Impaired Driving: Laws, Penalties and Consequences
DUI and DWI Penalties

DUI and DWI Penalties Across the US: Know The Consequences

Updated Nov. 26, 2019

The penalties that accompany a DUI conviction vary from state to state. Any crime committed either qualifies as an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony, with infractions being the least serious crimes and felonies being the most serious. In all 50 states, driving under the influence is considered a misdemeanor or a felony offense. Each type of crime carries with it a scope of possible penalties which may be issued to the offender.

The main difference in penalties between felony and misdemeanor offenses are:

  • The length of time a convicted person may be sent to jail for
  • The type of jail they will be sent to (i.e. a local jail or a state penitentiary).

In most cases, a misdemeanor may be punished with up to one year in jail while felonies must be punished with at least one year in jail. In some states, being convicted of a misdemeanor would mean incarceration in a local jail, whereas a felony conviction demands incarceration in a state prison.

Many crimes can either be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the seriousness of the offense. For example, a first time DUI offender who did not obviously endanger any other road users would likely be charged with a misdemeanor, whereas a repeat offender who caused injury or property damage may be charged with a felony. Each state has its own set of qualifying factors for what makes a crime a misdemeanor or a felony.

There are also different classes of misdemeanor and felony in every state, each with its own range of possible punishments including fines, community service and jail time. Which class an offense falls into will depend on how much harm was caused to other people as a result of the offender’s actions.

DUI penalties in different states

DUI offenses are generally treated as misdemeanors unless the offending person has two or three prior DUI convictions on their record. Third or fourth offenses are typically dealt with as felonies, as the offender has demonstrated repeated disregard for DUI laws and has not responded to correctional measures.

Some other aggravating factors can upgrade a DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. For example, in many states, driving under the influence while accompanied by an underage passenger automatically warrants a felony conviction.

The following information is taken from the Texas penal code and serves as an example of likely DUI misdemeanor and felony punishments.

DUI (drivers under 21) first offense

A Class C Misdemeanor which may incur any or all the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $500
  • 40 to 60 hours community service
  • A 60-day license suspension
  • 30 days of ineligibility for an occupational license

DUI (drivers under 21) second offense

A Class C Misdemeanor which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $500
  • 40 to 60 hours community service
  • A 120-day license suspension
  • 90 days of ineligibility for an occupational license

DUI (drivers 16 and under) third offense

A Class C Misdemeanor which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $500
  • 40 to 60 hours community service
  • A license suspension of at least 180 days
  • A potential referral to juvenile court

DUI (drivers 17 to 20) third offense

A Class B Misdemeanor which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $2,000
  • 40 to 60 hours community service
  • A 180-day license suspension
  • Completely revoked eligibility for an occupational license

Any further offenses beyond this point will be dealt with at the same level, until the offender turns 21 and can be punished as an adult. In Texas, this would mean a DWI charge as opposed to a DUI charge, as the latter is reserved exclusively for minors.

DWI first offense

A Class B Misdemeanor which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $2,000
  • A jail sentence between 72 hours and 180 days
  • A 90 to 365-day license suspension

DWI second offense

A Class A Misdemeanor which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $4,000
  • A jail sentence between 30 days and 1 year
  • A 180-day to 2-year license suspension

DWI third offense

A 3rd Degree Felony which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • A jail sentence between 2 years and 10 years
  • A 180-day to 2-year license suspension

Any subsequent offenses will also be treated as 3rd degree felonies. Once a person has committed a DUI offense on four or more occasions, it is likely they will be dealt the most severe punishments allowable for that felony.

DWI whilst carrying a passenger under 15 years old

A state jail felony which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • A jail sentence (in state prison) of between 180 days and two years
  • A license suspension

Intoxication assault

Causing serious bodily injury to another person by mistake while committing DWI, BWI (boating while intoxicated) or FWI (flying while intoxicated) is a crime known as intoxication assault in the state of Texas. Other states have similar laws, though they may refer to intoxication assault under a different name.

Intoxication assault is a 3rd degree felony which may incur the following penalties (even where first and second DUI offenses are concerned):

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • A jail sentence between 2 and 10 years
  • A 90-day to 1-year license suspension

Intoxication manslaughter

Accidentally killing another person while committing DWI, BWI or FWI is known as intoxication manslaughter in Texas. The crime may be referred to by a different name or classified as ordinary manslaughter in other states.

Intoxication manslaughter is a 2nd degree felony which may incur the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • A jail sentence between 2 and 20 years
  • A 180-day to 2-year license suspension

Public intoxication

Public intoxication is a misdemeanor crime in most states. To be charged with public intoxication, a person must be intoxicated in a public place and be causing significant disturbance or harm to themselves or other people.

In Texas, public intoxication is a Class C Misdemeanor which may incur a fine of up to $500, when the offender is over 21. An under 21-year old who is intoxicated in public will be charged as a Minor in Possession (MIP). This offence is punishable with:

  • A fine of up to $2,000
  • Up to 40 hours community service
  • A jail sentence of up to six months

Know the consequences of DUI

The classifications of DUI offence and their associated penalties mentioned above are all taken from the Texas penal code. Driving under the influence is treated as a serious offence and incurs severe penalties everywhere in the United States, though the specific laws and penalties in your state are likely to differ slightly from those mentioned here. Check your driver’s handbook, driver’s ed materials or your state’s penal code for details on local DWI laws, fines and penalties.

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