Driving under the influence is a serious offense, and it becomes more severe when the driver has a prior conviction. We recently surveyed readers in different parts of the country to learn about the cost, duration, and outcome of drunk driving cases for defendants who have previous convictions. These readers had at least one conviction for DUI (or DWI, or whatever drunk driving acronym their states use) and were arrested again for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Read on to see what we found.
What's the Likely Outcome of a Repeat-Offense DUI?
The majority of survey respondents who were arrested for DUI and had one or more prior DUI convictions were convicted of DUI or a lesser charge like reckless driving or "wet reckless." Specifically, 86% ended up with a DUI conviction and 6% pleaded guilty (or "no contest") to a lesser charge.
Another 8% either didn’t end up facing criminal charges or saw their charges dismissed. (These readers had a reported blood alcohol content (BAC) somewhere between 0% and .07%, suggesting the cases against them were weak.)
Alcohol education or treatment was the most common penalty for repeat-offense DUIs: 74% of all readers were sentenced to it. The second most common penalty was the ignition interlock device (IID): 46% of repeat offenders were required to install IIDs in their cars. But perhaps the most telling statistic has to do with incarceration: Whereas only 9% of our readers arrested for first offenses were sentenced to time behind bars, 37% of our readers arrested for a repeat offense got jail or prison time.
Factors Affecting Punishment for a Repeat DUI
As you would expect, the higher the alleged BAC, the stiffer the penalty. For instance, none of our repeat offenders in the .00-.07% reported-BAC range did jail or prison time, but 27% in the .08-.14% range did, as did 55% in the .15%-or-above zone. The requirement to install an ignition interlock for these three groups was 20%, 36%, and 73%, respectively.
Other circumstances will also affect the punishment for a multiple-offense DUI. For instance, property damage, physical injury, and the presence of a child in the vehicle typically raise the stakes. And it almost goes without saying that there’s a significant difference between the penalties for a second DUI and the penalties for a third or fourth DUI.
In the most extreme cases—where a victim dies—the penalty will likely be much graver if the driver has a previous DUI. For instance, having a prior conviction might mean the driver knew the risks of driving drunk and recklessly disregarded them, resulting in a conviction for second degree murder rather than involuntary manslaughter.
How Much Does a Repeat-Offense DUI Cost?
Driving under the influence isn’t only dangerous—it’s expensive. The average cost to readers arrested for a second or subsequent DUI, including those who weren’t ultimately convicted, was $6,500. This average price includes attorneys’ fees and expenses, court-ordered fines, increased car insurance rates, traffic school and alcohol education courses, ignition interlock devices, bail costs and more (but it excludes lost income).
Cost by Outcome
Overall cost tended to go hand in hand with case outcome. Multiple-DUI offenders who pleaded guilty to a lesser offense spent only $1,500 on average. Readers who were convicted of either misdemeanor or felony DUI paid much more.
Cost by BAC
Our survey showed that, as BAC rises, so do costs in certain categories. For example, take a look at the relationship we found between blood alcohol level and the following expenses for repeat offenders. (Figures are averages.)
Keep in mind that the average amounts spent on attorneys' fees include readers who hired public defenders and readers who represented themselves. So the higher attorneys' fees for repeat-offenders with higher BACs could be partly due to defendants with higher BACs hiring private attorneys more often.
Of course, factors other than BAC and outcome will affect the cost of a DUI case. For example, it generally costs more to go to trial than it does to plea bargain a case. And geography plays in, too: The expense might be higher or lower depending on the cost of living where the case occurs.
How Long Does a Repeat-Offense DUI Take to Resolve?
Starting from the point of arrest, it took on average 7.6 months for our readers’ multiple-offense DUI cases to conclude. Here’s another area where results differed significantly from first-offense cases: Case length for our first-offense readers was 5.3 months.
Talk to a Lawyer
While our survey results can help you get an idea of what you’re facing if you’ve got a repeat-DUI case, they won’t dictate what happens to you. The absence or presence of circumstances discussed in this article, plus the perspectives of police and prosecutors, go a long way in determining results. To get a better idea of what you’re looking at, including possible penalties and defenses, consult an attorney with local experience in drunk driving cases.