What Is a DUI Sentence Enhancement?

Factors Than Can Add to Drunk Driving Penalties

Driver With Beer
Circumstances Can Increase DUI Penalties. © Getty Images

The penalties for a drunk driving conviction are already stiff, but there are circumstances upon which they can become even greater with a DUI sentence enhancement. All states have drunk driving or DUI laws that provide for greater punishment under enhanced sentencing.

A drunk driving sentence enhancement can be a legal or factual circumstance that provides for stiffer punishment because of a greater threat to the public safety by the driver.

These sentence enhancements can include higher fines, longer license suspension and, in a growing number of states, mandatory jail time.

DUI Enhancement Factors

Although drunk driving laws vary from state to state, here are some of the factors that can trigger DUI sentence enhancements:

Prior DUI Conviction - In every state in the U.S. penalties are greater for any driver with a previous drunk driving offense. Some states enhance the sentence for a DUI within the past five years, some 10 years and some states for any previous conviction no matter how long ago it was.

High-Level Blood-Alcohol Concentration - More states are beginning to adopt laws that increase penalties for drivers who have high blood-alcohol levels at the time of their arrests. Some states place that level at 0.15 and some states have even greater enhancements for a BAC above 0.20.

Refusal to Take a Breath Test - In many states, if you refuse to take a breath test you can be subjected to more penalties that you would have if you submitted to the testing.

In some states, refusal means immediate revocation of your license and in other states, it means mandatory jail time. You can no longer be given an enhanced sentence for refusing to take a blood or urine test, unless the police first obtain a warrant, the Supreme Court ruled in June 2016.

Child Endangerment - If you were caught driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle, your sentence will be enhanced in many states, even if it's your own child.

In some states, the enhancement applies for children under age 18 and even greater enhancement for those under 14.

Property Damage - If you had a wreck while driving under the influence, your penalties will be greater in most states; even greater if you do not have required auto insurance.

Bodily Injury - If you injured someone in your wreck while intoxicated your sentence will be enhanced even more.

Other Factors - Other circumstances that can increase your penalties and fines for a DUI conviction include:

  • No valid driver's license
  • On probation for another crime
  • Having an open container of alcohol
  • Having multiple previous convictions
  • Having an ignition interlock device on the vehicle

If you have been arrested for drunk driving, you may want to take the Drunk Driving Enhancement Quiz to determine if your sentence might be enhanced and decide if you need an attorney to represent you in court.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Digest of Impaired Driving and Selected Beverage Control Laws." January 2007.

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