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Is a DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor? Answers Here!

Short Answer: A person found guilty of DUI/DWI can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony in most states. Often this is at the discretion of the prosecutor or judge. Many factors are considered when you are being charged but the vast majority of DUI convictions result in a felony.

After you are arrested for DUI or DWI you will arraigned. During this phase you will learn as to whether the DUI/DWI charges will be dropped or if you will be prosecuted and have a trial to determine your guilt and sentence if found guilty.

If you have been arrested or convicted of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) you will have many questions and fears such as:

  • Will I have a criminal background and how will that affect my life?
  • Is a DUI felony or misdemeanor?
  • Will I be sentenced to jail or prison time?
  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • Will I have to go to trial?
  • Will I lose my drivers license.
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Misdemeanor Vs. Felony – The difference

By definition misdemeanor “is a minor wrongdoing, punishable by one year or less of jail time ” and a felony is defined as “a crime, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor, and usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.” Misdemeanors often carry little to no jail time and may include community service while felonies often carry a prison sentence and restitution.

Factors: Misdemeanor DUI or Felony DUI

Many factors play a role in whether you will be charged with a felony DUI or not.

Misdemeanor DUI – DWI

Most, but not all DUI’s/DWI’s are charged as a misdemeanor. If you have no previous criminal convictions on your record, hire a decent defense attorney and have not been charged with any other crimes you will most likely be charged with only a misdemeanor. It is not uncommon to be sentenced to number of hours of community service and not jail time. Favorable factors for a misdemeanor DUI include:

  • BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was not extremely high.
  • You did not have other people in the vehicle with you, particularly underage drunkards or minors.
  • This is your first DUI offense and have no other previous criminal convictions on your record.
  • You were not charged with other crimes when you were stopped for your DUI.

Felony DUI – DWI

In most states a DUI/DWI will be upgraded to a felony if any of the following offenses occurred at the same time when you were arrested. In the eyes of the law these circumstances are seen as “aggravated.”

  • You did not have a valid driver’s license or your license was suspended at the time.
  • Underage persons or minors were in the vehicle with you.
  • You caused an accident  and/or bodily harm to a person.
  • BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was much higher than the legal limit.

If someone is killed in an accident that you caused while DUI you can be charged with manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon or vehicular homicide depending on which state you reside in.

Penalties for Felony DUI/DWI

Sentences and penalties for a felony DUI are much harsher than those for misdemeanor DUI.  Penalties may include any of the following.

  • State prison – Prison sentences can range anywhere from over 1 year to 10 years. The length of the sentence varies between each state and the exact circumstances of you case.
  • Probation –  In some cases you may spend no time in prison at all and be sentenced to a number of months or years of probation only. It is also possible you will get probation in addition to prison time.
  • Restrictions – You may also lose your driver’s license for a period of time that can range from 30 days to years.

Penalties for Misdemeanor DUI/DWI

  • Jail Time – You may be sentenced to jail time which will be less than one year.
  • Probation – You may be sentenced to probation only or in addition to jail time.
  • Community Service – Part of your sentence may include community service time.
  • Restrictions – Your driver’s license may be suspended or revoked for a period of time.
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DUI Expungement

It is possible in some states to have a felony DUI expunged from your record. Please see our felony expungement page for more information.

Notice: This nor any other material published or on HelpForFelons.org should be considered legal advice. We are not lawyers.