Is a DUI a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

A DUI charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony if you are convicted. A DUI is usually a misdemeanor if it is your first offense.
Written by Sean Boehme
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Jan 20, 2023
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offense that carries serious penalties if you are convicted. A DUI may be a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge, although misdemeanors are more common for first-time offenders. 
The exact penalties for a DUI vary by state. If you’re convicted of a DUI, you could face a fine, jail time, and the suspension of your license
has compiled this guide to help you understand when a DUI conviction does or does not qualify as a felony, as well as how a DUI conviction may affect your
car insurance
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What is a DUI?

A person can be charged with driving under the influence, or DUI—sometimes called driving while intoxicated or impaired, or DWI—when their alcohol or drug consumption has compromised their ability to drive safely. It is a criminal charge that carries serious penalties. Penalties vary by state, but some of the most common include:
  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Demerit points on your record
  • The suspension of your license
You are usually charged with a DUI if your blood alcohol content (BAC) registers as 0.08% or higher on a breathalyzer. But even if you register below that, you can still be charged if you are deemed to be visibly impaired.
Most people think of a DUI as strictly an alcohol-related offense. But as mentioned, you can also be charged with a DUI if you are impaired by drugs.

What makes a DUI a felony charge?

DUI is a criminal offense, but most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors. Since misdemeanors are considered to be less serious than felonies, they carry smaller fines and less jail time by comparison.
Just because most DUI charges are misdemeanors doesn’t mean you can’t be charged with a felony for driving under the influence. Here are a few factors that can elevate a DUI to a felony charge

Multiple DUI Convictions

Although the rules vary from state to state, the average first-time offender with a DUI receives a misdemeanor. If you rack up multiple DUIs within 10 years or many throughout your lifetime, you’ll eventually be charged with a felony instead.
According to
DUI laws in New York
, for example, your third offense in a 10-year span is a felony charge. At that point, you’ll be facing up to seven years in prison and $10,000 in fines

Injury or harm

If someone is injured in an accident as a result of your impairment, you can be charged with a felony. If someone is killed, it’s even more likely to be a felony. 
If someone is killed, you could actually be charged with vehicular manslaughter rather than a felony DUI—but either way, you'll be facing severe penalties. 

Endangering children

If you are driving while intoxicated and there's a minor in the vehicle, many states have laws that will elevate your DUI to a felony charge. If the children are very young, you can expect more severe penalties. 

High Blood Alchohol Content

If you’re caught driving with a blood alcohol content at or below 0.08%, you’ll probably just be charged with a misdemeanor. If your BAC is exceptionally high, however, you could be charged with a felony.
In some states, a BAC of 0.15% or higher is a felony, while in other states the threshold is 0.20%. States implement this rule with the belief that someone is more likely to cause an accident the higher their BAC is. 
Key Takeaway If you’ve racked up multiple DUI convictions or the incident that led to your DUI charge was particularly dangerous, you could be charged with a felony. 

How will a DUI charge affect my car insurance?

The more likely you are to file a claim, the more expensive your car insurance will be. If you have one or multiple DUI violations, your car insurance company will deem you to be high risk and raise your rates to make their investment worthwhile. 
On average, a DUI raises your insurance premiums around 70%. Depending on what state you live in and what company you use, you could easily pay over $1,000 more each year because of a single DUI charge.
In some states, a DUI will clear from your record after 10 years, while in others it could last your lifetime. Your insurance rates should go back down if you’re lucky enough to live in the more lenient states.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to reduce your insurance costs no matter your record. You could take a defensive driving course to earn a discount or comparison shop for a better rate using an app like

How to find affordable car insurance

If you’ve been convicted of DUI, or if you just have
a bad driving record
, your insurance premium is probably through the roof. If you take the time to revisit your plan, you may be surprised by how much you can save.
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