Have you had the misfortune of being pulled over for a DUI? Obtaining that charge is scary enough, but after talking to your friends, they now have you wondering is a DUI a felony?
Before you start panicking, take a deep breath and realize that the first or second DUI is likely a misdemeanor. We will walk you through all the information you need to determine whether or not your DUI is a misdemeanor or felony. Keep reading to find out more!
Definition of a Felony
Before we determine whether or not your DUI is a felony, we first need to define what that term means. In high school, you may have learned that a felony conviction means prison time, the loss of the right to vote, and the inability to own firearms.
What your Civics teacher may not have mentioned is that there are several classes of felonies. These include (in ascending order of severity:)
- State jail felony
- Third-degree felony
- Second-degree felony
- First-degree felony
- Capital felony
Each of these felonies can carry a fine of up to $10,000 although many judges will not give the full $10,000 fine for a first-offense state jail felony. The differences between the state jail, third, second, and first-degree felonies is mainly the amount of jail or prison time associated with them.
Capital felonies are for crimes akin to murder and can include life in prison or the death penalty. These types of felonies are not typically associated with any type of DUI.
Of course, if you cause even a minor accident while driving impaired, you will be charged with a DUI. The charge may still be a misdemeanor if there is no serious bodily injury to any party involved.
In this case, serious bodily injury includes permanent disfigurement, the loss of a limb or organ, diminished function of limb or organ, or any injury that may cause significant risk of death.
When you cause an accident that includes major bodily injury to the other driver or any of the passengers, this is considered an aggravating circumstance. This aggravating circumstance can change the misdemeanor classification of a DUI into a felony DUI.
This third-degree felony DUI will be charged as intoxication assault and carries a prison sentence of 2-10 years in a Texas state prison. Additionally, you can expect a fine and a suspended license for 180 days, up to 2 years.
If you choose to drink and drive, there is a risk of killing another driver, passenger, or even pedestrians or cyclists. In this event, the charge will change from a simple misdemeanor DUI to intoxication manslaughter which is a second-degree felony.
The possible penalties for intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault are within the same ranges. However, it is generally safe to assume that a DUI that results in death will be handed harsher punishments.
While your first and second offenses are considered misdemeanors in general cases, this is not so if you cause an accident that includes bodily harm or death.
Children in the Vehicle
As children grow into teens and young adults, they have the capacity to discern whether a driver has drank too much and may have the ability to find another way home. This is often not the case with teenagers and children younger than the age of 15
With this said, if you are charged with a DUI and have a passenger younger than 15, you will face harsher penalties. This charge is a ‘state jail felony‘ which means that you may face imprisonment for not more than 2 years, but not less than 180 days.
Aside from the state jail time that you will serve, you will face fines and a license suspension of 90 days or up to 2 years.
In Texas, the first two DUI charges are misdemeanors. If you happen to be charged for a third, fourth, or even fifth DUI, it is a third-degree felony.
Luckily, if you are charged with a second or third offense DUI, there is hope to avoiding serious jail time if you live in the Harris County area. The Saving Ourselves By Education and Resources (SOBER) program is available to repeat offenders.
This program is in place to help address the root of any underlying substance abuse issue, possibly pay fewer fines, perform less community service, and potentially avoid months or years in prison.
While the SOBER program is voluntary, there are many requirements that you must meet to be eligible. You should also note that the program may be up to 16 months long and you will have to pay $60 per month once admitted.
Is a DUI a Felony?
The question ‘is a DUI a felony,’ can be a tricky one. It really comes down to whether the driver hurt or killed someone if there was a child in the vehicle, and if you have two previous DUI charges.
No matter the type of DUI or if there are aggravating circumstances, you will need an attorney’s help. Finding the best DUI attorney possible will help ensure that you face the minimum amount of jail time, pay lessened fines, and avoid excessive community service.
If you have multiple drinking and driving charges and are interested in programs like SOBER, your attorney will be able to advise the best plan of action and will work to ensure fair sentencing.
Hopefully, you choose not to drink and drive as there are heavy and serious consequences for breaking this law. However, if you have a run-in with the law that involves alcohol and the operation of a motor vehicle, contact us for criminal defense representation.