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Can a DUI conviction become a felony?

On Behalf of | May 10, 2023 | DUI |

Some people think they can drive safely after a few drinks, but driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious matter for good reason. The frequency of fatal drunk driving accidents is such that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that motor vehicle accidents involving impaired drivers kill 32 Americans daily.

When you’re convicted of your first DUI offense in Washington, you can expect to pay a fine between $350 and $5,000, your license suspended for at least 90 days, you may get jail time of up to a whole year and you’ll have to install an ignition interlock device in your car. While this may sound severe enough to some, these penalties are just for a misdemeanor.

But what happens when a DUI conviction becomes a felony?

How does a DUI conviction turn into a felony?

For a DUI to count as a felony in Washington, the driver charged must have at least one of the following:

  • Four or more DUI offenses within the last decade
  • A prior felony DUI conviction in Washington
  • Any previous conviction of a DUI-related vehicular homicide or vehicular assault

In addition, a driver may also be charged with a felony DUI if they previously had any comparable out-of-state DUI convictions.

If any of these are a factor in a case, prosecutors will charge the driver with a felony DUI – a Class C felony conviction.

Penalties for a felony DUI

Drivers with a Class C felony conviction can face a prison sentence of up to five years, on top of paying up to $10,000 in fines. Note that a regular DUI conviction differs from a DUI vehicular homicide or a DUI vehicular assault conviction. The latter two are a Class A and a Class B felony, respectively, and carry much heavier sentences and fines.

Whether you’re faced with your fourth, potentially felony-level DUI or your first conviction, you should consider hiring a lawyer experienced in DUI who can protect your rights during your case.