Drunk driving is a criminal offense in every state. The goals of these laws is to punish and deter such dangerous behavior, while at the same time providing those who are willing help for their drug or alcohol problem. This is one of the reasons why most states have a range of possible charges and punishments for drunk driving, from the more minor misdemeanor or disorderly conduct offenses to serious felonies that carry significant punishment. 

Here is a short guide to drunk driving offenses throughout the United States and what to do if you are charged with one.

How Many Accidents Are Caused By Drunk Driving?

We are a nation of drivers, with over 270 million vehicles on American roads and highways every year. Scarily, over a million of these drivers are arrested for drunk driving every year. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 10,000 people are killed due to drunk driving per annum, which accounts for almost 30% of all traffic-related deaths. It is still the number one cause of death on American roads and highways. Alcohol in any amount negatively affects a person’s ability to judge situations logically and react quickly when behind the wheel. 

What Determines If My DUI Charge Is a Misdemeanor?

Every state has its own laws dictating how drunk driving offenses are charged and what punishments are attached to a conviction. In most states, first time offenses over the per se illegal blood alcohol content (often shortened to BAC) level of 0.08% are charged as a misdemeanor, or whatever the equivalent in that state is. If convicted, the offender usually has to pay fines, and in some instances spend a short amount of time in jail. 

The court may also order the individual to attend alcohol treatment and education courses, perform community service, or use an ignition interlock device (usually a breathalyzer) for a number of months. Some states allow the person to wipe the slate clean if they have no further legal issues for a certain amount of time after their conviction, as well. 

The approach for first time offenders is generally that people make mistakes, and alcohol abuse is a real problem that affects millions of Americans, so balancing legal and financial consequences with the ability to get help is the goal. 

What Determines If My D Charge Is a Felony?

On the other side of the equation is the desire to punish those who undertake this dangerous behavior and deter anyone else from doing so. As a result, certain circumstances will mean that the DUI charge is much more serious, even when the offense is a first time one.

  1. Enhanced BAC DUIs: If a person’s BAC level is above a certain percentage (in many states, 0.15%), the law dictates that they receive a more serious charge. This is true even if the driver is a first time offender due to the dangerous nature of such impairment.
  2. Death/bodily injury enhancements: Another factor that elevates a DUI charge is if the drunk driver caused an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death to another person. There may also be separate criminal charges filed against the offender.
  3. Prior convictions: If a person has a prior DUI conviction on their record, the law usually dictates that the person will receive a higher charge with more severe punishments. Most states have a “look back” period to count prior convictions, while after that period the slate is wiped clean. This is not an insignificant amount of time, though, as most states require that a driver keep a clean record for five, seven, or even ten years before the charging clock resets. 

What Are Possible Punishments for a Felony Dui?

Felony DUI charges often come with serious possible consequences. The first and most obvious punishment is jail or prison time. Reoffenders may face up to ten years in prison, and those with intoxication manslaughter or similar charges may face even more. 

DUIs are extremely expensive as well. Even dealing with a misdemeanor charge will cost thousands, and this is multiplied with each higher charged degree. A person may lose their driver’s license for years, or even permanently in some circumstances. To sum it up, a DUI conviction can carry serious and long-lasting punishment.

Do I Need an Attorney for My DUI Charge?

A DUI conviction can seriously affect your life. If you are arrested or charged with a drunk driving offense, you need to seek the help of a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. There are also attorneys that specialize in drunk driving defense exclusively, as well. 

They will be able to advise you of all your rights, and help plan the best legal path forward for your situation, whether it be challenging the evidence or negotiating a plea deal. Don’t deal with a drunk driving charge alone.