Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (aka DUI, DWI or drunk driving) is ordinarily a misdemeanor charge in Florida. A misdemeanor charge ordinarily means that a person convicted of the charge cannot serve more than 12 months in jail or on probation. However, for DUI’s, a first conviction carries a six month maximum and a second conviction carries a 9 month maximum. There are other penalties associated with a DUI charge such as fines, community service, license suspensions, DUI classes and/or an interlock device, depending on if it is a first or repeat DUI conviction.
However, in some cases, a DUI in Florida can be a felony charge (a charge that can result in a sentence of more than a year in prison and/or on probation) which can carry much more serious penalties. The obvious example is when a person commits a DUI and causes an accident that results in the death of another person. This is called DUI manslaughter and was the charge for which the Jacksonville, Florida woman recently was sentenced to four years in prison. If a person commits a DUI, causes a crash that results in a death and then flees the scene, the DUI charge is a first degree felony, which is the most serious kind. And if a person commits a DUI and causes an accident that results in serious bodily injury to another person, the state will charge that person with felony DUI with serious bodily injury. In these cases, what constitutes serious bodily injury is unclear. If a person brakes a bone or has to have surgery, the serious bodily injury element is likely met. If the person has some back pain and has to see a chiropractor for a few visits, the serious bodily injury element may be a stretch.
Even a simple DUI with no accident or injuries can be charged as a felony. For instance, if a person is arrested for DUI after two prior convictions and the most recent prior conviction occurred within ten years of the recent arrest, the state can charge that person with felony DUI which comes with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If a person is arrested for DUI and has three prior DUI convictions, even if the last conviction was decades ago, the state can charge that person with felony DUI. In these instances, the state does not always charge the more serious felony (they still have the discretion to charge a misdemeanor DUI), but they certainly can if they choose to.
If you have questions about DUI law or the various charges and penalties associated with different DUI scenarios, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.