Penalties and Consequences of a DUI Conviction

A person charged with DUI or a person who refuses to take a breathalyzer test, may immediately have his licensed suspended.  Some states have passed laws which require a sentence of over 365 days for a second or third DUI. In those cases, the DUI rises to the level of an aggravated felony, for which there are very serious immigration consequences including deportation, even for someone who has a green card. 

Most states have additional civil or criminal penalties for blood alcohol content test or breathalyzer refusal. These states want to make the cost of a refusal high enough to force compliance with breathalyzer or blood alcohol content test requirements. Penalties for refusing a BAC test include high fines, insurance surcharges, suspension or revocation of vehicle registration and jail time.  Some states also have required jail time for first-time offenders who refuse to take a BAC test.

In many states, after a first offense, penalties and fines for drunk driving convictions can be reduced if the driver participates in an education and assessment program. In some states, participation is mandatory in order to restore driving privileges.

Community Service

Another option for reducing jail time for a first-offender is community service.  In most states the judge has the discretion to lessen jail time by ordering community service. Community Service can be various volunteer activities including speaking to teenagers about the risks of drinking and driving, cleaning up litter along a highway, or volunteering at a local charity. 

Typically, these programs include drunk driving prevention education and an assessment of the offender's drinking level.  If the evaluation finds that the driver is alcohol dependent, the driver can be mandated to participate in some form of treatment, counseling or support group.

Subsequent Offenses Mean Harsher Penalties

Penalties, including jail time, fines and license suspensions increase significantly with each DUI offense.  For example, in Minnesota the following license suspension timeframes apply:

  • First offense = automatic 90 day license suspension
  • Second offense = automatic 180 day license suspension
  • Third offense = automatic 1 year license suspension

In Maine, the suspension time increases from 90 days, to 18 months to 4 YEARS with each DUI offense.  In Connecticut, the increase goes from a 1 year suspension, to a 3 year suspension, to permanent suspension.  These differences are an excellent example of how widely state laws vary in regard to how DUI offenses are penalized.

Impound and Interlock Devices

In some states, your car will be impounded after a DUI offense, and in some states, after a second or third DUI conviction, you may be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car.  The ignition interlock device requires you to breathe into a breathalyser before allowing you to start the car.  If your BAC does not pass the portable test, you cannot start your car.  Of course the portable test installed on these devices is as unreliable as the rest and various medications or foods will give a false positive—and you will not be able to drive your car.

If Injuries are Involved

If injuries or death result from the driving of an impaired driver, the drive will be treated as if his vehicle were actually a weapon.  In the event of a death caused by a drunk driver, the driver may be charged with homicide or manslaughter, depending on the facts of the case.  In addition to criminal charges which may be brought if injuries or death result from drunk driving, there may also be a civil case for monetary and punitive damages against a drunk driver.

In many states, penalties and fines for drunk driving convictions can be reduced if the driver participates in an education and assessment program. In some states, participation is mandatory in order to restore driving privileges.

Typically, these programs include drunk driving prevention education and an assessment of the offender's drinking level. If the evaluation finds that the driver is alcohol dependent, the driver can be mandated to participate in some form of treatment, counseling or support group.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony DUI: Penalties are Very Different

A misdemeanor is lesser offense than a felony and carries less harsh penalties.  A misdemeanor may be removed from your record after a period of time, but a felony is very difficult to ever remove from your record.  A felony conviction is a very serious crime which can limit future job opportunities, the ability to secure a loan, and to find housing.  A DUI usually rises to the level of felony in the following situations (although state laws vary on what makes a DUI a felony and this list is not exclusive):

  • A BAC of over .20
  • A DUI charge while transporting a passenger who is a minor
  • A combination of drugs and alcohol
  • A third DUI offense
  • A serious injury or death results from the DUI

How are DUI Penalties Different for Commercial Drivers?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific rules and regulations for drivers of commercial vehicles.  Commercial drivers agree to follow these rules when they apply for a commercial driver’s license.  A commercial driver may be randomly tested for drug or alcohol use before, during, or after driving a commercial vehicle. 

Examples of drivers and employers that are subject to these rules are (the following does not represent a complete listing):

  • Anyone who owns or leases commercial motor vehicles
  • Federal, State, and local governments
  • For-Hire  and Private Motor Carriers
  • Civic Organizations (Disabled Veteran Transport, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc.)
  • Churches

DUI and Car Insurance

Whenever you purchase, renew, or change automobile insurance, an insurance company may check your driving record.  Some companies now reward drivers for good driving behavior.  All insurance companies increase driver insurance rates for bad behavior.  Insurance companies have access to traffic violation records and to point systems in the states that have them.  A DUI conviction on your driving record is an indication to the insurance company that you are a risk.  The insurance covers that added risk by increasing a driver’s insurance rates. 

It is possible to have traffic violations or points without the knowledge of the insurance company.  Insurance companies do not receive automatic notice of violations and have to request the driving history of an individual in order to get the violation information.  Most companies do not request the information unless a person is applying for, or renewing an insurance policy.  If a driver has an increase in his rates due to a DUI, he can request to have his record and rates reviewed at any time and if he does not have any more violations after a few years, he may be able to get his insurance rates dropped again.  Some insurance companies will also take into consideration if you have completed alcohol rehabilitation or driver education training.

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