17 Oct 23

Can a DUI Be a Felony in Florida?

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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:11 pm

Can a DUI Be a Felony in Florida?

Being arrested for DUI can be scary enough, but finding out it may be charged as a felony takes it to a whole new level. Felony convictions can result in years in prison, massive fines, and a permanent criminal record.

So when does a DUI get bumped up to a felony charge in Florida? How can you avoid a felony DUI? Let’s take a look at the laws that make a DUI a potential felony and steps to take to protect yourself.

DUI vs DWI in Florida

First, Florida uses the term “DUI” (Driving Under the Influence) rather than “DWI” (Driving While Intoxicated)[1]. Both terms refer to operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

A DUI charge means the state believes your normal faculties were impaired. They don’t have to prove a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the limit.

Misdemeanor vs Felony DUI

For a first or second DUI with no injuries or other aggravating factors, the charge is typically a misdemeanor. But certain circumstances can elevate a DUI to a felony[2]:

  • 3rd DUI offense within 10 years of a prior conviction
  • 4th DUI offense ever
  • DUI resulting in serious bodily injury
  • DUI manslaughter (if someone is killed)

Penalties for Felony DUI

Felony DUI penalties are much harsher than misdemeanor and include[3]:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 fine
  • 5+ years license suspension
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Restitution to victims

Felony DUI Thresholds

Here are some key thresholds that can turn a DUI into a felony[4]:

  • 3rd DUI within 10 years of prior conviction
  • 4th DUI offense ever
  • Causing serious bodily injury like broken bones, organ damage
  • Causing death of another person

Defenses Against Felony DUI

Before accepting a felony DUI, potential defenses should be explored with an attorney, like[3]:

  • Illegal traffic stop
  • Miranda rights violation
  • Invalid field sobriety or breath test
  • No proof you were actually driving

An experienced DUI lawyer can review if any defenses apply in your case.

Mitigating Factors

If convicted of felony DUI, mitigating factors may help reduce the sentence, like[3]:

  • No prior criminal history
  • Remorse and acceptance of responsibility
  • Entering rehabilitation program
  • Strong community ties and character witnesses

Discuss any mitigating factors with your attorney prior to sentencing.

LEARN MORE  Conditional License & New York DWI Law

Diversion Programs

First time DUI offenders may be offered diversion programs like DUI Court to avoid a conviction[5]. This involves probation, classes, community service and other requirements.

Completing diversion means charges are dismissed, avoiding any felony record. Discuss program eligibility with your lawyer.

Expunging Felony DUI Records

For felony DUI arrests that did not lead to conviction, expungement may be possible after 10 years. This destroys the arrest record[6].

However, Florida law prohibits expunging any DUI convictions, whether felony or misdemeanor.

Long-Term Consequences

The impact of a felony DUI conviction can last for years or life. Some potential consequences include:

  • Difficulty finding employment
  • Housing application denials
  • Loss of professional licenses
  • Inability to own firearms
  • Restricted travel to other countries
  • Lifetime criminal record