When is a DUI a Felony?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a major priority for law enforcement agencies, including those in West Virginia and Maryland. Today, any DUI arrest – be it a first-time allegation or an arrest with prior convictions – can warrant aggressive prosecution and substantial short- and long-term penalties upon conviction. However, those penalties can be elevated even more when drivers are charged with a felony DUI.

While most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors, there are certain aggravating factors that can elevate charges to felonies. As the most serious charge in our criminal justice system, felonies impose life-altering penalties and lengthy terms of imprisonment. Because the stakes are so high, these cases demand the attention of proven lawyers.

Factors That Can Result in Felony DUI Charges

While most cases of driving under the influence are prosecuted as misdemeanors, including most first-time offenses, there are several circumstances where they may be prosecuted as felonies. These cases generally involve serious aggravating factor such as:

  • Third DUI – Drivers arrested for a third or subsequent DUI within 10 years can face felony charges in West Virginia. Depending on the circumstances and whether aggravating circumstances are present, this charge is punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison and fines up to $5,000, in addition to driver’s license suspension.
  • DUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury – Although some cases of DUI accidents resulting in minor injuries can be charged as misdemeanors, wrecks resulting in “serious bodily injury” can be charged as felonies. As defined by West Virginia law, serious bodily injury includes injuries which pose a substantial risk of death, serious disfigurement, and prolonged impairment or loss of bodily function. This charge carries a prison sentence between 2 to 10 years.
  • DUI Causing Death – Motorists who cause fatal accidents while driving under the influence face the most serious felony DUI charge. If convicted, this charge can subject defendants to prison sentences ranging from 3 to 15 years.

Drivers facing felony DUI charges face significantly elevated penalties, including longer terms of imprisonment and longer terms of driver’s license suspension or revocation. Additionally, there are a range of long-term repercussions that come with having a felony conviction on one’s record, including the loss of certain civil rights (including the right to vote or possess a firearm), and difficulties finding employment or working in certain professions. For example, felony convictions can exclude you from employment in certain fields, or may jeopardize a professional license.

It is also important to note that when other aggravating circumstances are present – such as high BAC levels, prior convictions, minor passengers, excessive speeds, and minor injuries – prosecutors can push for enhanced penalties, including longer terms of imprisonment – both in felony and misdemeanor cases.

At Sutton & Janelle, PLLC, our legal team has extensive experience defending the rights, freedoms, and futures of clients facing serious criminal charges, including those related to DUI. Because our criminal defense practice has a specific focus on DUI cases, we have the insight and resources to effectively advocate for our clients and seek the most favorable resolutions possible. Over the years, our attorneys have handled a range of DUI cases with successful results, including case dismissals and reductions in charges and penalties.

Time is of the essence in any DUI case, and especially in cases involving felony charges. Our firm is readily available to clients immediately after their arrests, and provide the experienced representation they need to navigate both criminal proceedings and administrative driver’s license hearings. To discuss your case and rights, contact us for a FREE consultation.

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