Driving under the influence, also known as DUI or drunk driving, is a serious charge in Illinois. However, while the courts never take these cases lightly, the exact level of seriousness of the charge may vary depending on the circumstances of the situation and the number of prior convictions for the same charge. This is why the answer to the question “Are DUIs felonies in Illinois?” is not as simple as it may seem, and this is also why Illinois citizens would be wise to understand these laws. Here is some information on the penalties for drunk driving in Illinois.
When is a DUI Not a Felony?
Information on sentencing and penalties for DUIs can be found in 625 ILCS 5/11-501. This statute states that when it comes to first-time and even second-time offenders, getting convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher will typically be considered a Class A misdemeanor. This means that the penalties they face are typically lighter in comparison to repeat offenders. However, that does not mean that people who receive a first or second DUI conviction get a slap on the wrist and little more.
Under Illinois law, penalties for a Class A Misdemeanor may include prison time for less than a year and fines up to $2500. A first conviction may result in not being legally allowed to drive for a full year, and the minimum suspension time is extended to five years for people who receive a second DUI conviction within 20 years. The sentence may also include community service.
These penalties are tough enough on their own, but the punishment can worsen with additional circumstances. The fines you have to pay and the community service you have to perform may increase if you commit a DUI with a BAC of at least 0.16% or commit it while a child under 16 years old is in the vehicle with you. All of these are still misdemeanors, which should give you some idea of how stringent the penalties must be when a DUI charge is considered a felony.
Then When is Drunk Driving a Felony?
Certain circumstances can lead to an arrest, not for DUI, but for aggravated DUI - and a conviction on this charge can be a Class 4 Felony. According to 625 ILCS 5/11-501, these circumstances include but are not limited to:
- Driving a school bus with at least one passenger while under the influence
- Causing a vehicular accident “that result[s] in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another”
- Causing an accident that results in bodily harm (not “great” bodily harm) while driving through a school zone during a time when the 20-mph speed limit is in effect (this applies even if the driver was obeying that speed limit)
- Driving without a license or permit, including if their license had already been revoked or suspended due to a previous drunk driving offense
With that said, there are a few ways to elevate the felony level of an aggravated DUI charge:
- A defendant faces a Class 3 felony if they are convicted of a DUI after a previous conviction for reckless homicide, itself caused when the person was driving under the influence.
- Causing an accident that results in fatality - whether the accident involved motor vehicles, snowmobiles, watercraft, or all-terrain vehicles - is a Class 2 felony. It may result in up to 14 years in prison if one person was killed in the accident, or up to 28 years if more than one person was killed.
- If you commit a second DUI with a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle, you commit a Class 2 Felony.
What Happens If You’re Convicted of DUI More than Twice?
If one gets convicted more than twice, the crime will be deemed a felony, even without those additional circumstances. While the first two DUI convictions would count as Class A Misdemeanors if they are not aggravated, subsequent convictions would be considered aggravated DUI, and thus, felonies.
The felony level for a third and fourth conviction would not be Class 4, but Class 2 instead. The fines are even stiffer, and the length of imprisonment, community service, and license suspension are all even longer. Starting with the fourth violation, probation is no longer an option at that point. A fifth violation elevates the crime to a Class 1 Felony, and any further convictions would be considered Class X - the harshest felony level of all.
Regardless of whether a conviction for it would count as a misdemeanor or a felony, DUI charges should always be taken seriously - especially because the number of prior convictions can directly affect whether you spend months behind bars or decades without probation. If you or a loved one have been charged with drunk driving in Illinois, you need to seek counsel from an experienced DUI lawyer immediately. The Chicago DUI lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC will aggressively defend you in court and work to get your charges significantly reduced or even dismissed altogether. Contact our legal team today for a free consultation and more information at (312) 644-0444.