DUI Sentence Enhancements: Factors That Increase DUI Punishments
Key factors that can make your DUI penalty worse
No matter what state you are in, being accused of DUI is a serious charge with serious consequences. Even for first time offenders, a DUI conviction could result in excessive fines, community service, loss of your driving privileges, electronic monitoring, instillation of an ignition interlock device – even jail time.
A guilty plea or conviction will go on your criminal record, and depending on what state you are in, may stay there forever. You run the risk of other consequences as well. The social stigma of a DUI charge can be devastating to your reputation and career. If you are a student, or a member of a professional association, you may be required to disclose the incident. Points could be added to your license and increase your insurance costs. Finally, depending on the circumstances of your case, civil lawsuits may be filed against you as well.
Even if you are a first time offender, your DUI charge may carry more severe or harsher penalties than would normally result, depending on the specific facts of your situation. In other words, just because most states have a mandatory minimum sentence for DUI doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to receive the minimum.
Listed below are some factors that could enhance your punishments, boost your DUI charge up from a misdemeanor to a felony, or even lead to new charges filed against you. This is not a complete and exhaustive list, however, so be sure to check your local laws and consult with an experienced DUI attorney in your state for more information. Always remember to never ever plead guilty to DUI without first becoming informed exactly of what consequences will result. Each states’ laws, penalties, and enhancement provisions are unique, and some have mandatory minimum sentences that cannot be waived or negotiated.
Factors That May Increase Your DUI Penalties:
Prior Convictions - If you have a previous DUI on your record you may face increased penalties. Some states require the conviction to be within a certain number of years, others do not. Some jurisdictions even count convictions received in other states.
High BAC- A lot of states increase the penalties and charges based on how high your BAC level was. A BAC result above a .15 or .20 will usually lead to increased punishment AND the filing of additional charges against you. Check your local applicable laws and be sure to read up on how your state punishes “per se” violations.
Prior Refusal to Submit to a Chemical Test – If you have been arrested for a DUI before, and you refused to give a sample of your breath, blood, and/or urine for purposes of testing your BAC, you may face enhanced or additional charges if you refused the chemical test again. Additionally, separate laws apply to how your driving privileges will be suspended for refusals, so be sure to check your local Implied Consent laws.
Speeding or Reckless Driving - Receiving a ticket for speeding or reckless driving at the same time you are pulled over for DUI may be costly. Some states will not enhance your DUI penalties as a result of speeding unless you were driving a certain amount over the posted speed limit (usually about 20 MPH over). It is especially important to consult with an attorney when you are facing multiple charges, as you may be able to have them consolidated for more efficient and cost effective litigation.
Child Endangerment - A DUI arrest while driving with a child in your car is not an easy factor to defend. Some states have age limits (6 or younger) and such a situation could be especially damaging to your case. Prosecutors and judges may be less sympathetic. You may run the risk of losing custody, or encounter problems from social services.
Accident/Injury – DUI accident cases are very serious and carry very serious consequences. Additional charges and increased punishments will result depending on how badly people were injured. For example, states with DUI Serious Bodily Injury charges (like Florida, for example) have severe penalties that will be imposed even if the person who was seriously injured was you!
Property Damage- States that have DUI Property Damage statutes make it a separate and more severe crime for DUI cases that result in property damage, usually triggered when damage is estimated to be over a certain dollar amount. Such cases are complex and sometimes unfair, as the charge is normally based on a damage assessment made by the police (who are not the most qualified for such estimations).
Underage Minor – All 50 states have enacted what are called “Zero Tolerance” laws, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any amount of alcohol. This means that even in states that have a .08 policy, minors who are pulled over for drunk driving who register even a .001 will be arrested for DUI.
Driving With a Suspended License – No matter what state you are in, it is a crime in and of itself to drive with a suspended license (DWLS). And if you are busted for DWLS while pulled over and suspected for DUI, it certainly wont help your chances of avoiding an arrest. A DUI and DWLS may be charged separately but if convicted you may likely be required to serve your sentences consecutively.
DUI in a School or Construction Zone – For obvious reasons, speed limits are lower and traffic violations are increased if they occur in a school or construction zone. These laws are in place to protect any potential child or worker from incurring any harm. Drinking and driving is dangerous enough, and in school and construction zones its even worse. A conviction of DUI while in such a zone may result in higher punishments, additional charges, etc.
Failure to Provide Proof of Insurance/Registration – It is not uncommon to receive a ticket for failure to provide proof of insurance or registration along with you DUI citation. Sometimes you may get lucky and an officer will not give you a ticket for failing to provide the necessary proof of insurance and registration, since you are already being arrested for DUI. In some jurisdictions you may be able to get the charges of such failure dismissed once you go to the courthouse and present the proper documents showing your car was registered and insured at the time you were pulled over.
Driving Without Required Ignition Interlock Device- If you are supposed to be driving with an interlock ignition device, then clearly anytime you are arrested for DUI it will not be your first offense. Not only will you be violating the terms of your prior conviction or probation, but now you will face an increase in charge and punishments for any consecutive DUI you may obtain.
Racing- Some states make it a separate or enhanced charge if you receive a DUI after being pulled over for racing. Other times it may lead to a charge of reckless driving, so it is never a smart idea to race your car if you will be suspected of having a couple drinks. In fact it’s not ever a good idea to race your car at all, ever.
Failure to Obey Traffic Signals/Other Traffic Law Violations - Anytime you are pulled over for DUI you potentially run the risk of additional charges. It really depends on why you were pulled over in the first place, and whether the officers observed you committing any traffic infractions prior to your stop. For example, if you are initially pulled over for speeding, and then the officer suspects DUI, you may find yourself arrested for DUI and given a speeding ticket. I have seen clients who received several citations all stemming from the same stop – DUI, speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, etc. It is important to note that the more violations you get the more complex your case becomes. So while you may be most concerned with a DUI charge, you MUST be prepared to deal with the other violations as well.
Driving with An Open Container - Hopefully if you were pulled over for DUI, you did not have any open bottles of liquor in the cup holders. Driving with an open container is a separate crime from DUI in and of itself, so never ever drive with an open bottle of liqour in your vehicle. Let’s face it, having it in your car certainly would never help you defend your DUI case! Just imagine the physical sobriety exercises – “Excuse me officer, can you hold my beer while I do the Walk & Turn?” Check your local open container laws to see how a violation will affect your DUI.
Mandatory vs. Discretionary sentence enhancements in DUI cases:
Sentence enhancements may be mandatory or discretionary depending on the laws of your state. This means in some states, if one of the factors listed above is charged concurrently with your DUI, your punishment will increase whether a judge wants it to or not. Fortunately most penalty increase based on facts must be proven, so be sure to consult with an experienced DUI attorney who will be best equipped to help with your defense.
How Enhancements Affect your DUI Sentence:
In most states, sentence enhancements usually must be served consecutively with a DUI sentence. They are also extremely difficult to get reduced, waived, deferred or suspended.
Increase in Charges:
Misdemeanor vs. Felony- The existence of DUI enhancement factors in your case may lead to an increase of your DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Manslaughter vs. Murder - For accident cases resulting in a death, depending on your state, special circumstances may even increase your DUI manslaughter charge to murder. Again, it is highly recommended to consult with an attorney and research the penalty provisions in your state.
To find out exactly what you face in your DUI/DWI case, choose the state of your arrest from the menu below and contact a highly qualified local attorney to discuss the specifics of your case.