Every state in the United States has a law that governs driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI). DUI and DWI drunk driving laws in every state impose legal penalties on individuals who are caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a certain percentage, typically 0.08%.
These legal penalties may be increased if the DUI offense involves serious bodily injury to another individual. In many jurisdictions, a DUI with serious bodily injury will result in a DUI that is charged as a felony. Felony charges carry more serious consequences, such as longer sentences in a prison facility and a total loss of driving privileges.
What Is the Definition of “Serious Bodily Injury”?
What constitutes serious body injury (SBI) may be defined differently in different states. Additionally, some states use the term serious bodily harm (SBH), which has the same general meeting.
Certain states, including California, have laws that use the term great bodily injury. This is a higher level of injury than serious bodily injury.
In broad terms, the definition of serious bodily injury includes the following:
- Extreme physical pain;
- Disfigurement that is obvious or protracted which lasts over long periods of time, including burn wounds;
- Permanent impairment or protracted impairment of a body organ or part;
- Loss of mental faculties; and
- Injuries that involve a substantial risk of death, such as profuse bleeding.
In DUI cases, serious bodily injury can be shown with medical documentation. Certain cases may require the testimony of an expert medical witness who can verify the seriousness of the injuries.
A case that involves the death of another individual may be prosecuted differently than DUI cases that involve serious bodily injury. If an automobile accident results in a fatality, a DUI case will likely be prosecuted under DUI vehicular homicide laws.
What Are the Legal Consequences of DUI-SBI Charges?
A DUI case that results in serious bodily injury will usually be filed as felony drunk driving charges. As previously noted, a felony charge results in more serious legal consequences than a misdemeanor charge.
In addition to the regular punishments for felony offenses, an individual convicted of a felony DUI may face other consequences. Examples of these consequences may include, but are not limited to:
- Permanent or temporary loss of driving privileges, including having their driver’s license suspended or revoked;
- Monitoring measures, which may include:
- being placed under house arrest;
- ignition interlock devices;
- secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring (SCRAM) ankle bracelets;
- Mandatory alcohol rehabilitation courses;
- Mandatory counseling;
- The loss of some civil privileges, including the right to vote or own a firearm; and
- The loss of child custody or visitation privileges, especially if the child was involved in the DUI offense.
It is important to note that felony charges are often much more difficult to expunge or seal from an individual’s criminal record than misdemeanor charges. Felony DUI or felony drunk driving is considered to be an especially serious felony offense.
Are There Any Defenses to DUI Charges?
As with any type of DUI case, there may be defenses available to a DUI charge, even if it includes serious bodily injury. However, certain defenses may only partially relieve the individual of liability. In other words, some defenses will only lessen the charges against a defendant and not dismiss them completely.
Common DUI defenses may include:
- An inaccurate field sobriety test;
- Improper DUI testing, such as a failed breathalyzer exam;
- Illegal traffic stop or arrest;
- Insufficient evidence for arrest.
There may also be affirmative defenses, including:
- Mistake of fact;
- Involuntary intoxication, which occurs when an individual is drugged and unaware of the fact that they were consuming an intoxicant.
It is important to note that an appropriate defense will depend on the circumstances surrounding each individual DUI. Because of this, it is important to work with an attorney to determine which defense has the best chance of success.
Is a DUI the Same Thing as Drunk Driving?
In short, yes, DUI is an acronym that stands for driving under the influence. Each state has a statute that prohibits individuals from operating motor vehicles while under the influence of an intoxicant. An intoxicant may be alcohol or any other substance which is known to impair an individual’s motor skills.
If an individual operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of any substance that impairs their senses, they may be:
- Given a ticket;
- Criminally fined;
- Charged with driving under the influence.
Other names for the offense of DUI may include:
- DWI: driving while intoxicated;
- OUI: operating under the influence;
- OMVI: operating a motor vehicle intoxicated.
Drunk driving and a DUI are basically the same offense. Drunk driving refers specifically to driving while under the influence of alcohol. DUI, on the other hand, refers to a broad category of any substance that impairs an individual’s motor skills.
Examples of substances that are intoxicants include, but are not limited to:
- Illegal or illicit drugs;
- Prescription medication, including muscle relaxers;
- Over-the-counter medication, including antihistamines such as Benadryl.
Some states have different classifications for different types of DUIs, some including alcohol and some including other previously mentioned intoxicants. In addition, some states include other types of vehicles in their DUI statutes, such as:
- Golf carts.
What Is a Felony DUI?
A felony DUI charge is a criminal charge that can be found in states that have expanded their DUI laws. Every state provides that a first-time DUI charge is a misdemeanor charge. However, in some instances, as noted above, a DUI may be charged as a felony instead of a misdemeanor, for example, a DUI with injury first offense.
Typically, a misdemeanor charge carries a jail sentence of less than one year and criminal fines. On the other hand, a felony charge often mandates 5 to 10 years in a federal or state prison facility and considerably larger fines.
There are some examples of actions that could be classified as felony drunk driving in nearly every state in the United States. These include, but are not limited to:
- Drunk driving that results in the death or severe injury of another individual, such as another person or a passenger;
- Vehicular manslaughter, which is the unintentional killing of another individual with a vehicle;
- Assault with a deadly weapon, since a vehicle may be considered a deadly weapon;
- Repeat offenses. For example, a third DUI offense is typically considered to be a felony;
- Driving with a suspended, restricted, or revoked driver’s license;
- Driving with an extremely elevated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level; and
- Having children in the vehicle while driving under the influence.
It is important to note that the specific details for the above-mentioned offenses may vary from state to state. Certain states have expanded their definition of what constitutes a motor vehicle. Other states only include automobiles such as cars and trucks.
The most common type of felony DUI charge is a repeat DUI offense. An individual may be convicted of felony drunk driving or DUI if they have two prior DUIs. Multiple prior DUI convictions show a court that the individual engages in repeated and dangerous behavior.
Do I Need a Lawyer for DUI Charges Involving Serious Bodily Injury?
It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced DUI lawyer if you are facing DUI charges. A defendant has the right to a criminal defense attorney, even if they cannot afford one.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if there are any available defenses, and be present with you during any court proceedings. A DUI conviction can result in serious, life-altering consequences, and therefore, having an attorney on your side is extremely important.