The inherently dangerous act of driving under the influence can never be excused or shrugged off. If the authorities arrest you, the law will punish you accordingly depending on whether you committed a misdemeanor or felony DUI violation.
Knowing the difference between a misdemeanor DUI charge and a felony DUI charge is important. The dangers of impaired driving should already be reason enough for you to sober up before getting behind the wheel. If they are not enough, though, the penalties you could receive should give you more reasons to reconsider.
Let’s talk about the differences between a misdemeanor and a felony DUI charge in this article. The information here should tell you all you need to know about how seriously Arizona takes impaired driving and why you should avoid it.
A Refresher on Drunk Driving in Arizona
Before we get into differentiating the misdemeanor and felony variants of DUI charges, let’s focus first on what drunk driving is. Alcohol intoxication can impact how you perceive your surroundings and how you control your body. Given alcohol’s effects on the body, individuals who are intoxicated while driving pose a greater risk to themselves and the people around them.
The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent. The authorities can charge drivers with a BAC level that exceeds 0.08 with a DUI violation.
Notably though, that legal limit only applies to drivers of private vehicles who are twenty-one years old or older.
In the state of Arizona, they can still charge drivers of commercial vehicles with a BAC level above 0.04 with DUI. For drivers under the age of twenty-one, any level of alcohol in their bodies will warrant a DUI charge.
When Is a DUI Charge Considered a Misdemeanor Violation?
Most of the time, they will regard a DUI charge as a misdemeanor if it’s your first violation. That is usually the case regardless of whether you were driving a private or commercial vehicle. Drivers under the age of twenty-one who get a DUI are likely to receive a misdemeanor violation.
A first-time DUI charge remains a misdemeanor violation if you did not harm anyone due to your negligence. They would not elevate the charge if you did not have anyone under the age of fifteen inside your vehicle.
What Are the Penalties for a Misdemeanor DUI Violation?
You can expect to receive some significant penalties even if it’s your first misdemeanor DUI charge. Jail time will be among the penalties you face. To be more specific, you may spend time in jail for no less than ten consecutive days.
Arizona residents in violation of the state’s DUI laws for the first time will also pay a fine. The minimum amount you’ll pay is $1,250.
Violators will also render community service and take part in alcohol education, screening, and treatment. In Arizona, individuals found guilty of violating their DUI laws will also get a certified ignition interlock device attached to any vehicles they drive.
Points are additional aspects of DUI penalties. Eight points are added to your record if you commit a DUI violation.
Because you have eight points on your record, you are a candidate to have your driving privileges suspended for up to twelve months. You will need to attend Traffic Survival School to avoid getting your driving privileges suspended.
One more thing to note here is that the penalties apply only to those with a misdemeanor DUI violation. That means your BAC level is at 0.08 percent or higher but below 0.15 percent. If you receive an extreme or super extreme DUI misdemeanor charge, the penalties will be different.
How BAC Level Affects Your Penalties
A subject of significant confusion is whether your BAC level will affect the kind of charge you receive. It’s easy to see why Arizona residents can get confused considering the state uses different terminologies when referring to DUI charges based on BAC levels.
For instance, if your BAC level is over 0.15 percent, you could get an extreme DUI charge. You could also receive a super DUI charge if your BAC level is 0.20 percent or higher.
Those distinctions don’t mean much in terms of whether you’ll get a misdemeanor or a felony. Even if your BAC level qualifies you for a super extreme DUI charge, they will regard it as a misdemeanor.
So, if the BAC level does not change a misdemeanor to a felony, why do extreme and super extreme DUI charges still exist? The distinction is necessary because it affects the penalties assessed.
In the case of an individual hit with an extreme DUI misdemeanor charge for the first time, jail time will be a minimum of 120 days. The individual will also pay a minimum fine of $3,250 and have their license revoked for twelve months. The same penalties regarding alcohol education, screening, and treatment, plus community service and the certified ignition interlock device will remain in effect.
Is a Second DUI Violation Considered a Felony?
Like we noted earlier, you’ll likely receive a misdemeanor violation the first time you’re guilty of impaired driving. But what about the second time you violate Arizona’s DUI laws? Will you be charged with a felony then?
The answer depends on a few factors.
The charge you ultimately receive will depend on whether you caused injury while drunk driving. Causing serious injury typically means that your charge will go up to a felony.
They can also charge you with a more serious crime if you were drunk driving while someone under the age of fifteen was in the vehicle.
Basically, the same criteria that could lead to you receiving a felony for your first DUI violation still apply the second time around. However, there are additional factors they will look at.
Remember, they can suspend your driving privileges if you fail to attend Traffic Survival School. If they suspend your driving privileges, getting caught drunk driving again will result in a felony charge.
If the arresting officer finds that a certified ignition interlock device was attached to your vehicle when you were driving drunk, you can expect to receive a felony. That device is supposed to prevent the vehicle from starting if your BAC level is over the legal limit. The fact that you were drunk driving means that you either tampered with or circumvented the device in some way.
What Are the Penalties for a Second Misdemeanor DUI Violation?
The penalties will be harsher the second time you receive a misdemeanor DUI violation.
Mandatory jail time will be a minimum of ninety days. Meanwhile, your minimum fine will be $3,000. You will also render community service again.
A certified ignition interlock device will again be attached to your vehicle. Repeat violators will also undergo alcohol education, screening, and treatment.
Lastly, they will revoke your driver’s license for twelve months. That will be the case even if you decide to attend Traffic Survival School.
What Is Aggravated DUI?
To put it simply, aggravated DUI is what you’ll receive if your DUI violation goes from being a misdemeanor to a felony. So, what constitutes an aggravated DUI charge in Arizona? The courts will look at a variety of factors when determining that.
First, they’ll consider if your drunk driving led to injury or possibly even cause someone’s death.
Next, the courts will consider if you were driving recklessly while under the influence of alcohol. A factor they consider is the age of the passengers with you. If someone under the age of fifteen was in your vehicle while you were driving drunk, you would likely receive a felony.
Also, driving in the wrong direction while drunk is another example of being reckless on the road. You could get a felony because of that.
The courts will also not take kindly to you if you ignored their orders. Driving sober with a revoked license can already get you in plenty of hot water. Driving drunk with a revoked license will lead to a felony charge.
You should also avoid messing with your certified ignition interlock device. Felony charges will be handed down to a drunk driver with certified ignition interlock devices attached to their vehicle.
One more factor that matters in aggravated DUI cases is the number of times you’ve been arrested for this same violation. Arizona law dictates that drivers who are caught driving drunk a third time within a span of eighty-four months will be charged with a felony. Subsequent violations will also lead to a felony.
What Are the Penalties for an Aggravated DUI Charge?
The penalties handed down for aggravated DUI charges are mostly similar to the ones that are attached to misdemeanor cases. Guilty parties will attend alcohol education, screening, and treatment. They will also need to perform community and get a certified ignition interlock device attached to their vehicle.
A person guilty of aggravated DUI will also have their driver’s license revoked for twelve months.
The most significant difference between the penalties handed down for misdemeanor and felony DUI charges is the type of incarceration they will receive.
Individuals guilty of aggravated DUI can count on harsher punishment in that regard. The time they spend incarcerated will be no more than two years. On top of that, they will also serve their sentence in prison instead of jail.
What Are Other Ways a Person May Be in Violation of Arizona’s DUI Laws?
Arizona residents should know that you don’t need to fail a test to violate the state’s DUI laws. If you’ve been stopped because they suspected you were driving under the influence and you refused the tests, they can revoke your driver’s license for up to twelve months.
Drivers who refuse the test a second time within 84 months may lose their license for a longer period. In that case, the period of revocation could last for two years.
Losing your driver’s license is already a significant inconvenience, but that’s not all you need to worry about. Drivers who refuse the test will also undergo alcohol screening before their driver’s license can be reinstated.
How Can an Attorney Help if You’ve Been Charged with Drunk Driving?
There is no excuse for drunk driving. If you’ve had a few drinks, you have no business getting behind the wheel of your vehicle. Ride with a sober friend, book a ride via a ridesharing app, or hop into a taxi if you want to get home while you’re still intoxicated.
Still, even responsible people can make mistakes from time to time. If you believe that you did make a mistake, but you did not commit a felony, an attorney can help you out.
Your attorney could argue that the police officers were using faulty equipment when they tested your BAC level. An attorney could also argue that you did not know you had consumed an alcoholic drink before you got into your vehicle.
They can use different defenses in DUI cases to prove your innocence. Partner up with a skilled and experienced Arizona attorney if you want justice for your case.
Arizona residents in need of an attorney can approach us at the Schill Law Group for assistance. Contact us today, and we’ll help you fight any erroneous charges against you.