What Are the Consequences of a DUI?

The most common penalties for drunk driving

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on August 4, 2022

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It’s a crime in every state for someone to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Commonly known as “drunk driving,” every state defines and labels this offense in its own way, including:

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
  • Operating Under the Influence (OUI).

This article will use the general term “DUI” to refer to these laws. While the specifics vary from state to state, there are two general elements of a DUI offense:

  • The driver was operating a vehicle
  • The driver was intoxicated

State DUI laws differ in how they define:

  • Vehicle. What counts as a vehicle? For example, automobiles, buses, golf carts, motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, snowmobiles, boats, etc.
  • Operating. Does the person have to be actively driving on a public road, or is it enough to be sitting in a parked car while intoxicated? Does the engine have to be turned on?
  • Intoxicated. What are the exact requirements for being intoxicated? How much alcohol do you have in your system? Do substances other than alcohol count? For example, legalized marijuana, prescription drugs, etc.

Learn more about the elements of a DUI offense and how a DUI is proven by reading this article.

When it comes to the consequences of a DUI, penalties can include fines, jail time, a prison sentence, probation, or community service.

Because of the severity of the consequences, Michigan DUI defense attorney Daniel J. Larin strongly recommends that individuals charged with a DUI seek legal representation. “People really have no idea what they’re getting themselves into without a lawyer who can [navigate the legal system and] tell them, ‘Here’s what could happen to you, here’s what we can do, and here are some possibilities to reduce the negative impacts on you’… I personally would always have a lawyer [in a criminal matter],” he says.

This article will cover the common types of DUI and their penalties and point to further legal help.

DUI Penalties

Depending on the specific circumstances and state laws, DUI charges can range from a misdemeanor for first offenders to felony charges for subsequent DUIs.

Misdemeanor DUI

In most states, a first-offense DUI is classified as a misdemeanor. A first-time DUI offender can face several penalties, including:

  • Jail time. While some states don’t require any jail time for a first-time DUI, most states do. And many states set both minimum and maximum jail sentences for first-time offenses. Minimum sentences typically last several days, while maximum sentences can range anywhere from a month to a year.
  • Fines. In addition to jail time, DUI misdemeanors also carry fines, typically ranging from $500-$2,000.

A misdemeanor conviction often carries other consequences, including community service, insurance hikes, or license suspension. We’ll discuss these in more depth below.

Felony DUI

Depending on circumstances, a DUI conviction can bring longer prison sentences, bigger fines, or become a felony.

 Some of the factors that can elevate DUI charges to a felony.

  • Injury or death. If drunk driving causes injury or death to another person, the DUI will become a felony. “Injury” means “major injuries such as broken bones, brain injuries, or loss of limbs,” says Larin.
  • Multiple offenses. “If you have three offenses [in Michigan], your DUI can be elevated to a felony,” says Larin.
  • Children in the car. A third way a DUI can become a felony is “if you [already] have a DUI and get a second one while there are children [under age 16] in the car. This would be a felony with a prior.” says Larin.

These factors are true of Michigan law, as well as other states. Depending on where you live, other factors could be:

  • High BAC. In some states, a DUI offense can be elevated to a felony if the driver has a blood alcohol content (or blood alcohol concentration) over the legal limit of .08%. It’s worth noting that some states have so-called zero tolerance laws targeting individuals with prior DUIs or who are under the legal drinking age (21). Zero tolerance laws penalize individuals for having amounts of alcohol below the usual limit (for example, .02%) or any trace of alcohol.
  • Other aggravating factors. In addition to causing injury or death, causing property damage can also elevate DUI charges to a felony.

Like a misdemeanor DUI, felony DUIs also bring prison sentences and fines, but they are increased. A felony can bring fines of thousands of dollars and sentences of multiple years.

Other Consequences of a DUI Conviction

In addition to fines and jail time, DUI offenders can face a range of other penalties depending on their circumstances and state law:

  • Community service hours. In some cases, courts may assign a certain number of community service hours to DUI offenders. This can be in addition to jail time or instead of jail time.
  • License and driving privileges. In many cases, a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will take action against individuals convicted of a DUI through driver’s license suspension or revocation. The amount of time a license can be taken away depends on the charges, but can range from months to years.
  • Increased car insurance premiums. Having a DUI on your record often significantly increases your auto insurance. 
  • Treatment programs. In some cases, individuals convicted of a DUI may be ordered to undergo a treatment program before their driving privileges are restored.
  • Driving classes. Courts may order individuals to go through new driving training before they can get their license again.
  • Ignition interlock device (IID). In some cases, courts will impose a restricted license that requires individuals to use an IID every time they drive their car. An IID is a breathalyzer device installed on the car’s dashboard. If the breath test shows a BAC over a certain level, the vehicle will not start.

A DUI arrest can bring many life-changing consequences, from jail time to restrictions on your ability to drive.

Getting a DUI Defense Attorney is Essential

If you are facing DUI charges, it’s important to seek legal advice from a defense attorney as soon as possible.

“In a criminal case, I would always recommend that people have a lawyer,” says Larin. Speaking from his experience as a defense attorney, Larin adds, “Anytime I see a person in court who doesn’t have a lawyer on any criminal case, I think it’s really, really bad. Judges, most of the time, really try to talk people into getting a lawyer” if they don’t have one.

Why is it important to have a lawyer?

“From a lawyer’s perspective, it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer, especially one who has a good reputation with the court and prosecutors or city attorneys. [The reason behind] the old adage ‘only a fool represents himself’ [is that] it’s easier for an attorney to talk about you than it is for you to talk about yourself,” says Larin. 

Lawyers can go into court and figure out what needs to be done in an expert, non-confrontational way, whereas individuals are liable to bring emotion or aggression into the process that is unhelpful to their case, says Larin. Furthermore, lawyers understand legal nuances and defenses in ways the public typically do not.

Fortunately, many attorneys provide free consultations, allowing the attorney to hear the facts of your case and for you to determine if the attorney meets your needs.

To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:

  • What are your attorneys’ fees?
  • What billing options do you offer?
  • What is your experience defending DUI cases?
  • What penalties could I be facing?
  • What are my best defenses and chances of success?

You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

Look for a DUI criminal defense lawyer in the Super Lawyers directory.

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