What Makes a DUI a Felony?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on November 20, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Anytime you're cited for driving under the influence, you face potentially stiff criminal penalties as well as restrictions on your ability to drive.

A DUI offense is generally a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and potentially imprisonment in county jail for up to one year -- but typically less. However, under some circumstances, a DUI may be charged as a felony, punishable in some cases by lengthy prison sentences.

What can potentially make a DUI a felony?

  • Prior convictions. If you have prior convictions for DUI on your record, you may automatically be charged with a felony for subsequent DUI arrests depending both on the laws in your state and how long it has been since a previous conviction. Even DUI convictions that have been expunged may sometimes count as prior offenses.
  • Death or injury. If your DUI resulted in the death of another person, you may be charged with a felony, such as vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter, or murder. Even cases where another driver, passenger, or pedestrian was injured may lead to severe criminal penalties. An Oklahoma man was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of felony DUI in a crash that caused a motorcycle rider to have one of his legs amputated.
  • Elevated or Extreme BAC. In some states, an extremely high blood alcohol concentration may be characterized as an aggravated or extreme DUI, which may be a felony depending on the laws in your state. Extreme DUI is generally a BAC of more than double the legal limit.
  • Driving on suspended or revoked license. Driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license is a violation of the law by itself. But coupled with a DUI, it may lead to felony charges.
  • Children in the vehicle. In addition to likely resulting in child endangerment charges, driving under the influence with children in the car can lead to felony DUI charges in many states.

Learn more about DUI arrests at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on DUI Law.

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