Penalties for DUI and DWI

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 What are the Consequences of Driving Under the Influence?

Driving under the influence (DUI), also known as drunk driving, is a criminal offense that can lead to incarceration.

The specific consequences of this crime depend on several factors, such as the offender’s previous record and the severity of the incident.

Which Factors Affect the Penalties for DUI Offenses?

A crucial factor that influences the severity of the punishment for a DUI offense is whether the offender was previously convicted of the same crime.

First-time offenders are typically charged with a misdemeanor, which can lead to jail sentence of up to one year. However, the maximum sentence is not always imposed.

Additional penalties for first-time DUI offenders may include fines, probation, or license suspension.


Monetary penalties for first-time DUI offenders typically range from $100 to $2,000.

The amount levied depends on the jurisdiction, the specific circumstances of the offense, and the judge’s discretion.

Fines are designed to deter individuals from reoffending and to emphasize the seriousness of driving under the influence.

In some cases, a judge may impose additional financial penalties or fees, such as court costs, which can further increase the financial burden on the offender.


First-time DUI offenders may receive informal probation, which does not require regular supervision by a probation officer.

Informal probation is less restrictive, often lasting between one and three years.

The offender must comply with specific conditions during this period, such as attending DUI education programs, abstaining from alcohol and drug use, and avoiding further legal trouble.

Failure to adhere to these conditions may result in the revocation of probation and the imposition of additional penalties, including possible jail time.

License Suspension

License suspension is a common penalty for first-time DUI offenders, lasting up to 90 days.

During this period, the offender cannot operate a motor vehicle.

However, they may be eligible for a “hardship license,” granting them limited driving privileges.

A hardship license permits the offender to drive to and from essential destinations like work, school, or medical appointments.

To obtain a hardship license, the offender must typically demonstrate a legitimate need for transportation and may need to complete a DUI education program or install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle.

Do Repeat DUI Offenders Face Harsher Penalties?

Repeat DUI offenders face more severe penalties.

For second-time offenders, the fines are usually higher, and the probation period is longer, often requiring formal probation supervised by a probation officer.

A second DUI offense may also be classified as a felony, which could result in a prison term of more than one year.

Second-time DUI offenders may have their driver’s license revoked, though they can generally reapply after the revocation period ends.

Those who have committed more than two DUI offenses may have their vehicle confiscated or their registration canceled. These repeat offenders can face jail time of five years or more and may also be subject to permanent license revocation.

DUI penalties can differ between jurisdictions. The information provided here represents typical penalties, but unique circumstances and local laws can influence the severity of the consequences.

What Factors Can Increase the Severity of DUI Penalties?

Certain circumstances can exacerbate the penalties for a DUI offense, such as:

  • Exceeding the speed limit by a significant amount (e.g., 20 or 30 miles per hour);
  • Having an exceptionally high blood alcohol level (e.g., 0.2%), often referred to as an aggravated DUI;
  • Participating in drag racing;
  • Refusing to take a breathalyzer test at the scene;
  • Causing property damage;
  • Inflicting injury or causing the death of someone, which can lead to manslaughter charges for the DUI offender.

What are Zero-Tolerance Laws for Underage DUI Offenders?

People under 21 who commit a DUI offense may be subject to their state’s “zero-tolerance” law.

Zero-tolerance laws impose automatic penalties for underage DUI offenders, regardless of actual impairment or the presence of factors that might otherwise mitigate the sentence.

Most zero-tolerance laws prohibit drivers under 21 from operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above a certain limit (typically 0.01% or 0.02%).

Violators of zero-tolerance laws face penalties such as fines, license suspension, or license revocation and may even be subject to jail time.

What Other Penalties Can DUI Offenders Face?

DUI offenders may be required to attend driver safety or driver education courses, perform community service, and pay restitution to victims for any losses resulting from the DUI offense.

Driver Safety or Driver Education Courses

DUI offenders may be mandated to attend driver safety or driver education courses during their sentencing.

These courses are designed to educate the offender on the dangers and consequences of driving under the influence and to promote responsible driving behavior.

Course topics may include:

  • Alcohol and drug education.
  • Traffic laws.
  • Defensive driving techniques.
  • The impact of DUI on victims and society.

Successful completion may be a condition for reinstating a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

Community Service

Judges often require DUI offenders to perform community service as part of their sentence.

Community service serves as a form of restitution to society for the harm caused by the DUI offense and aims to foster a sense of responsibility and accountability in the offender.

Examples of community service activities include:

  • Cleaning up highways.
  • Assisting at local non-profit organizations.
  • Participating in drunk driving prevention programs.

Restitution to Victims

In cases where a DUI offense has caused property damage, injury, or death, the offender may be ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

Restitution is a financial compensation intended to cover the victims’ expenses and losses resulting from the DUI incident. This can include medical bills, lost wages, property repair or replacement costs, and other related expenses.

The amount of restitution required depends on the severity of the damages and the financial circumstances of the offender.

Failure to pay restitution as ordered by the court may result in additional penalties and legal consequences.

What is an Ignition Interlock Device?

An ignition interlock device may be mandated by a judge for individuals convicted of a DUI offense.

This device, wired to the vehicle’s ignition, functions as a breathalyzer.

The driver must blow into the device for the vehicle to start. If the device detects a measurable amount of alcohol (0.02% or higher), the vehicle will not start.

The ignition interlock may also require periodic retesting while the vehicle operates.

If alcohol is detected during these retests, the device will prevent the driver from restarting the vehicle until an acceptable reading is obtained.

Tampering with, destroying, or having another person blow into the device is considered a criminal offense.

What Steps Should I Take If I Have Been Arrested for a DUI Offense?

If you have been arrested or charged with a DUI offense, consulting with an experienced DUI/DWI attorney is essential.

Your attorney can review the specifics of your case, inform you of your rights, and advise you on the best course of action.

Use LegalMatch to find a lawyer who can represent you in court and provide legal support throughout the criminal trial process.


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