The punishment for drunk driving charges often result in misdemeanor penalties, such as fines or serving time in a county jail (usually with a maximum sentence of no greater than a year). This is the typical path that penalties for misdemeanor DUI cases follow.
In contrast, for cases that involve more serious drunk driving charges or DUI offenses that cause serious injury or entail a repeat offender as the defendant, it can lead to being charged with a felony offense.
The penalties for felonies usually include being required to pay higher fees than those for misdemeanor offenses and having to serve longer jail sentences in a state prison.
The penalties for drunk driving and the associated level of offense (e.g., misdemeanor versus felony) are usually contingent on the facts surrounding the case and the varying separate state laws.
For instance, the penalties for drunk driving may be more severe if:
- The drunk driving incident causes serious bodily harm or death to another individual;
- The charges belong to a defendant who is being cited for a repeat offense (i.e., a repeat offender);
- When the person who was injured is a minor; and
- In some states, when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) level is above a certain percentage (usually 0.15% in most states).
In addition, drunk driving can result in many other penalties, including loss of a person’s driving privileges or getting their car taken away (i.e., impounded). This is especially true for cases where the DUI incident caused severe injuries to another person.
Can Drunk Driving Penalties be Lessened or Reduced?
The penalties for drunk driving can sometimes be lessened or reduced, depending on the circumstances. For example, if this is the first time that the impaired driver is receiving a DUI count, then it will be more likely that the judge will issue a lighter sentence.
Also, if later on in the case the evidence shows that the breathalyzer test was administered wrong, or was faulty or inaccurate, then this will have an effect on how the judge calculates the sentence during the driver’s hearing.
For first-time offenders and minors, judges often prescribe DUI diversion instead of the usual fines or jail time. DUI diversion is an alternative sentencing method that requires the defendant to partake in various activities for improvement, such as:
- Having to participate in alcohol rehabilitation or alcohol education programs;
- Doing a specified amount of hours of community service; or
- Being required to use an ignition interlock device (usually a breathalyzer) for a set number of months.
The reason as to why first-time offenders have these options is because the law recognizes room for human error and more courts are trying to be sensitive to the fact that alcohol abuse is a real issue in the country.
However, this is not an excuse to abuse such an option and a person will have to face severe consequences the next time they are charged with a drunk driving offense.
What is DUI Expungement?
When a person is charged with a DUI offense, they may have the option to clear or remove the charge from their personal criminal records. In general, this is referred to as expungement, but here since it is for drunk driving, it is called a DUI expungement.
Being able to have a record cleared of a DUI offense is only available after a certain amount of time has passed since their last DUI conviction (typically at least five years). Also, any subsequent DUI offenses that a person receives will usually make it more challenging to obtain a DUI expungement.
Lastly, if the DUI charge rises to the level of a felony offense (as opposed to a misdemeanor), then it will be much more difficult to get it expunged. The reason for this is because felonies are considered more serious types of crimes than misdemeanors.
Some examples of DUI offenses that may possibly only result in a misdemeanor charge include being a minor, having a lower BAC level (typically 0.08% in many states), and as mentioned above, being a first-time offender.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Drunk Driving Charges?
Having a criminal history that includes an offense for drunk driving is a very serious matter, especially when it is for a felony DUI offense. Aside from the different state laws that may be involved in the case, it is often required to get an attorney to help with your case because the defendant will generally need to appear before a court.
Thus, if you are either facing charges for a drunk driving offense or are seeking to have one expunged, then you should contact a local DUI and/or DWI lawyer as soon as possible.
An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with the proper legal guidance and advice that is necessary for protecting your rights during a court proceeding.
Additionally, your lawyer can also help to assess the situation in order to determine whether or not there are any defenses available for your case.