The Difference Between a Felony and Misdemeanor DUI

Is a DUI a Misdemeanor?

 

If you’re arrested for driving under the influence, you could be facing three different types of charges: an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony. The consequences for the DUI will vary significantly depending on which type of offense you’re charged with. Learn the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor DUI.

Infraction

An infraction is an offense, but it is the least serious type of offense. Infractions will not give you a criminal record, and usually, all that is necessary to set things right is to pay a fine.

Impaired driving can be an infraction, though more often it is not.  In Wisconsin, a first OWI is a civil infraction, provided the blood alcohol level is below .15 and there are no other aggravating factors.

You are not guaranteed a right to trial for an infraction, and in fact they are usually resolved quickly at a court appearance. In some states an attorney can have charges reduced via plea bargain from misdemeanor to infraction.

Misdemeanor

The majority of drunk driving arrests involve misdemeanor charges, which are more serious than infractions. A misdemeanor DUI is more likely to result in a jail term of up to one year and a punitive fine. You have the right to a trial if you are facing misdemeanor charges.

Most impaired driving charges involving speeding, reckless driving, and driving without a license are misdemeanors, though

A misdemeanor conviction can also result in other restrictions, such as loss of professional licenses, difficulty at job interviews, and denial of a firearm permit. Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, are also required in many misdemeanor DUI cases.

Felony

The most serious crimes involve felony charges. In 46 states a too-often-repeated DUI is a felony – usually the third or fourth one. Injuring or killing someone while driving drunk is almost always a felony.  Some states raise the charge to a felony if you have a child under a certain age in the vehicle while driving drunk.

Felony convictions are life-altering in the extreme. Most professional licenses will be lost, as will voting rights. Adopting a child becomes impossible, and access to public housing and benefits might be lost.

Infraction, misdemeanor, and felony are three different ways the courts can deal with the decision to drink and drive. They exist so that even if a given instance of drunk driving does not result in harm, we can rest assured that there will still be consequences for the impaired driver to deal with.