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When does a Florida drunk driving charge become a felony?

Facing any kind of criminal charge is cause for concern. The more serious the charge, the more likely it is to impact your freedom and your future. Florida law divides crimes into two categories, which are misdemeanors and felonies. The more serious a crime is, the more likely it is to be a felony charge, rather than a misdemeanor charge.

People make many assumptions about what differentiates a misdemeanor from a felony. Unfortunately, not all of those assumptions are accurate.

For example, just because someone didn't get hurt doesn't mean that a criminal charge can't be a felony. In the case of driving under the influence (DUI) charges, you don't necessarily have to cause a crash or injure another person for the charge to become a felony.

Most initial DUI charges are misdemeanor charges

The courts will look at several different factors when determining how to charge someone in a pending DUI case. Previous offenses, as well as aggravating factors present at the time of arrest, can impact whether the court chooses to charge the individual involved with a felony or a misdemeanor.

For most people with first time DUI charges, it is typical for the charge to be a misdemeanor. Usually, these cases involve someone stopped by law enforcement, rather than someone who caused a crash or collision.

However, those with an extended history of impaired driving arrests could find themselves facing a felony charge regardless of whether someone got hurt. There are other aggravating factors that can also lead to felony DUI charges in Florida.

Knowing the aggravating factors for DUI cases can help you avoid them

The most common risk factor for a felony DUI charge in Florida is having two or more previous DUI convictions or guilty pleas on your record. The courts will look at you as a repeat offender and charge you with a felony as a result if you have two previous arrests.

Thankfully, the look-back period during which two previous convictions can impact future charges is only for 10 years. After 10 years, those charges should no longer impact any future arrests. However, anyone with three DUI convictions can face a felony DUI for any subsequent arrest, even many years later.

There are other aggravating circumstances that can lead to felony DUI charges. These include:

  • Accidentally causing a death or DUI manslaughter
  • Fleeing the scene of a crash
  • Causing severe property damage
  • Driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle
  • Causing major bodily injury to another person

Anyone facing felony DUI charges or second-offense charges should look carefully at options for a criminal defense. After all, the penalties for a felony DUI could include up to five years in prison or more if someone dies in the crash.

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