Is a DUI a felony?

QUESTION:

My 22-year-old brother -- who likes to drink beer with his friends -- just got charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI). My parents are freaking out, talking about how his future will be ruined if he's convicted as a "felon." Is a DUI really a felony?

ANSWER:

A first-time DUI, (or, in some states, "DWI" -- short for "driving while intoxicated") is normally charged as a misdemeanor, not a felony. But if someone was injured as a result of the drunken driving, some states will raise the charge to a felony -- and if the victim dies, some of these states will charge the driver with reckless homicide.

Also, in a number of states, a DUI will be raised to a felony if it is the driver's second, third, or even fourth DUI offense.

"Misdemeanor" and "felony" are emotionally charged words, but what do they really mean? Whether a conviction ends up as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the type and length of the punishment for the crime. Misdemeanors carry the possibility of incarceration in the county or local jail for one year or less; felonies usually result in a state prison term of more than a year.

© 2009 Nolo

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