The lowest level of crime, which includes driving under the influence (DUI), is known as a misdemeanor. As a general rule, if you are facing a first-time charge, then this is the type of charge. However, there are some instances when you are charged with a felony DUI instead of a misdemeanor DUI. Although a felony is more serious in nature, which will warrant more severe punishment, both types of charges carry stiff penalties. DUI laws vary from one state to the next, but there are three basic ways that your misdemeanor DUI could be upgraded to a felony DUI:
1. When the DUI Results in Serious or Fatal Injuries to Another.
Serious or fatal bodily harm has a lot to do with whether or not you're charged with a misdemeanor or felony DUI. For example, in California, a misdemeanor can be elevated to a felony drunk driving charge if the prosecutor has evidence that the drunk driver killed another individual. In Florida, you can be charged with a third-degree felony if bodily harm is caused in a DUI accident.
2. When the DUI Occurred with an Invalid License.
In order to be behind the wheel of a vehicle and legally drive it, you must possess a valid driver's license. It cannot be restricted, suspended or revoked. If it is, and you're caught driving drunk, you're looking at an easy way of receiving an upgraded DUI charge. For example, in Oregon, you can be charged with a Class B felony if you are caught driving with a previously-revoked license and the revocation was a result of the assault, criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter or murder of another person. In other words, driving drunk could have been a misdemeanor, but when you decided to do it with an invalid license, you put yourself at risk of being charged with a felony if caught.
3. When the DUI Occurred After Prior DUI Convictions.
In North Carolina, if you have had at least three DUI convictions in the past seven years, then your drunk driving charge immediately becomes a felony. This mandates a jail term of a minimum of one year, and the court requires that you enter and complete a substance abuse program during your time in jail or as a requirement of your parole.
Depending on the laws in your state, there may be other instances when your misdemeanor DUI can be elevated to a felony DUI. If you have been charged with felony DUI, it is crucial that you take the charges seriously and consult with a DUI attorney as soon as possible. You do have the right to an attorney and your attorney can help you determine your legal options and how to proceed.