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Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense in all 50 states. Those who are caught violating drunk or impaired driving laws could spend time in jail, lose their driver's license or face other penalties, such as mandatory classes. In many cases, a DUI or similar charge is considered a misdemeanor. However, it is possible for such a charge to be upgraded to a felony DUI in certain situations.
There are many circumstances that can turn a misdemeanor drunk driving charge into a felony DUI. Those who hurt another person while operating a motor vehicle under the influence, for example, or who do so with children in the car may also face increased penalties. It is also possible that someone who has a blood alcohol content over .15 percent will face additional charges or harsher penalties when stopped by a police officer.
A driver may also face additional penalties for reckless driving while under the influence or evading the police. Although it may not raise a drunk driving charge to a felony, drivers may face automatic administrative penalties such as a driver's license suspension for not complying with a request to take a Breathalyzer or other tests.
Almost all states make it a felony or otherwise add penalties for drivers who have extremely high BACs. In Arizona, drivers who have a blood alcohol content of .15 or more may be charged with an "extreme" or "super" DUI. States tend to punish drivers with higher BACs because it may indicate an unusual lack of regard for others on the road.
In many cases, drivers who have that much alcohol in their bodies are unable to safely control their vehicles or comprehend where they are. In almost all 50 states, the legal blood alcohol limit is .08 percent for non-commercial drivers and .04 percent for commercial drivers. If a commercial driver is charged with felony drunk driving, he or she may face the same penalties as a non-commercial driver. In addition, it may result in the loss of a commercial license and other professional penalties.
In Illinois, it is a Class 2 felony aggravated DUI if someone is hurt or killed in a drunk driving accident. Harsher felony charges may also be forthcoming if multiple people are hurt or killed.
Many other states also impose additional penalties on drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs when they hurt another person with their vehicle. Bodily harm may be caused to the impaired driver's passengers or to occupants of other vehicles. Pedestrians or others in the path of a vehicle may also be vulnerable to being hurt in a drunk driving accident.
Some states such as New York and New Jersey have specific laws that may make a drunk driving charge a felony if a child is in the car while the act takes place. In Texas, drivers may be charged with child endangerment in addition to DWI if minors are in a vehicle being operated by a drunk or impaired driver. For the purposes of the Texas law, a minor is defined as anyone under the age of 15. If the children in the car are in the custody of the driver, he or she may have them removed either temporarily or permanently by child welfare authorities based on the facts in the case.
Prior offenses of a similar manner can also have an effect on the type of charge that is issued. For instance, New York state may charge a person with a felony for having a second DUI within 10 years of the first. In California, those who are charged with a second DUI within 10 years of a first conviction may face additional penalties such as having their license suspended for a year.
Drivers should be aware that a drunk driving conviction may be used when considering penalties for a current charge regardless of how long ago it happened. However, even if a driver does have a DUI within the 10-year period or whatever period a specific state uses, it may be possible to ask for leniency. An attorney may be able to ask for a plea bargain that reduces the charges and the penalties that may go with it.
When a person has their driver's license suspended or revoked, they are not supposed to drive at all. The only exception may be if a driver has a restricted license to drive to work, school or alcohol counseling meetings. Simply being caught driving without a valid license, even if driving while sober, may bring serious consequences in some cases.
Those who are found to be driving under the influence of alcohol while on a suspended or revoked license may then be considered an especially grave danger to public safety. What may otherwise be a misdemeanor charge could potentially be elevated to a felony in this scenario.
Both misdemeanor and felony DUI charges may come with serious penalties. This may be especially true if there are serious aggravating factors such as causing bodily harm or death to another person. Those who are charged with a DUI may benefit from talking to an attorney. An attorney may be able to have charges dropped or reduced, which may result in a driver avoiding some or all possible penalties.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.