Is DUI a Felony or Misdemeanor Offense in Virginia?
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Virginia is a misdemeanor offense in most instances. However, there are several circumstances where a DUI could be charged as a felony, which raises the stakes considerably in the case of a conviction. Even if the offense is not charged as a felony, various factors can greatly enhance the penalties imposed for a misdemeanor DUI. Any DUI arrest should be taken very seriously, and legal advice should be immediately sought for the best possible outcome.
Classification of Drunk Driving Offenses under Virginia Law
Section 18.2-270 of the Code of Virginia sets out the penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI), commonly called DUI or drunk driving. This section of the law classifies DWI as a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning a convicted offender could be subject to a fine up to $2,500 and/or up to one year in jail. There are four classes of misdemeanors under Virginia criminal law, and Class 1 is the most serious of the four.
The law also imposes a mandatory minimum fine of $250 for DUI/DWI, but if the person tests with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15% or more, the law also imposes a mandatory minimum jail sentence of five days, or ten days if the person blows over .20% BAC.
Felony DUI in Virginia
While DUI is normally a misdemeanor, a third offense can be charged as a felony. If you have two prior DUI convictions within the last ten years (Virginia’s “washout” or “look-back” period), then you can be charged with a Class 6 felony on your third offense. A Class 6 felony is the lowest level of felony in Virginia, but you can still be sentenced to state prison for anywhere between one year and five years if convicted. While this is the general rule, the judge or jury does have discretion to sentence a Class 6 felon to up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500, as with a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, you could still have a felony conviction on your record.
The law also imposes a 90-day mandatory minimum jail term for a third conviction in ten years, or a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months for three convictions in five years. In addition, the convicted offender is subject to a mandatory minimum $1,000 fine. Note that these mandatory penalties for felony DUI are much more severe than they are for a misdemeanor conviction.
Also in Virginia, if a DUI/DWI incident causes serious bodily injury that causes permanent and significant physical impairment (maiming) or death (involuntary manslaughter) to another, then the DUI can be charged as a Class 6 felony, even if it is a first offense.
Are you asking the right question?
Knowing whether a DUI is being charged as a misdemeanor or felony is important when considering the consequences of a conviction, but regardless of the charge, there are serious consequences for any DUI conviction, as you can see. A felony conviction is much more serious than a misdemeanor and can have a much more serious impact on you, regarding both the punishment that is inflicted on you and how the conviction will affect your future. However, there are serious consequences for even a first offense misdemeanor DUI, including mandatory fines and costs and possible jail time. Any arrest for any crime should be taken very seriously because of the impact a conviction can have on your personal and professional life.
If you have been arrested for DUI or DWI in Virginia, don’t panic, but call on a dedicated and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney right away. You may have defenses to the offense charged, and your lawyer may be able to get the charges reduced, dismissed, or fight for you in court. In Glen Allen and throughout central and southwest Virginia, call Farmer Legal at (804) 325-1441 for immediate assistance.