Felony DUI: Drugs

Driving a vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity, and one that can lead to serious injury, damage, or death if not done properly. Driving becomes particularly dangerous when an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel.

Driving a vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity, and one that can lead to serious injury, damage, or death if not done properly. Driving becomes particularly dangerous when an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel. Because of this, all states have adopted strict laws that criminalize driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, known as driving under the influence, or DUI. (The offense is often also called DWI, or driving while intoxicated.)

For information on driving under the influence of alcohol, see Felony DUI: Alcohol.

While many, if not most, DUI cases involve people under the influence of alcohol, the crime can also involve those under the influence of drugs. Further, these crimes can be charged as a felony if specific conditions are present. However, state laws on DUI differ significantly, especially when it comes to potential punishments.

Illicit, Prescription, or Over the Counter

A drug DUI can occur regardless of whether a person is intoxicated from illegal or legal drugs. State laws define "drug" in a number of ways, but any substance that can affect your nervous system or affect your ability to drive will qualify as a drug. The definition also includes any drug that would not normally impair your ability to drive but, when combined with alcohol, has a potentially intoxicating effect.

If you're pulled over while under the influence of drugs, the police can test you to determine if drugs are in your system. Any presence of an illegal drug can lead to a DUI charge even if you do not feel intoxicated or affected by the substance. However, if you're on legal or prescription drugs, these too can lead to a DUI charge. If you fail a field sobriety test and are on legal drugs, or if you are on drugs known to cause impairment, you can also be charged with a DUI.

Felony DUI

Drug DUI crimes are often charged as misdemeanors, though felony charges are also possible if certain factors are present. The difference between a misdemeanor and felony crime is that a felony is more serious, involving the possibility for a lengthier incarceration sentence and stiffer fines.

  • Driving with a child in the vehicle. In many states, it's a felony to drive intoxicated while a child is in the car. For the purposes of DUI crimes, a child is usually defined as any person below the a certain age, typically 15 or 16.
  • Getting into a damaging or injury-causing crash. If you drive under the influence of drugs and you get into a crash that results in an injury, death, or even property damage, this can make the crime a felony. In some states, causing injury to yourself alone will elevate the offense to a felony, while in others you must injure someone else.
  • Multiple DUI offenses. All states make a DUI a felony if a person has committed previous DUI crimes, though the number of previous offenses required differs. For example, in some states you can be charged with a felony DUI if you've been previously convicted of a single DUI offense, while in others it will take multiple previous convictions.
  • Suspended license. You will also face felony charges if you decide to drive while intoxicated or impaired when you're not permitted to do so. Driving on a suspended or revoked license will lead to felony DUI charges regardless of your previous history or if other conditions are present.


The penalties for a felony DUI crime are more significant than they are for a misdemeanor offense. Felony DUIs involve the possibility of substantial fines, incarceration, as well as license suspensions and other penalties. However, because state laws differ so widely, the specific penalties for convictions can differ significantly.

  • Incarceration. A misdemeanor DUI can lead to jail time, but felony offenses have the potential to lead to a lengthy incarceration sentence in state prison. Prison times differ depending on the circumstances of the case, but sentences of one to five years or more are possible.
  • Fines. Fines for felony DUI are often very high, and they are imposed in addition to any court costs or fees. Though specific amounts differ, fines of up to $10,000 or more are possible.
  • Probation. It's also possible for a court to sentence you to probation if you're convicted of a felony DUI. Probation sentences restrict your liberties and allow you to serve your punishment outside of jail or prison. While on probation you will have to comply with any rules the court imposes. These often require you to, for example, regularly report to a probation officer, take random drug tests, pay all fines and court costs, not commit more crimes or DUIs, and not use any illicit drugs.
  • License suspension. If you're convicted of a DUI, you will have your license suspended and possibly revoked. However, you can also have your license suspended or revoked even if you are charged but never convicted of the crime. License suspension procedures are civil or regulatory in nature, and are handled by a state agency (the one that issues drivers' licenses). Suspension hearings are different than the criminal DUI trial. When you're charged with a DUI you effectively face two tribunals, the local criminal court for the crime of DUI, and the licensing agency hearing to determine if you should retain your driving privileges. If you lose the administrative hearing on your license, you face a license suspension of at least 90 days, but possibly much longer.

Talk to a Lawyer

You face serious consequences any time you are charged with driving under the influence of drugs. A felony conviction will not only result in significant penalties, but will seriously impact your ability to carry on a normal life. Not only will your ability to drive be restricted, but being convicted of a felony will follow you for the rest of your life, making it harder to find a job or even rent an apartment. You need to speak to a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as you're charged with any DUI crime. Your ability to defend yourself against the charges against you will depend on receiving advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws of your state, as well as from one who has experience dealing with area police, prosecutors, and courts. You should speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately after you're arrested or charged, as any delay could damage your case and make it harder to protect your rights.

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