In New York and many other states, a DUI is typically a misdemeanor charge. However, there are circumstances that could upgrade the charge to a felony. For instance, those with a blood alcohol content of higher than .16 percent may be considered to have an elevated BAC, which may result in harsher punishment. A driver may also face a felony DUI charge if he or she causes bodily harm.
However, it is possible that a prosecutor will decline to upgrade a DUI to a felony even if bodily harm was caused. Furthermore, it must be established that the driver in question caused the injuries. Otherwise, the charge will remain a misdemeanor. In New York, a driver may be charged with a felony if he or she has a previous DUI or DWI conviction in the past 10 years.
Increased penalties are also possible if there is a child in the car. New York law calls for increased penalties if a child 15 or younger is in a vehicle with a drunk driver. A felony DUI charge may be forthcoming to any driver who is found to be driving while impaired and is on a suspended or revoked license. In Illinois, that could result in a prison term of up to three years if convicted on the charge.
Those who face a felony driving while intoxicated charge may wish to consult an attorney. Possible penalties include a license suspension or revocation, a fine and time in jail or prison. An attorney may argue that a driver's vehicle was experience a mechanical issue that caused it to swerve or that a driver has a medical condition that mimics symptoms of impairment. This may result in a plea bargain or an outright acquittal on the charge.