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Is a DWI a Felony Charge

The single most important word concerning drinking and driving is don't. Unfortunately, thousands of drivers every year do. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a crime in every state of the US and every state has a different definition, punishment schedule, and perhaps even a different term for the event but it all means the same thing: lots of trouble for a very long time. And it's all avoidable.

Is a DWI a felony crime? Depends. Crimes in the United States are categorized as misdemeanors (relatively minor) or felonies (involving violence and stiffer penalties that almost always include incarceration). Drunk driving charges can be either. The circumstances determine the charge.

In most states, a first conviction for drunk driving remains a misdemeanor as long as no one was hurt or there were no minor-age children in the vehicle. Arizona law holds an exception as of July 2008 (1), which classifies a drunk driving conviction as a felony if the impaired driver is driving with a cancelled, refused, revoked, or suspended driver's license.

Most states allow a second offense to be classified as misdemeanor although with conditions unique to each state, such as amount of time elapsed since the first conviction, injuries or death involved, and blood alcohol content (BAC). In the absence of any accompanying circumstances, a second drunk driving conviction is a felony in the following states:

Connecticut
Delaware
Idaho
Indiana
Maryland
Nebraska
New York
Oklahoma

Drunk driving convictions in the states listed below are limited to misdemeanor charges only, especially if no injuries are involved, but sanctions are serious nevertheless and, in some states, are based on number of convictions, length between convictions, BAC, and other circumstances:

Colorado
District of Columbia
Maine
New Jersey
Washington

Most other states consider the third, fourth, or even fifth conviction a felony but, again, the devil is in the details. A drunk driver who causes injury, death, or repeats the crime too often or at too high a BAC level can expect to see jail time regardless of prior history, even for a first offense.

Got arrested but the charge isn't labeled a DWI . . . exactly? That's not the only term used to classify the offense of driving while in a state of mental impairment caused by the consumption of drugs or alcohol. These terms describe the same crime using different descriptions:

DUI - driving under the influence
DUII - driving under the intense influence
OUI - operating under the influence
OVI - operating vehicle under the influence
OWI - operating while intoxicated
OMVI - operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated

These offenses are subject to change every time a state's legislation meets. Most changes mean stiffer penalties as the social consciousness movement gains momentum and public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving grows. The best way to avoid years of grief and a king's ransom in fines? Just don't do it. Don't drink and drive. Ever.

Local DWI Attorneys Are Ready to Help.