Being convicted of (or pleading guilty to) an impaired driving charge will lead to a variety of penalties and sentences, ranging from license suspension to incarceration. But it's important to keep in mind that the criminal sanctions against the driver are wholely separate from those taken at the administrative level. For instance, refusing to submit to a BAC test will result in the automatic suspension of your driver's license in most cases, even if actual impairment is not affirmatively established.
Learn more about the various types of DUI sentences and penalties, and how punishment is determined, below.
DUI Sentencing: Criminal and Administrative Penalties
After a person is convicted or pleads guilty to a DUI (or DWI) offense, the appropriate legal punishment is determined at the sentencing phase. A number of different kinds of penalties may be imposed on a person convicted of DUI, including:
- Incarceration in Jail (shorter-term) - First-time offenders in many states may get shorter stints in jail, but it should be noted that a number states punish first time offenders harshly and many of the other penalties listed here may still apply.
- Incarceration in Prison (longer-term) - Repeat DUI offenders, those convicted of aggravated DUI, and DUI offenders who have caused injury or death to another may be faced with much stiffer prison sentences.
- Suspension or revocation of driver's license - Many states suspend a drunk driver's license, even on their first DUI offense. The duration of a license suspension or revocation varies widely by jurisdiction, as well as by the nature of the offense.
- Use of vehicle ignition interlock devices (IIDs) - In many states, drunk driving laws permit or require the use of these devices (which lock a car's ignition until a sober breath sample is provided) following a DUI offense.
- Vehicle Impoundment - Laws in some states allow or require the impoundment of vehicles in cases involving repeat DUI offenders.
- Drug/alcohol education and/or rehabilitation - Many states require, or allow for, the completion of drug and/or alcohol education programs or coursework before a DUI offender's driving privileges can be restored.
- Community service - A sentencing judge may impose a wide range of community service on DUI offenders.
- Probation - An alternative to prison, this is a set period of time where the defendant has certain restrictions and requirements, such as community service and a restricted license.
- SCRAM Bracelets - Some jurisdictions allow for the use of these alcohol monitoring ankle bracelets as a penalty or as a condition of probation.
- Suspended sentences - These sentences take effect if conditions of probation are violated.
Factors That Influence DUI Sentencing
Sentencing usually takes place almost immediately after a DUI conviction, with the sentencing judge receiving input from the prosecutor and the defense in some cases. The sentencing judge will consider punishments and sentencing ranges identified in applicable Vehicle or Penal Code statutes, as well as a number of case-specific factors, including:
- Defendant's DUI record and criminal history
- Impact of the DUI on any victims (i.e. whether injuries or death resulted)
- Defendant's personal, economic, and social circumstances
- Regret or remorse expressed by the defendant
Get Legal Help Prior to DUI Sentencing
A number of factors go into the sentencing phase of a DUI case, including the BAC level and police procedures leading up to the arrest. Legal professionals can advocate on your behalf by challenging evidence and negotiating with the prosecution (when appropriate). Make sure your rights are protected by having an experienced DUI attorney evaluate your drunk driving case.