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What are the Different Types of DUIs?

9 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

Driving while impaired is illegal in every state and can get you a DUI charge. However, depending on your state laws, there are different types and degrees of DUI charges.

From a first-offense DUI to DUI manslaughter, the circumstances surrounding an event leading to an arrest dictate what type of DUI charges are filed.

If you are facing a DUI charge, you do not have to face it alone. Connect with a DUI attorney near you to manage your case and fight for the most favorable outcome.

What Does DUI Mean?

A DUI means “driving under the influence.” Operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in all states, and impaired driving puts the intoxicated driver and others at greater risk. 

A DUI charge can result in significant consequences, especially considering the possible circumstances leading to an arrest. 

To be convicted of a DUI, the state must prove you were under the influence and operating a vehicle as defined by your state’s laws. 

Under the Influence

First and foremost, the state must prove you were, in fact, under the influence. Determining whether an individual is under the influence requires examining their BAC.

Each state’s laws dictate that a person driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater is subject to a DUI charge. Some states have a “zero tolerance” BAC level for intoxicated drivers under 21 years old, varying from .00 to .02. Additionally, most states have an enhanced penalty BAC, from 10 to .20, that could result in more severe consequences.

Figuring out a person’s BAC requires either breath, saliva, blood, or urine. In most cases, law enforcement officers use breathalyzers to determine a person’s BAC at the scene. Breathalyzers work by having a person blow into the machine for several seconds, using their breath to give a BAC result.

Depending on the circumstances, an offender may be taken in to collect urine or blood samples for further examination. 

Operating a Vehicle

“Operating a vehicle” has different meanings depending on the state’s laws. 

In some states, like California, a person must drive a car to be charged with a DUI. However, in most other states, a person just needs to be in actual, physical control of the vehicle. Even if the car isn’t moving or the engine isn’t running, an intoxicated individual could still be charged with a DUI if they have the keys inside the vehicle and not in the ignition.

Different Names for Intoxicated Driving

Not every state defines driving under the influence as a “DUI.” Some states have different names for this offense, including DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and OWI (Operating While Intoxicated).

While the offense may have different names, the crime and penalties are usually the same.

What Type of Crime is a DUI?

DUIs can be misdemeanors or felonies, and the primary difference between the two is the severity of the law governing the crime and the resulting consequences.

A DUI is a misdemeanor offense in most states for first-time offenders and becomes a felony based on the circumstances of the arrest and prior conviction history of the accused.

There are Several Types of DUIs 

There isn’t just one type of DUI. The type of DUI charge depends on the arrest circumstances and the person charged.

Every state has different DUI charges; below are some common ones. 

First-Offense DUI

As the name suggests, a first-offense DUI is an individual’s first DUI charge. 

First-offense DUIs are most often misdemeanor crimes. Less than a handful of states charge first-time DUIs as felonies. 

Some states don’t punish first-time offenders as harshly, especially if the individual has a clean criminal record. In some instances, first-time offenders may be able to get reduced penalties and forego jail time altogether. 

Felony DUI

Most states charge DUIs as misdemeanors. However, certain circumstances may raise the level of a DUI charge to a Felony DUI, also known as Aggravated DUI. Felony DUIs usually mean harsher consequences than misdemeanor DUIs. 

Every state has laws defining a felony DUI; however, in most cases, a DUI may be charged as a felony if any of the following are true:

  • Elevated BAC: In every state, a BAC of .08 can result in a DUI charge. However, most states have enhanced penalty BACs. If an individual has an elevated BAC past a certain percentage, the charge could be increased to a felony.
  • Bodily harm: If an intoxicated person causes another person harm while operating a vehicle, the DUI charge could go from misdemeanor to felony. 
  • Driving with a restricted, suspended, or revoked license: A restricted license allows a person to drive to specific destinations, for example, to and from work or school. When a person has a suspended or revoked license, they are not legally allowed to drive at all. Should a person drive a vehicle while under the influence without a valid and active license, they could face a felony DUI charge.
  • Driving with minors in the vehicle: Driving while intoxicated with children in the car is a serious offense. Therefore, most states have made driving under the influence with children in the vehicle a felony offense. 

In many states, once a person has multiple DUI convictions within a fixed

time, the DUI would automatically be charged as a felony. Every state differs in these laws for prior convictions, so it is best to discuss them with a local DUI or criminal defense lawyer.

Depending on the state, the same factors could result in an Aggravated DUI Charge, as these are factors that show increased recklessness with the safety of others.

DUI Manslaughter/DUI Murder

Many individuals get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence, thinking it’s harmless. In some unfortunate circumstances, that decision could result in someone’s death.

When someone dies at the hands of an intoxicated driver, the driver is either charged with DUI manslaughter or DUI murder. The exact charge depends on the situation.

DUI Manslaughter means the intoxicated individual did not mean to cause the victim’s death intentionally, but it still happened due to the driver operating the vehicle while under the influence.

DUI Murder is a more severe charge. While the offender does not have to intend to kill anyone, their behavior is “extremely indifferent to human life.” It is a more significant charge than DUI manslaughter, with additional requirements for the prosecution to prove. 

Commercial DUI

A commercial DUI refers to a commercial driver operating a vehicle while intoxicated on the job. 

Individuals with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) are held to a much higher standard than regular drivers, especially when it comes to impaired driving. This higher standard is because the stakes are much higher for commercial drivers.

Commercial drivers who drive under the influence are substantial liabilities to their employers and put themselves and others on the road at high risk. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides many rules and regulations that commercial drivers must always follow. Violating these regulations can result in severe penalties and leave drivers at risk of losing their CDLs altogether. 

Commercial drivers can face severe consequences when driving their commercial vehicles in an impaired state, but they can also be charged with a DUI when driving personal vehicles. If a driver has their license suspended or revoked, it means short-term or long-term loss of commercial driving privileges. 

Motorcycle DUI

A motorcycle DUI is a charge of operating a bike while intoxicated. Most states view motorcycle DUIs like a DUI in an enclosed vehicle, with similar penalties and consequences.

Some states may have specific laws or regulations regarding using helmets or other safety equipment while riding a motorcycle under the influence.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Boating under the influence (BUI) is the charge of operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most states have specific laws and penalties for BUIs, similar to those for DUIs in cars or motorcycles. 

The consequences of a BUI can include fines, imprisonment, and the suspension of boating privileges. The severity of the punishment depends on the level of impairment and any prior offenses.

Commercial BUI

Commercial BUI is a serious offense with severe consequences, such as fines, imprisonment, and potential loss of a professional license or job. 

The penalties for commercial BUI may be more severe than those for non-commercial BUI due to the increased risks associated with operating a large vessel, which can endanger the lives of passengers and crew onboard and other vessels on the water.

DUI for Biking

Drivers operating vehicles while impaired are not the only ones at risk for DUIs. Many state laws include other types of vehicles, including bicycles.

For example, in Florida, the statute for driving under the influence purposely excludes the word “motorized,” meaning a person can be arrested and charged with a DUI while riding other types of vehicles, like bicycles.

Being charged with a DUI on a bicycle can result in similar, and in some states, the exact charges as a DUI on a motor vehicle.

Penalties for DUIs

Penalties for DUIs highly depend on the type of DUI charge and the circumstances surrounding the situation.

DUI penalties can include fines, starting at $500 and going as high as $5,000 to $10,000 in some states.

Some DUI convictions may result in jail or prison time, ranging from a few months to several years. Felony DUIs and DUIs involving bodily harm and death usually end in longer prison sentences. 

DUI charges and convictions can affect an offender’s ability to retain their driver’s license, either for a short period or permanently. In some states, a DUI charge automatically results in license suspension, and offenders with multiple DUI convictions face license revocation.

DUIs can also affect car insurance rates. The average car insurance rate increase after DUI varies by state, with drivers in Alaska at a low of 33% and North Carolina at the high end with 266% thanks to their Safe Driver Incentive Plan recommending a 340% increase after a drunk driving conviction.

Lawyer for Driving Under the Influence Defense

Facing a DUI charge is no easy task, don’t try to handle your case alone. A DUI attorney provides the best chance for fighting your drunk driving charge, from crafting a viable defense to representing you in court.

You don’t want to face a DUI charge alone. Before you go further, speak with a local DUI attorney. It generally costs between $1,500 and $2,500 if you retain a DUI lawyer after a free consultation to discuss your case.

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