Most DUI cases are misdemeanors, but felony DUI is much more serious and can impact your future in some severe ways. It’s important to know when a DUI case is becoming a felony and what the consequences are.
Felony convictions are much more serious than misdemeanors. However, even for a misdemeanor, you need a good DUI lawyer who has the experience to defend you properly and help you avoid the worst consequences.
When is a DUI a Felony in Florida?
DUI laws vary from state to state. Localities apply state law. So, if you are convicted of a DUI in Miami, Florida, state law applies. Specifically, a DUI becomes a felony in Florida when:
- It is your third conviction within ten years.
- It is your fourth or subsequent conviction.
- You caused serious bodily injury.
All three of these are considered third-degree felonies in Florida, with significant penalties and jail time.
If somebody was killed, things become much more serious, which will be discussed below.
What are the Penalties and/or Jail Time for a Felony DUI in Miami?
For all three of the third-degree felonies above, the penalty is a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years imprisonment. These penalties can be increased if the person is considered a “habitual felony offender.” This rarely comes up in DUI cases but considers committing a felony within five years of a prior felony or committing a felony while on parole.
For a third DUI conviction, there is a minimum fine of $2,000, which rises to $4,000 if you have a BAL of .15 or higher or have a minor in the vehicle. (Note that while it is only a felony if, within ten years, the fine is the same even if ten years have passed). There is also a minimum jail sentence of at least 30 days, of which 48 hours have to be consecutive.
The law also requires that your vehicle be impounded or immobilized for 90 days, not concurrent with incarceration unless your family has no other transportation. A good lawyer can help you avoid impoundment (which comes with towing fees and a storage fee, and they might keep your car if you don’t have the money), and negotiate it down to immobilization, where your car is booted or a device installed on your steering wheel. This is cheaper and more discreet.
Finally, there is the effect on your ability to drive. Specifically:
- For a third offense within 10 years, minimum 10 years revocation, but you may be eligible for hardship reinstatement after two years.
- For a fourth conviction, mandatory permanent revocation, but you may be eligible for hardship reinstatement after five years. The clock starts on release from jail.
To get a hardship reinstatement, you have to complete DUI school and remain in the DUI supervision program, you must report for counseling or treatment, and you must not have consumed any alcohol for at least 12 months. You will also have to have an ignition interlock device (IID) for two years. Even then, you will still have to manage without a car for an extended period of time. Thankfully, Miami has a decent mass transit system, and if you are in Miami proper, you should be able to do so. However, not having a car impacts your independence and ability to visit people outside the area, move things, etc.
Does a Felony DUI Ever Go Away?
The brief answer is no. Like other felonies, a felony DUI will stay on your record for life unless you receive a pardon. Florida does not allow felony convictions to be expunged.
Having a felony on your record can impact your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, retain custody of your children in a divorce, etc. Florida does not have a statewide “ban-the-box” law, prohibiting employers from asking about arrest and conviction records. However, Miami-Dade County has established a local “ban-the-box” ordinance, although there are some exceptions. Florida recently passed a law restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.
The only way to keep a felony off your record is not to commit the offense in the first place and to hire an excellent lawyer who can help you avoid a felony conviction.
What if Someone Was Killed?
If somebody is killed, then things become dire indeed. Florida considers both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide to be second-degree felonies, carrying penalties of a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years of imprisonment. If you leave the crash scene without giving information or rendering aid, it becomes a first-degree felony that results in a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 13 years of imprisonment.
DUI manslaughter also carries mandatory permanent revocation of your driver’s license. You might be eligible for hardship reinstatement after five years, but only if you have no previous DUI-related convictions of any kind. If you do, you will not be able to get your license back, with all that entails.
For vehicular homicide or DUI serious bodily injury, the revocation is a minimum of three years. With a prior conviction, it goes up to 5 years.
In most cases, however, DUI manslaughter is the offense a prosecutor is likely to go with. These are severe penalties that will affect (and likely ruin) the rest of your life.
If you are facing a DUI felony charge, you need the best lawyer to defend you and make sure that you can avoid these grave consequences, including extended jail time and not being able to drive, possibly for the rest of your life. You may also end up with a felony on your record, which can affect your ability to choose where to live and make a living.
Meltzer & Bell can defend you. Contact us for a free initial consultation, and we will do our best to keep you from facing a felony conviction with everything that entails.