The majority of DUI charges remain at the misdemeanor level. However, there are a percentage of cases that escalate to a felony charge. If you have been charged with a DUI, it's important to know whether or not you are at risk of your charge being escalated.
Factors That Influence Charges
Injury or Death
If your negligence leads to the serious injury or death of an innocent victim, your DUI charge can quickly become a felony. Even if you're originally charged with a misdemeanor, should the health of the individual decline because of their injuries, your charge could quickly be escalated. In addition to DUI, you could also be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
An individual that was previously convicted of a DUI and is recharged could also be facing a felony. The fact that someone would re-offend with such a dangerous crime isn't overlooked by the courts. In some states, a repeat DUI conviction within a set period of time comes along with a mandatory jail sentence. The only way a prior conviction won't affect you is if it was expunged.
Driver's License Status
An individual charged with a DUI while operating on a revoked or suspended driver's license is also at risk of a felony upgrade. Similar to prior convictions, a person who is suspected of driving under the influence while also driving without a valid license is thought to be a more severe crime. This type of felony upgrade may also come along with mandatory sentencing minimums.
The consequences of a DUI felony conviction vary between states. They also vary from courtroom to courtroom because aside from those cases that qualify for mandatory sentencing minimums, the judge can use their own discretion. However, the consequences are harsh, nonetheless.
A person charged with felony DUI where there are no injuries or fatalities can expect to pay harsh fines and even spend a short period in jail. In cases where there is serious injury or death, hefty fines and a lengthy jail sentence may arise. In some instances, the sentence mimics that of a murder conviction.
If your DUI charge could be escalated from a misdemeanor to a felony, it's important that you take action right away. This is best achieved by hiring an attorney. If you're guilty as charged, unfortunately, there will be consequences; however, an attorney can ensure your rights are protected and that the punishment fairly fits the crime.