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What Makes a DUI a Felony in Florida

In Florida, as in most other states, a first or second DUI is considered a misdemeanor offense. But can a DUI be a felony? And if so, What is a felony DUI? 

The answer is yes; a DUI can be classified as a felony. A third or subsequent DUI or a DUI that results in injury or death is classified as a felony in Florida. Any DUI can change your life, but a felony offense carries steep consequences. 

DUIs are charged and prosecuted harshly, so it isn’t advisable to attempt to defeat the charges on your own. Our criminal defense team at Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law have extensive experience on both sides of the aisle. We are former prosecutors who know how the opposition thinks. This inside knowledge gives our clients a distinct advantage over other firms. Your livelihood, reputation, and freedom are most important to us. Let us defend you!

DUI Basics

In Florida, the State can charge you with DUI if you drive, operate, or are in “actual physical control” of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any chemical substance—including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications. 

But what is “actual physical control” of a car? Florida law defines this as being physically in or on the vehicle and having the ability to operate it. As you can see, this definition does not require the defendant to actually be driving or operating the vehicle! You could be resting in the driver’s seat with the keys in your pocket and still be considered to have actual physical control of the car for purposes of DUI. So yes, you could be charged with DUI even if you were not actually driving the car at the time.

When Is a DUI a Felony?

We are often asked, Is a DUI a felony in Florida? Under certain circumstances, the prosecutor can charge a DUI as a felony. Generally, four scenarios will escalate a DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

Third DUI Within 10 Years

The first scenario in which a DUI becomes a felony in Florida is if you are charged with a third DUI within 10 years of a previous DUI conviction. If convicted of your third DUI offense, you will be guilty of a third-degree felony. In Florida, a third-degree felony is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Fourth DUI Offense

Similar to a third DUI offense, your fourth DUI conviction would be a third-degree felony. The difference here is the time between the current offense and prior convictions does not matter.

DUI Results in Serious Bodily Injury

If you drive while intoxicated and cause serious bodily injury to another person, including a passenger in your vehicle or another, the State would charge you with a third-degree felony. If convicted, you could spend up to five years in prison and pay a fine of up to $5,000. 

DUI Results in Death

The prosecutor charges the most severe DUI felony when the death of another human being (including an unborn child) is involved. This charge is known as DUI manslaughter, which is a second-degree felony. Upon conviction, the sentence would be up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. 

In a DUI that results in serious bodily injury or death, the defendant may have to pay restitution to the victim for medical costs, property damage, and lost wages. A defendant can also be held civilly liable. 

Misdemeanor DUI

It is also helpful to know what constitutes a misdemeanor DUI. You will be charged with a misdemeanor DUI if you don’t fall into one of the four above categories. So if you operate or are in actual physical control over a motor vehicle while under the influence, but it is your first or second offense, you would likely not be charged with a felony. 

For reference, the penalties for a first-offense misdemeanor DUI in Florida typically include the following: 

  • DUI probation,
  • DUI education,
  • A fine not to exceed $1,000,
  • Up to six months in jail, and
  • Up to one year of driver’s license suspension.

To learn more about misdemeanor DUI, contact Moses and Rooth today.

Unforeseen Consequences

No matter the severity of the offense, a DUI can significantly impact your life. In addition to the statutory penalties, a DUI can:

  • Inhibit your ability to obtain or maintain gainful employment, 
  • Negatively affect your social standing and reputation, 
  • Impede your capacity to apply for loans or a mortgage,
  • Keep you from attending educational programs, and
  • Prevent you from joining the military.

This is not an exhaustive list of possible collateral consequences; it is just a sampling. Consult our seasoned attorney to discover any other consequences that might apply to your situation.

Florida DUI Attorneys

At Moses and Rooth, we are former prosecutors turned criminal defense attorneys. We know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system and strive to help every one of our clients maintain their dignity and freedom. Our attorneys are well-versed in DUI law and have countless hours of litigation experience under our belt. A DUI conviction, especially a felony conviction, can wreak havoc on your life. It is not something to take lightly, and you need a robust and aggressive defense. Contact us for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation. We are always available 24/7 to take your call!

Author Photo

Andrew Moses

Andrew has been practicing criminal law his entire career. After graduating from law school he began working as an Assistant State Attorney prosecuting cases in Orange and Osceola Counties. During his time as an Assistant State Attorney, Andrew handled all types of cases ranging from misdemeanors to such serious felonies as drug trafficking and armed robbery. His experience as a prosecutor helped him gain perspective of the criminal justice system and how the government established its cases.

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