You can generally sort drunk driving offenses into two basic categories. The first category includes victimless crimes that involve technical infractions. An officer sees someone swerving and pulls them over, eventually arresting them because of their poor driving performance or failing a chemical breath test.
The other category of drunk driving offenses is more serious because these offenses involve provable harm to other people. When a drunk driver causes property damage or injures someone, they may face more serious criminal charges than basic impaired driving allegations.
When might the state charge you with a felony for drunk driving?
When you have a long history of drunk driving arrests
The first time you face a drunk driving charge, your penalties will be lower than they will be after a second or third drunk driving charge. Both the penalties and possibly the charges will go up when you have a history that involves multiple impaired driving offenses.
A fourth drunk driving charge within 10 years will likely be a felony charge even without any other aggravating factors. Having a previous felony from a drunk driving incident or a record of hurting someone else in a drunk driving crash could also lead to felony charges. Having a minor in your car at the time of the offense could also lead to felony charges.
When you hurt or kill someone else
If you cause a crash that leaves someone else with injuries, you could face a felony charge. The same is true of an alcohol-related crash where someone dies. However, rather than an impaired driving charge, you will likely face more serious charges, like gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Understanding how the state decides when drunk driving becomes a serious felony offense can help you avoid making a major mistake.