What Can Elevate a DUI from a Misdemeanor to a Felony?

In Florida, a DUI can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on several important factors. Understanding what can elevate a misdemeanor DUI to a felony DUI is essential for Florida drivers. Penalties for a felony DUI are much more severe than misdemeanor DUI, including longer jail sentences, higher fines, and more far-reaching impacts on the driver’s life and livelihood. 

Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa is among the most experienced DUI defense law firms in Florida. Attorney Ben Stechschulte is one of only two percent of all Florida lawyers who have achieved board certification in criminal law. A board-certified criminal defense lawyer practices law consistent with the highest standards of professionalism, legal knowledge, procedural expertise, and legal ethics. If you were arrested for DUI in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, Florida, contact Stechschulte Nell’s Law Office for the highest level of DUI defense representation.  




What Constitutes a DUI in Florida? 

In Florida, a driver is considered to be under the influence if they are impaired to the extent that their normal faculties are affected, or if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.  


Misdemeanor DUI 

Typically, a first or second DUI offense without any aggravating circumstances is classified as a misdemeanor in Florida. A first-time misdemeanor DUI can result in penalties including up to 6 months in jail, a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000, and a six-month suspension of the driver’s license. The consequences for a second DUI are similar but can include a longer jail time (90 days) and higher fines (up to $2,000), and a 12-month license suspension, impounding of the vehicle, and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in all the driver’s vehicles. 

Penalties for a first-offense DUI can also be higher if the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reading is 0.15 or higher, though the charge generally remains a misdemeanor. 


Factors Elevating a DUI to a Felony 

Felony DUIs in Florida can be elevated from misdemeanors under several circumstances. Some situations in which a DUI becomes a felony involve fact patterns that the law considers especially worthy of higher penalties than an ordinary misdemeanor DUI. Other DUIs can become felony’s because the driver has already had two or more previous DUI convictions. 

The following factors elevate a misdemeanor DUI to a felony in Florida: 

  1. DUI Involving Serious Bodily Injury: If a DUI results in an accident where another person suffers serious bodily injury, the offense is elevated to a felony. The term “serious bodily injury” refers to an injury that involves a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. The types of injuries that qualify as “serious bodily injuries” are too diverse and numerous to list. Prosecutors may argue that any prolonged loss of use of a body part (broken bone) or significant disfigurement (facial scar) meets the legal definition of “serious bodily injury.”

  2. DUI Manslaughter: If a DUI accident results in the death of another person (including unborn children), it is classified as DUI Manslaughter, a Second-Degree Felony. This charge can be elevated to a First-Degree Felony if the driver knew, or should have known, an accident occurred stop or failed to give information and render aid as required by Florida law. Penalties for DUI manslaughter include up to 15 years in prison (30 years for leaving the scene), a fine of up to $10,000, and a permanent driver’s license revocation.
  3. Third DUI Within 10 Years: If an individual commits a third DUI within a 10-year period, it is classified as a Third-Degree Felony in Florida. This can result in up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, and a mandatory license revocation for at least 10 years.
  4. Fourth or Subsequent DUI: A fourth or subsequent DUI, regardless of the time frame, is also considered a felony in Florida. A fourth offense DUI is also a Third-Degree Felony carrying up to 5 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and a permanent license suspension. 

Effective Legal Defenses to Felony DUI Charges in Florida 

A skilled Florida DUI defense attorney will examine several defense strategies, including challenging the accuracy of BAC testing equipment, the legality of the traffic stop, the handling of blood tests, and the timelines of prior DUI convictions used to elevate the charge. The defense with the highest probability of success depends on the facts of each individual case. 

Not all DUI defense lawyers are experienced or knowledgeable enough to successfully defend a driver charged with a felony DUI in Florida. DUI felony defense law involves a lawyer’s deep dive into the facts and evidence that the state is relying on to elevate the DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony. 


Defending Multiple-Prior DUI Felony Charges 

When a Florida DUI is charged as a felony because of the driver’s previous two or three DUI convictions, the charge can be challenged in a wide variety of ways.  

  • Can the state prove that the police traffic stop was based on reasonable articulable suspicion of the driver’s illegal activity?  
  • Did the driver display behavior consistent with alcohol impairment?  
  • Does the bodycam video or dashcam confirm the officer’s reports?  
  • Were any Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) administered improperly?  
  • Was there probable cause to arrest the driver?  
  • Were proper warnings provided?  
  • Did the certified breathalyzer operator conduct the breathalyzer properly, on documented equipment with proper maintenance? 


Defending a Felony DUI Charge Based on Serious Bodily Injury or Death 

In addition to any of the challenges mentioned in the previous section that may apply to a felony DUI case based on injury or death of an accident victim, other defenses are also effective. 

Was the driver’s blood drawn? Was it drawn legally, handled properly, and were any transfers in possession inappropriate or not documented? If the driver was impaired, was the impairment a contributing factor to the accident? Are the alleged injuries “serious bodily injuries” as defined in law? Can the medical records be suppressed? Were any accident reconstruction errors committed by prosecution witnesses? Can witness testimony be effectively challenged to successfully raise doubt about their credibility or reliability?  

Other defenses may apply to a given case depending on the facts and circumstances involved. 


Read More > Florida DUI Manslaughter Penalties  


Impact of a Felony DUI Conviction 

The consequences of a felony DUI conviction extend far beyond immediate legal penalties. Convicted felons face difficulties in finding employment, lose their voting rights, and experience restrictions on their ability to travel abroad. Additionally, they can face increased insurance rates, professional licensing issues, and significant personal and social stigma. Get Experienced Florida Felony DUI Defense and call Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law at 813-280-1244. 

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