A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) normally carries fines, license suspension, and possible jail time. However, when a DUI involves certain aggravating factors it can increase the already severe consequences of the conviction and make it more likely that you'll spend time in jail. Here are some of the more common factors that can lead to DUI sentencing enhancements.
All states structure DUI penalties around the number of prior DUI offenses the defendant has. For example, in Maine, a first DUI carries up to a year in jail (though there's no mandatory minimum), $500 to $2,000 in fines, and a 150-day license suspension. But drivers who are convicted of a second DUI in Maine face seven days to one year in jail, $700 to $2,000 in fines, and a three-year license suspension.
The number of prior convictions can also affect the classification of a DUI offense. For instance, a first, second, or third DUI in California will normally be a misdemeanor. But California drivers who are convicted of a fourth DUI are looking at a felony conviction.
However, states differ in how they count prior DUI convictions. In some states, DUI convictions stay on your record and count as priors offenses forever. But in most states, prior convictions that are very old won't be counted. Depending on the state and circumstances, a prior DUI conviction might stay on your record for something like seven or ten years.
In every state, you can get a DUI for driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (.05% or more in Utah). But many states impose sentencing enhancements for DUIs that involve BACs that are substantially higher than the .08% limit. For instance, in Arizona the minimum jail time for a first DUI is:
Even in states that don't have sentencing enhancements for high BACs built into the statutes, a driver's BAC level is normally a consideration for prosecutors in making a plea offer and judges in sentencing.
When a DUI involves an accident—especially if there were injuries or deaths—the conviction penalties can be far more severe than would otherwise be the case. In North Dakota, for instance, DUIs involving injuries or fatalities are felonies and carry one to five years in prison for injuries and three to 20 years in prison for fatalities.
A motorist who kills another person while driving under the influence might also face vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges. A vehicular homicide or manslaughter conviction can lead to a long prison sentence.
For obvious reasons, many states impose more severe penalties for DUI offenders who had minor passengers in their vehicle at the time of the offense. For example, in Connecticut, having a minor passenger increases the minimum jail time for an OUI (operating under the influence) by:
In addition to enhanced DUI penalties, having a minor passenger while driving under the influence can lead to child endangerment charges.
If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it's important to talk to a qualified DUI lawyer as soon as possible, especially when your case involves aggravating factors. An experienced DUI attorney can help you decide the best course of action for dealing with your situation.