Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that impaired driving, defined as driving under the influence of alcohol, legal prescription medication, and/or illegal drugs, is responsible for about 30% of all motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S.
Although the numbers are decreasing, drinking and driving is still a significant nationwide issue. Regarding individual states, Florida has one of the highest annual rates for alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Therefore, the penalties for driving under the influence are stiff, even for first-time offenders.
But what exactly do the DUI laws in Florida say about the penalties? Is drunk driving a felony in Florida? Read on to find out.
When Is a DUI Considered a Misdemeanor in Florida?
If law enforcement arrests you for a DUI offense that did not result in significant injuries or death, you will typically face a misdemeanor charge. In fact, first and second offenses are usually misdemeanors. Even a third offense may be considered a misdemeanor, depending on the years between the second and third offenses.
However, for both first and second offenses, if your blood alcohol level (BAL) on the breathalyzer is above 0.14%, the penalties will be more consequential than if your breath test result is between 0.08% and 0.14%.
Further, it’s important to note that under Florida Statute 316.193, you can receive a DUI charge even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is below the legal limit (0.08%). Suppose drugs or alcohol caused the impairment of your normal faculties, like driving, seeing, talking, or walking. In that case, the state can argue you were not in sound condition to operate a motor vehicle.
Now that you understand misdemeanor DUI charges, when is a DUI a felony in Florida? Let’s find out.
When Is a DUI Considered a Felony in Florida?
There are several instances in which a DUI in Florida is a felony. We explore them below.
Third DUI in 10 Years
Getting a third DUI conviction within ten years of a prior DUI conviction is a felony. However, the penalty will be a misdemeanor if the third DUI is more than ten years after the last conviction.
Fourth DUI Offense
A fourth DUI offense will be a felony charge, regardless of how long since the last conviction. For example, even if it’s 40 years between the third and fourth conviction, it will be a felony.
DUI Involving Serious Bodily Injury
If you’re involved in a drunk driving accident that causes serious bodily injury to another driver or passenger, including those in your car, you will face a felony charge. Florida Statute 316.027 defines serious bodily injury as an injury to a person that consists of the following:
- A physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death
- Protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ
- Serious personal disfigurement
The court will also likely make you pay restitution to the victim to cover expenses, such as:
- Lost income
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage or loss
When a DUI causes the death of another person or an unborn child, the charge is DUI manslaughter, which is a felony. Like a DUI that causes serious bodily injury, the offender will likely need to pay restitution and funeral-related expenses to the victim’s family.
What Are the Penalties for a Felony DUI in Florida?
The penalties for a felony DUI in Florida are much stricter than for a misdemeanor DUI. A misdemeanor first DUI without “aggravating factors” faces the following penalties:
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Driver’s license suspension of up to one year
- DUI school
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
- Professional license revocation for certain professions, such as dentists, lawyers, nurses, physicians
- Up to six months of jail time
However, if your BAL is higher than 0.14%, the jail sentence is up to nine months, and the charge can go from a first-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree misdemeanor. For first offenses, the convicted often receive probation and at least 50 hours of community service instead of jail time.
A second DUI offense will result in similar penalties. There is a minimum mandatory ten-day jail sentence. If your BAC is higher than 0.14%, you could face up to one year in jail. The penalty for a third DUI conviction outside of ten years of a prior DUI is also up to one year in jail.
On the other hand, felony DUI charges have very different penalties based on the case’s specific circumstances.
Under Florida Law, receiving a third DUI within ten years, a fourth DUI offense throughout your lifetime, or a DUI involving serious bodily harm are all third-degree felonies. These are punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.
DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison. But in this case, you could also face a first-degree felony if you knew or should have known a crash occurred and didn’t try to help the injured person. The punishment becomes up to 30 years in prison with the same maximum fine of $10,000.
What Should You Do After Being Charged With a DUI?
You must hire an experienced DUI lawyer after your DUI arrest. Retaining a drunk driving accident attorney could be the difference between your case being a misdemeanor or a felony.
Plus, many other circumstances can further complicate your DUI case, making it even more imperative to have a defense lawyer to represent you. The law is hard on DUI offenses, so the state will try to prosecute your case with maximum penalties.
Having a car accident lawyer on your side can significantly affect the penalties you face, such as fines, jail or prison time, and license suspension.
Contact a DUI Lawyer for Your Case Today
All in all, is drunk driving a felony in Florida?
As you can see, sometimes the answer is yes. Regardless of being a first-time offender or dealing with a subsequent DUI charge, it is necessary to have a criminal defense attorney to fight the charge.
So contact us today at the Florida Ticket Law Firm for a free consultation with an expert DUI attorney to discuss your case.