The most common punishments for DUI offenses are a fine, jail (or prison) time, or both. Many states will also impose some length of license suspension or require the use of an ignition interlock device, so that the defendant’s vehicle will not start without a clean breathalyzer sample. Specific penalties for DUI convictions vary by state, though all states impose some combination of the following to punish DUI convictions:
- Jail (or prison) Time
- Community Service
- Victim Impact Program Participation
- Home Confinement (also known as House Arrest)
- Ignition Interlock Device Use
- License Suspension
- Vehicle Impoundment or Forfeiture
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse Programs
Within each state, the severity of the applicable penalties in each case usually depends on whether the offense was a first or subsequent violation, and aggravating factors may increase applicable penalties (see below).
The following circumstances will increase the penalties that would normally apply to a DUI conviction. These include (but are not limited to):
- Second and subsequent offenses
- A minor in the vehicle at time of offense (sometimes referred to as “Child Endangerment”)
- A minor as the defendant
- DUI while driving on a suspended license
- DUI while driving a school bus
- Causing a traffic accident, property damage, bodily injury, or death
- Driving with particularly elevated alcohol or drug content levels
Sentence Ranges and Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Although many state statutes list maximum fines, jail time, and license suspension periods, unless the law requires minimum fines, jail time, and suspension, the judge usually has discretion to sentence for periods up to the various maximums. This means that a defendant can theoretically end up with no, or very low, jail time and penalties.
Defendants who have prior DUI convictions probably can’t count on a mild sentence due to the absence of a mandatory minimum sentence in the statute, however. In all states, penalties increase for second and subsequent offenses, and in most states, that means mandatory minimum penalties for these subsequent violations. However, often there’s a “wash out” provision—a rule that effectively makes a prior DUI of a certain age go away for purposes of enhancing subsequent sentences. For example, a mandatory minimum may apply to a current conviction only if the prior conviction was incurred less than five, seven, or ten years ago. When a prior has washed out, the subsequent offense is treated as a first offense for punishment purposes.