Are You at Risk for a DUI Sentence Enhancement?

The Worst Kind of DUI

It’s no secret to most drivers that a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol means having a criminal record. It also means serious possible penalties: a suspended or revoked license, time in jail, a fine, etc.

What you might not know is that some DUI charges carry with them DUI sentencing enhancements that result in even stiffer penalties at upon conviction. Every state has these DUI sentence enhancements to try to minimize the risk of harm to the public.

If you receive an enhancement, you could pay a higher fine, have your license suspended for an extended period of time, face mandatory time in jail, and be required to complete a substantially longer alcohol class. While laws vary among the states, in 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors can use a prior DUI conviction to raise a subsequent DUI charge to a felony.

What are the circumstances that could cause you to receive a DUI sentence enhancement?

The worst kind of DUI is typically one that results in a fatality or serious bodily injury. This is especially true if the driver has a prior DUI conviction. In California, if a driver has a prior DUI conviction and causes a fatality during a subsequent DUI, he or she can be charged with murder.

The following are more common scenarios where a person charged with a DUI may receive sentencing enhancements.

Prior conviction: Regardless of the state, penalties are stiffer after a prior conviction for drunk driving. While some states tie a sentence enhancement to the number of years since a prior conviction, others reognize no time limit. In California, a DUI occurring within 10 years from the date of another DUI will result in a DUI with a prior. The time is measured from the date of the first offense to the date of the subsequent offense. The date of conviction is not relevant. Also, in most cases, an out of state conviction will be used against the driver as though the offense occurred within California (so long as the other state’s DUI laws did not significantly vary from California’s).
Bodily injury: Expect stiffer penalties if another person was injured as a result of your driving, including injuries to any passenger in your own vehicle. Serious injuries will likely result in felony DUI charges.

Blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level: The trend is for most jurisdictions to tie harshness of penalties to higher BAC levels. One threshold is .15%. Some states, including California, have tougher enhancements at BAC levels .20%.

Endangering a child: If a child was in your vehicle, a conviction will often mean a sentence enhancement. Some depend on the age of the child, with stricter penalties imposed if the child was younger than 14. In addition, you may be charged with child endangerment. In more serious cases, your child may be removed from your home and placed in foster care while you take the necessary steps to recover custody of your child.

Breath test refusal: Refusing to take a breath test might mean immediate driver’s license revocation or even mandatory incarceration upon conviction. In California, anyone willfully refusing to submit to one of the required chemical tests under the state’s implied consent laws will lose their driving privileges for 1 year and may face incarceration upon conviction of the DUI in court.

Damage to property: Damaging property when committing a DUI often means an enhancement in some states. If you fail to maintain the level of vehicle insurance the state requires, the penalty may increase.

Other circumstances: Being on probation for another offense, not having a valid license, not having an ignition interlock on the vehicle, and driving with an open container of alcohol.