Is a DUI a Misdemeanor?
DUI, or driving while under the influence, is a misdemeanor in all 50 states if it is the defendant's first offense. Most states also consider a second—or even a third—DUI to be a misdemeanor, provided a certain amount of time, generally seven to 10 years, has passed between offenses.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor is a criminal offense for which a defendant can be sentenced to jail for up to one year. Many states categorize misdemeanors into classes depending on their severity, which will determine if jail time will be imposed and its length. A misdemeanor will generally, but not in all cases, not disqualify a defendant from serving in the military, working in law enforcement, or acquiring or retaining a professional license.
If you are convicted of misdemeanor DUI, many states impose a short jail term or community service if it is a first offense. Your sentence may also include probation, a fine, DUI school, and license suspension. There may be a mandatory minimum jail sentence for subsequent misdemeanor DUI offenses if:
- The offender's blood alcohol content (BAC) is very high.
- A passenger is under a certain age.
There are a few states that treat a second DUI as a low-level felony if committed within a 10-year period of the first. Other states consider a third DUI as a felony in any case. All states, with few exceptions, charge a fourth or more DUI as a felony if it was committed within a 10-year period.
DUI as Felony
There are circumstances when even a first-time DUI offense, or ones in which the charges would normally be a misdemeanor, will be considered a felony. These include incidents in which:
- There was serious bodily injury or disfigurement
- There was a fatality.
- The defendant had a BAC over a certain level.
- The defendant had prior DUI convictions within a certain period of time.
- A passenger was below a certain age.
- The defendant was driving on a restricted, suspended, or revoked license.
These aggravating circumstances will not automatically upgrade a misdemeanor to a felony in every state. Depending on your state, a prosecutor usually has the discretion whether to upgrade a DUI charge with an aggravating circumstance such as an elevated BAC or an accident in which injuries occurred as a felony.
If someone does suffer obvious serious injuries or is killed in a DUI accident, all states will charge the offender with one of more felonies including the following:
- Vehicular homicide
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Criminal negligence
- Assault with a deadly weapon
A DUI as a misdemeanor may be expunged in some states after a certain amount of time has passed. A DUI, unlike other misdemeanors, can have serious repercussions in your life. Promptly consult a DUI attorney if you have been charged with a drunk driving offense.