What are the minimum penalties for a first DUI?
Convictions for driving under the influence are more serious than many people realize, even when the charge is a first offense.
- All states have enhanced their penalties since 1980, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving began its campaign to reduce the threshold for drunk driving nationally to the .08 blood alcohol content level.
- All states have also adopted the .08 per se law, which that standardizes the impairment level across the country.
However, penalties are not standard, and the punishment for a first DUI offense varies depending on the state of occurrence.
Material Case Facts
Each charge for impaired driving is similar to other criminal cases, as penalties are often based on a totality of the circumstances. Even a first offense DUI charge can be prosecuted harshly and include additional charges if an accident is also involved.
Drunk drivers are always found negligent and at fault in an accident, even for a first offense and even in contributory negligence doctrine states. DUI charges involving minor children passengers in the impaired driver's vehicle are also prosecuted as aggravated DUI cases in most states, regardless of the BAC level.
Simple First Offense DUI
First-offense conviction minimums for a simple DUI case do not normally include incarceration, but a conviction will carry extensive fines and potential community service, along with possible probation. Most states also require completion of a certified alcoholic drivers education program before driving privileges can be reinstated, and the service fees for the program are assigned to the defendant.
Fines for a first-offense conviction are set at a minimum of $500 in most states, but some states have enhanced the minimum fine level in recent years. Court costs are also required payments, which have also been generally increased incrementally for all court cases, and hardship driving permits normally do not apply in a simple first-offense conviction.
First Offenses with Aggravating Circumstances
First-offense impaired driving charges can also include aggravating circumstances that will increase penalties significantly for each punishment phase. Aggravated DUI charges can result from a first offense when the charge includes other extenuating circumstances like an accident causing bodily injury or property damage.
Aggravated charges can also be filed if there is other illegal activity associated with the case or if there are endangered minor children in the impaired driver's vehicle, regardless of BAC level. A BAC reading of .14 or greater is also an automatic aggravated DUI charge, and the minimum penalties will be enhanced regardless of other case particulars.
If anyone dies in an accident involving a drunk driver, the case can then be prosecuted as vehicular manslaughter. This charge is a felony and carries a minimum of 10 years in some states even for a first offense, along with a 15-year sentence in those states with stricter statutes.
If multiple fatalities occur, the charges and penalties can also be "stacked" and each charge assessed consecutively. A police officer can also arrest an operator with any alcohol level during any traffic stop if the driver fails the field sobriety test, allowing the prosecutor to investigate and determine recommendations to the court. Even a non-criminal "wet" reckless driving charge can result in a vehicular manslaughter charge when the defendant is at fault in the accident.
Additional Impact of a First Offense DUI
The state is not the only entity that can impose punishment on first offense DUI convictions. Insurance companies will automatically increase coverage premiums, and the potential for a civil suit is present in every vehicle accident, along with stronger penalties.
The concept that an individual can drive with any level of intoxication is flawed logic, especially for underage drivers and commercial drivers who are held to a "zero tolerance" impairment standard. Even a simple first offense DUI conviction is very serious, and it is always important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your case instead of allowing the court to appoint a public defender.