When it comes to driving under the influence (DUI) charges in Tennessee, one of the most common questions that arise is whether a DUI is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. Understanding the distinction is crucial, as it can have a significant impact on the severity of the penalties you might face if convicted.
DUI Felony vs. DUI Misdemeanor
In Tennessee, DUI offenses can be categorized into two main classifications: DUI misdemeanors and DUI felonies.
1. DUI Misdemeanor:
For a first-time DUI offense without aggravating factors, such as injuries or fatalities, the charge typically falls under the misdemeanor category. In Tennessee, this is considered a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties for a DUI misdemeanor may include:
Fines: A first-time offender may face fines of up to $1,500.
Jail Time: Conviction could result in a jail sentence of 48 hours to 11 months and 29 days, although judges often suspend part of the sentence for first-time offenders.
License Suspension: Your driver’s license may be suspended for up to 1 year.
Probation: Probation and mandatory DUI education programs are often required.
Ignition Interlock Device: In some cases, you may be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
2. DUI Felony:
DUI becomes a felony in Tennessee under specific circumstances, which include:
Multiple Offenses: If you have previous DUI convictions within a certain time frame, your current DUI charge could be elevated to a felony. Typically, a fourth DUI offense within ten years or a second DUI offense with a prior vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular assault conviction will result in a DUI felony charge.
Vehicular Homicide: If your DUI offense leads to a fatality, you can be charged with vehicular homicide, which is a felony.
Aggravated Vehicular Assault: Causing serious injury while driving under the influence can result in an aggravated vehicular assault charge, also a felony.
Consequences of a DUI Felony
A DUI felony carries significantly more severe consequences compared to a misdemeanor. These may include:
Fines: Felony DUI convictions can lead to substantial fines.
Prison Time: Felony DUI convictions often result in prison sentences ranging from several months to several years, depending on the circumstances.
Loss of Voting Rights and Gun Ownership: Convicted felons lose their right to vote and may be prohibited from owning firearms.
Permanent Criminal Record: A felony conviction can have long-lasting effects on your employment prospects and personal life.
Whether a DUI is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor in Tennessee depends on various factors, including prior convictions and the outcomes of the DUI incident. Understanding these distinctions is vital for anyone facing DUI charges in the state. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t hesitate to seek legal guidance and representation to protect your rights and future.
Given the serious implications of a DUI felony conviction, it is crucial to seek legal defense from an experienced DUI lawyer like Atty. David Clarke. With the right legal representation, you may be able to mitigate the charges and their associated penalties.