It's true a DUI charge can cause you a lot of trouble. However, a DUI or DWI charge isn't typically a felony to start with. It's always a criminal charge, but there's a few distinctions that can turn a misdemeanor DUI into a felony offense.
How a Misdemeanor Becomes a Felony
Over time, states have started to impose stricter penalties for DUIs. Even with harsher penalties, a DUI doesn't become a felony charge without some other circumstances involved. In addition, what constitutes a felony can vary between jurisdictions.
In general, there are a few conditions that can turn a DUI into a felony in most places.
A lack of driving credentials – If you drive under the influence with a suspended license, no insurance, or in an unregistered vehicle, you can face a felony DUI charge.
Repeat offenses – Most states will increase DUI penalties with each occurrence. The more DUIs you have, the greater the chance your next one will become a felony charge.
Elevated BAC – An elevated BAC level occurs if you have a blood alcohol concentration that's significantly higher than the minimum level established for a DUI. In many states, this will turn a normal DUI into a felony charge.
Injury and harm – If you become involved in an accident that causes injury to another, it can turn into a felony charge. By contrast, an accident with no injury may not become a felony DUI in many places.
Driving with passengers – Some jurisdictions can elevate your DUI to felony status if you drive under the influence with passengers. This becomes especially relevant if drive with teenaged or younger passengers. The element of child endangerment can automatically turn your DUI into a felony charge.
Keep in mind just driving under the influence alone is a crime. Adding anything else to that crime can come with a felony DUI or DWI charge, as well as other charges on top of it.
Always Fight a DUI Charge
Whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony, you should always fight a DUI or DWI charge. Even at a misdemeanor level, you can lose your license, or face up to a year of jail time.
A DUI is the type of charge that can do a lot of damage to your livelihood. Since multiple charges can turn into a felony charge, you want to do everything you can to keep the possibility of that to a minimum.
The best thing you can do for yourself is not drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you do face a charge, then you should speak to a DUI attorney as soon as possible.