When Does a DUI Become a Felony in Florida?

There are certain circumstances that will quickly take your arrest from bad to worse, and increase the importance of having a good St. Augustine DUI lawyer by your side.


What is your impression of getting arrested for a DUI? Do you equate it with getting a parking ticket? Do you think there’ll only be a fine and maybe a couple of required DUI classes? The biggest mistake most people make is assuming that, because it’s sadly so incredibly common, DUI charges really aren’t that serious. Quite the contrary. Law enforcement and the courts in Florida are relentlessly serious about catching and prosecuting drunk drivers. There’s a highly structured, very well-funded and supported system that involves numerous entities to keep DUI prosecutions and convictions rolling. There’s plenty of time and room for you.


Even at their “mildest” level, DUI charges are a very, very big deal. In addition to fines and classes, any DUI can and often do threaten you with prison time, community service, the loss of your driving privileges, a criminal record, trouble getting housing, trouble getting professional licenses or college scholarships, car insurance premium increases of 150-200%, and a near inability to attain and keep employment. It’s a nightmare. Our advice: even if your charges are classified as a misdemeanor, get a St. Augustine DUI attorney, because you’re in a potential world of trouble. You’ll want to minimize the impact on your life to the greatest extent possible.


So what does it mean for a DUI to be a misdemeanor?


Did you know that in Florida, a DUI is what’s called a “wobbler offense”? That’s because the charge can go either way – misdemeanor or felony. It all depends on the facts in your specific case.


Typically, first and second DUI offenses will be charged as a misdemeanor. But even then, don’t assume the penalties are set in stone and will always be the same. They’ll vary depending on your blood alcohol content (BAC) and other factors. Between .08 and .14, you could get up to $1,000, up to 6 months in jail, a maximum one-year license suspension, probation community service, and DUI school. If your BAC was over .14, these penalties are going to be “enhanced” to 9 months in jail. If there was an accident with property damage and/or you had a passenger under 18 in the vehicle at the time of your offense, now you have a first-degree misdemeanor, which presents you with the possibility of a year in jail.


Here’s some even worse news. Your BAC doesn’t even have to be 0.08% for you to be prosecuted for DUI. If the state can prove that you were in physical charge or control of a vehicle and your ability to operate it was impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both, you can get busted.


With a second DUI misdemeanor conviction, the fine can go up to $2,000 and the potential jail time increases to a maximum 9 months. In fact, if your second DUI is within 5 years of the first, there’s a 10-day minimum mandatory jail sentence. If you keep your driver’s license, you’ll likely have to put in an ignition interlock device (IID) in any vehicle you own, jointly lease or own, or drive regularly. That can be $150 or more, with a monthly fee of $75 to $125.


When does a DUI become a felony charge?


Even a first or second DUI can become a felony if there were “aggravating factors” involved. For instance, if someone was seriously hurt in your DUI incident, that’s going to be a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. You could also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim(s).


If someone or an unborn child was killed in the incident, that’s DUI Manslaughter or Vehicular Homicide, which is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Here again, you may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim’s family.


Even absent injury or death, if you get a third DUI charge within 10 years of the previous one, you’ll be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.


If you get a fourth DUI charge (and at that point it doesn’t matter when your last one was), that’s also a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine.


The worst of the worst where possible punishments are concerned is DUI Manslaughter or Vehicular Homicide Involving Leaving the Scene. This is charged when you knew or should have known (those two phrases pretty much cover all the bases don’t they?) the accident happened, and you didn’t give information or render aid. That’s going to be a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years and a fine of up to $10,000.


It’s not hopeless

Just as with misdemeanors, if you have a qualified DUI lawyer in St. Augustine, they will explore several possible lines of defense in your case. These can include challenging officer procedures, challenging field sobriety tests, lack of evidence, improper chemical tests, illegal traffic stop, and Miranda rights violations.


The important thing is to never, ever underestimate the possible severity of any DUI case. It can wind up going any number of ways, depending on how the state wants to prosecute you. They’re not too busy. They’re not going to “let you slide.” They will see it as a big deal. And they aren’t going to be working for your best interests.


Hopefully you see the value in avoiding even the remote possibility these things could happen to you by never drinking and driving. But you should always be ready with a St. Augustine DUI lawyer in place. Meet with us, but even if you don’t, go ahead and put the name and number for Shoemaker Law in your phone right now. 904-872-SHOE.