Not all DUIs are created equal. Some involve aggravating factors: circumstances that support stiffer punishment. We recently surveyed readers in different areas of the United States to learn about the cost and outcomes of aggravated DUI cases. These readers had been arrested for DUI (or DWI, or another drunk driving acronym) and accused of one or more of the following aggravating factors:
- having a high blood alcohol content (BAC)
- getting into an accident
- having a prior DUI offense (including, in some states, a lesser alcohol-related driving offense)
- driving on a suspended or revoked license
- refusing a chemical test to determine BAC
- having a child in the car, or
- driving with a commercial driver’s license.
In some states, an aggravated DUI is called an extreme DUI or "DUI with aggravating factors."
What’s the Likely Outcome of an Aggravated DUI?
As you might expect, case outcomes were significantly worse on the whole for readers arrested for aggravated DUI than for those accused of simple DUI.
Whether after a trial or through a guilty (or "no-contest") plea, 81% of readers accused of aggravated DUI were convicted of some form of DUI. (The equivalent figure was 51% for those arrested for simple DUI.) Of the 81% convicted, 15% were convicted of felony DUI and 85% of misdemeanor DUI.
Another 14% pleaded guilty to a lesser offense; only 5% never faced charges or had charges dropped (none were acquitted). Those arrested for simple DUI "got off"—whether because the prosecution never filed charges, charges were dropped, or the defendant was acquitted—much more frequently: 33% of the time.
With higher conviction rates in aggravated DUI cases came stiffer penalties.
The most notable difference in penalties was time behind bars. Among all readers arrested for DUI without aggravating factors (including those who weren’t convicted of anything), only 4% were sentenced to some period of incarceration. Six times as many readers arrested for aggravated DUI (26%) received jail or prison time. Indeed, in many states, convictions for DUI with certain kinds of aggravating factors trigger mandatory jail time. For instance, in Colorado, a second-offense DUI carries a mandatory jail sentence of 10 days, and a third DUI calls for 60 days.
Similarly, those arrested for aggravated DUI had to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) almost five times as often and attend alcohol education or treatment about 50% more often as those who were arrested for DUI without aggravating factors. In some states, like Florida and Kansas, a high BAC makes an IID mandatory; in many other states, including Wisconsin and Wyoming, a second or third DUI conviction makes an IID mandatory.
How Much Does an Aggravated DUI Cost?
With most criminal cases, as the severity of the charges goes up, so does the cost to the defendant. Our survey results showed that DUI is no exception. Our readers paid an average of $7,100 after their aggravated DUI arrests. They paid on average $5,900 after arrest for standard DUI.
When surveying our readers, we accounted for the following common expenses associated with DUI cases:
- attorneys' fees and expenses (including readers who had court-appointed lawyers)
- DMV fees
- court-ordered fines
- alcohol education or treatment
- costs of installing ignition interlock devices
- towing and storage, and
- insurance rate increases (over three years).
(We didn’t include lost income in our analysis because it can be so tough to quantify, but it’s safe to say that DUI cases have cost people jobs and employment opportunities.)
Attorneys' fees and expenses were about 10% higher for DUIs with aggravating factors than for those without: The average was $2,100 for aggravated DUI and $1,900 for simple DUI.
But other types of expenses explain the bulk of the difference in overall cost. Take, for example, ignition interlock devices, alcohol education or treatment, and court-ordered fines. Fees for ignition interlock devices (IIDs) were 200% higher for those arrested for aggravated DUI, while fees for alcohol classes or treatment were 250% higher, and court-ordered fines were 75% higher. The fees for IIDs and alcohol education were no doubt higher because in many states aggravating factors double or triple the length of time a defendant must drive with an IID or attend alcohol classes.
Cost and outcomes also differed depending on the kind of aggravating factors involved. We discuss the most commonly reported types of aggravated DUI below.
How Long Does an Aggravated DUI Take to Resolve?
More than outcomes and costs differed between aggravated and standard DUI cases: Case length did, too. Starting from the point of arrest, it took on average 7.3 months for our readers’ aggravated DUI cases to conclude. That’s compared to an average 4.6-month duration for DUI cases without aggravating factors.
Outcome, Cost, and Duration by Aggravating Factor
The most frequently reported aggravating factors in our survey were high BAC, prior offenses, collision, and chemical test refusal. Results differed—sometimes significantly—between these four categories.
Over 30% of the readers who filled out our DUI survey had an alleged BAC at or over .15%. The vast majority of readers in this range, 90%, ended up with a DUI conviction. Only 10% were able to plead guilty to a lesser offense, probably due to prosecutors taking a tough stand at this level of intoxication. And not surprisingly, 0% of this group never faced charges or had the charges dropped.
DUI defendants with a high BAC reported spending an average of almost $8,000 to resolve their cases, including $2,500 in attorneys' fees and expenses.
On average, it took seven months for our readers to resolve a DUI with an alleged BAC at or over .15%.
Almost 30% of the readers who took our DUI survey had had a prior DUI conviction (or qualifying alcohol-related driving offense). Out of these readers, only 9% were able to plead guilty to a lesser offense, and 85% ended up with a DUI conviction. Just 6% of this group never faced charges or had their charges dropped.
Readers in this group spent an average of almost $7,000, including $2,200 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.
The average amount of time it took our readers to resolve a repeat-offense DUI was seven months.
DUI Involving an Accident
Just under 10% of the readers who took our DUI survey had been involved in an accident at the time they were arrested for drunk driving. Only 9% got to plead guilty to a lesser offense, and 82% ended up with a DUI conviction. In this group, 9% never faced charges or had their charges dropped.
DUI defendants in this group reported spending an average of $7,600 to resolve their cases, including $2,300 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.
It took our readers ten months on average to resolve a DUI involving an accident.
Chemical Test Refusal
To refuse a chemical test is to not allow the police to take a breath or blood (or sometimes urine) sample at or after the time of arrest. Almost 20% of the readers who filled out our DUI survey were cited for refusing a chemical test. Out of these readers, 23% pleaded guilty to a lesser offense (for example, reckless driving or “wet reckless”), while 13% never faced charges or had the charges dropped. The remaining 64% got a DUI conviction.
Among the kinds of aggravated DUI cases, the rate of conviction for a lesser offense was highest for those involving chemical test refusal. Some theorize that, in general, DUI convictions are somewhat less likely when drivers refuse to submit to testing. The idea is that it’s harder for the prosecution to prove its case without quantifiable evidence of driving impairment. Others argue that the available data doesn’t support that assumption, and point out that refusal can trigger harsher penalties and is even its own crime in some states.
Along with the lower conviction rate, DUI defendants in this group reported spending less than those accused of other aggravating factors: an average of $6,800, including $1,500 in attorneys' fees and expenses. For more information, see our article on the costs and outcomes associated with refusing a blood alcohol test.
Talk to a Lawyer
Though the figures above give you a general idea about the effect of aggravating factors on DUI proceedings, remember that the exact circumstances of your case and the law in your state will control any given outcome. (What is an aggravating factor in one state may not be an aggravating factor in another state.) Factors like the policies of prosecuting offices, whether the defendant goes to trial, and the cost of living in your area can also factor into any of cost, case length, and outcome.
For a grasp of your situation, including any available defenses and the potential penalties, get in touch with a local DUI defense lawyer.