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

DUI misdemeanor punishments

No matter what the classification of a DUI is, the consequences can be severe. In addition to fines and jail time, a DUI can lead to the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, the installation of an ignition interlock device on your car, emergency towing, and the need to take alcohol education classes.

If you’ve been charged with DUI, you must talk to an experienced lawyer because the penalties can vary depending on where you were charged and what happened.

What is a Misdemeanor DUI?

A Misdemeanor DUI is an offense of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) that is considered less serious than a felony DUI. It is typically given to first-time offenders who have operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Punishments for this type of offense include fines, license suspension, and possible jail time.

Misdemeanor DUI laws vary by state but usually include the following elements:

  1. A person is taken into custody for driving a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  2. The person has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
  3. The individual was convicted of a misdemeanor DUI offense.

Misdemeanor DUI Penalties

In most cases, a misdemeanor DUI offense carries the following penalties:

  • A sentence of up to one year in jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • A license suspension of up to one year.

Also, if convicted, the drunk driver may be ordered by the court to go to classes to learn about drugs or alcohol. In addition to the other punishments, the judge may order you to do community service or get an ignition interlock device installed.

If there are issues or malfunctions with the installation, the driver has to get a technician to troubleshoot the ignition interlock device.

Misdemeanor DUI charges are often the result of a first-time offense, but this isn’t always the case. Repeat DUI offenders could also be charged with a misdemeanor DUI if the crime wasn’t severe enough to warrant a felony charge.

It’s important to note that even though a misdemeanor DUI is considered less serious than a felony DUI, it’s still a serious offense. A conviction can have long-term effects on a person’s life, like making it hard to get a job or qualify for a loan.

In some cases, a misdemeanor DUI may even lead to a felony if the individual has prior DUI convictions.

If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor DUI, you need to talk to an experienced DUI lawyer who can help you navigate the legal system and figure out what to do next.

An attorney with experience and who is familiar with your state’s DUI law can help you understand your rights and the possible consequences of a conviction.

How Many DUIs Constitute a Felony?

Most states decide if a DUI is a felony or a misdemeanor based on the number of DUIs the offender has had in the past. Although the severity of the incident and any aggravating factors, like a minor being in the car or a high BAC, can make it a felony DUI, In general, the more times a person has been convicted of a crime, the more likely it is that the DUI will be a felony.

If it is a third DUI conviction or a DUI with extra problems, most states classify it as a felony. Although in some states, it might take until a fourth DUI to be considered a felony.

Lookback Period for DUI

In states with a “lookback” period, a DUI conviction that happened more than five to ten years ago may still be considered a felony.

Some states may also consider a DUI a felony, even if it is the first time the person has done something wrong. For instance, some states classify it as a felony DUI if the BAC is 0.15 or higher or the offender was transporting a minor.

In conclusion, the number of DUIs considered felonies vary from state to state. However, some traits among the different states’ DUI laws can include:

  • A third DUI or a DUI with factors that make it worse may be considered a felony.
  • The severity of the DUI, some states may also consider it a felony for first-time offenders.

Can a Felony DUI be Reduced to a Misdemeanor Charge?

In some cases, it is possible to reduce a felony DUI charge to a misdemeanor. The chance of this happening depends on the case’s circumstances and the jurisdiction where the crime was committed.

Most of the time, it is more likely to happen if the defendant has never been convicted of a crime before and the DUI did not cause any serious harm or death.

Drunk driving DUI felony high blood alcohol

When the accused has a BAC of 0.8% or higher and a prior DUI conviction, a DUI charge is usually classified as a felony. Some states also have laws that allow for felony DUI charges if the accused is found to have caused severe bodily injury or death due to the DUI.

DUI Reduced to Reckless Driving

Suppose a person is charged with a felony DUI. In that case, they may reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if they have a clean criminal record and the DUI did not result in serious harm or death. The accused completes an alcohol education program.

In some cases, it may also be possible to have a felony charge reduced to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving.

People who have been charged with felony DUI should talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer about their options. A lawyer can look at the situation and decide if a felony DUI can be changed to a misdemeanor. They will also be able to give legal advice about how to move forward with the case.

Can You Beat a DUI Case?

Yes, it is possible to beat a DUI case, and it can be accomplished in a number of ways. However, beating a DUI case and getting all charges dropped can be difficult and not always realistic.

The best way to beat a DUI case is to hire a competent DUI attorney who understands the law and can make sure that your rights as a defendant are protected.

An experienced DUI defense lawyer will review all the evidence and know what to look for. They try to find holes in the prosecution’s case and identify ways your rights may have been violated. They use that to figure out the best way to defend you.

Odds of Getting DUI Charges Dropped

Although it is possible to beat a DUI case, it is important to know that the chances of success vary from case to case. The outcome of a DUI case often depends on the individual case’s details and is never guaranteed.

The result depends on many things, such as the person’s BAC when they were arrested, how they were arrested, how strong the evidence is, and how good their lawyer is.

For example, if a driver was arrested while their BAC was over the legal limit, it may be difficult to beat the charges.

However, if an attorney can prove that the driver was not impaired when they were driving or that the BAC results were inaccurate, it may be possible to have the charges reduced or dismissed.

The following words of wisdom contributed by experienced criminal defense attorney David Moorhead, Founding Partner of The Moorhead Law Group, support these concepts for how to beat a DUI charge:

In tackling a DUI charge, we meticulously challenge the evidence. This could involve techniques like taking a deep dive into the calibration and operation of breathalyzer equipment.

Identifying something as minor as a discrepancy can significantly impact someone’s case outcome.

DUI Plea Bargain

In some cases, an attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, they may get a lighter sentence than if they were found guilty of DUI.

This type of agreement may be beneficial if the defendant faces a first-time DUI charge, as the sentence may be less severe than if they went to trial and were found guilty.

Regardless, it is essential to remember that beating a DUI case is possible. With the help of an experienced DUI attorney, a defendant can fight to protect their rights and have the best chance of success.

Should I Hire a DUI Lawyer?

If you have been charged with a DUI, it is wise to hire a DUI lawyer to defend you. The legal system is complex, and having an experienced lawyer who specializes in DUI law can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.

A DUI attorney with experience can explain the legal process and help you navigate the intricacies of the law.

DUI Defense Lawyer

A DUI lawyer can also look at your case and tell you your best options. Your attorney will know the laws that apply and will be able to give you advice on how to get the best possible result.

They can also talk to prosecutors on your behalf and make sure your rights are protected throughout the process.

A DUI defense lawyer can also help a lot with things like filling out paperwork, getting ready for court appearances and figuring out if there are any possible defenses. They can also give legal advice during negotiations before a trial and act as an advocate throughout the whole legal process.

In short, you should strongly consider hiring a DUI lawyer if you are facing a DUI charge. An experienced lawyer can make a big difference in the outcome of your case and can help protect your rights throughout the entire legal process.

Bonus: Strategic DUI Defense Tips From a Lawyer

  • Drive carefully: Don’t give them any reason to pull you over.
  • Remain silent: Don’t admit to drinking, even if it was “just two beers.” Don’t admit to driving if the police officer didn’t see you drive.
  • Delay: The longer the time between your driving and your breath or blood test, the better.
  • Call a DUI lawyer: You will need an experienced DUI attorney to protect your criminal and DMV records.

We want thank award-winning and licensed criminal defense attorney Logan Noblin for sharing these expert legal tips with our team.

Closing Statements on Whether a DUI is a Misdemeanor or a Felony

How serious a DUI charge is depends on many things, such as the state where the offense happened, the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC), and whether or not the driver has been charged with DUI before. In some states, if the driver’s BAC is above a certain level, a DUI is automatically a felony offense.

But in other states, even if the driver’s BAC is lower, a DUI may still be considered a felony if the driver has multiple prior DUI offenses or if the DUI caused an accident.

We at Express Legal Funding understand this distinction, which is why we wrote this article to be a resource to readers.

No matter how simple someone may think the situation surrounding the DUI charge they face, it is crucial to speak with a lawyer about the details of their case. That way, they can figure out what is best to do next.

It’s important to note that as a pre-settlement funding company, we cannot advance money on criminal cases. When it comes to these charges and offenses, there is no settlement or trial award for the defendants to be had.

We encourage anyone facing DUI charges, whether a felony or misdemeanor, to speak to an experienced attorney before you decide how you plead.

About the Author

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Strategy Director at Express Legal Funding | Author Website

Aaron Winston is the Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding. As "The Legal Funding Expert," Aaron has more than ten years of experience in the consumer finance industry. Most of which was as a consultant to a top financial advisory firm, managing 400+ million USD in client wealth. He is recognized as an expert author and researcher across multiple SEO industries.
Aaron Winston earned his title "The Legal Funding Expert" through authoritative articles and blog posts about legal funding. He specializes in expert content writing for pre-settlement funding and law firm blogs.
Each month, tens of thousands of web visitors read his articles and posts. Aaron's thoroughly researched guides are among the most-read lawsuit funding articles over the past year.
As Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding, Aaron has devoted thousands of hours to advocating for the consumer. His "it factor" is that he is a tireless and inventive thought leader who has made great strides by conveying his legal knowledge and diverse expertise to the public. More clients and lawyers understand the facts about pre-settlement funding because of Aaron's legal and financial service SEO mastery.
Aaron Winston is the author of A Word For The Wise. A Warning For The Stupid. Canons of Conduct, which is a book in poetry format. It consists of 35 unique canons. The book was published in 2023.
He keeps an academic approach to business that improves the consumer's well-being. In early 2022, Aaron gained the Search Engine Optimization and the Google Ads LinkedIn skills assessment badges. He placed in the top 5% of those who took the SEO skills test assessment.
Aaron's company slogans and lawsuit funding company name are registered trademarks of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He has gained positive notoriety via interviews and case studies, which are a byproduct of his successes. Aaron R. Winston was featured in a smith.ai interview (2021) and a company growth case study (2022).
In 2023, Aaron and Express Legal Funding received accolades in a leading SEO author case study performed by the leading professionals at WordLift. The in-depth data presented in the pre-settlement funding SEO case study demonstrate why Aaron Winston maintains a high-author E-E-A-T. His original writing and helpful content continue to achieve unprecedented success and stand in their own class.

Aaron was born in Lubbock, TX, where he spent the first eight years of his life. Aaron attended Akiba Academy of Dallas, TX.

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Victoria Brown: Marketing Specialist at Law Offices of Brian D Sloan

Victoria Brown

Marketing and Communications Specialist at Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan | Author Website

Victoria Brown is an experienced Marketing and Communications Specialist at the Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan, a top DUI law firm in Phoenix, Arizona.

Victoria's expertise and research ability as an author in spreading awareness of DUI laws have helped her contribute to DUI defense attorney Brian Sloan's legal marketing efforts. Mr. Brian Sloan has been licensed to practice law and has been defending Arizona DUI cases since 2004.

In addition to Victoria Brown's ever-increasing knowledge about drunk driving and its legal implications, she is the first guest author to create a premier educational resource for the Express Legal Funding website.

Victoria is proud to be a part of a leading DUI law firm in Arizona and is helping to lead the way among the best DUI defense attorneys and their top-rated law firms.

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