Criminal Law

Alcohol-Related Accidents and Injuries

By John McCurley, Attorney
Enhanced penalties often apply when a drunk driver causes property damage, injuries, or death.

Most states are tough on drunk driving. Convicted motorists often face expensive fines, license suspension, and jail time. DUI laws—and the harsh consequences they impose—are aimed at keeping roadways safe. More specifically, law makers want to prevent drunk-driving accidents. So when a motorist causes a collision while under the influence, states often impose enhanced penalties.

Do All Accidents Lead to Enhanced Punishment?

Being involved in DUI accident is almost always going to count against you. But in many states, the accident itself isn’t what leads to increased consequences. Instead, the severities of the possible punishments depend on whether the crash resulted in:

  • property damage
  • injuries, or
  • death.

That’s not to say that minor DUI accidents can’t affect case outcomes. The consequences of a DUI (or any conviction) often depend on the discretion of the prosecutor and judge. When a DUI case involves an accident, prosecutors may be less apt to offer a favorable plea bargain, and judges unlikely to be lenient.

How Much More Serious Are the Penalties?

DUI penalties vary by state. But generally, DUI involving accidents can result in more serious convictions (felony as opposed to misdemeanor), higher fines, and extra time in jail.

Take Florida, for example. A standard first-offense DUI in Florida is a second-degree misdemeanor and carries up to six months jail time. But if the offense involves property damage or minor injuries to another, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor, and the possible jail time is doubled to one year. If someone suffers “serious bodily injury” the DUI will be a third-degree felony, and the driver can spend up to five years in prison. And motorists who cause the death of another person while drunk driving can be convicted of “DUI manslaughter,” a first or second-degree felony; convicted drivers face up to 30 years in prison. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 316.193, 775.082 (2016).)

The story is much the same in Illinois. There, a first-offense DUI is generally a class A misdemeanor. First-offenders typically face up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines. However, DUI offenses that involve minor injuries to another are class 4 felonies, which carry up to three years in prison and $25,000 in fines. And if the injuries are serious, the possible prison time is bumped up to 12 years. DUI offenders who cause fatal accidents can be convicted of a class 2 felony and sentenced to a maximum 14 years in prison (28 years if two more deaths resulted). (625 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/11-501; 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. §§ 5/5-4.5-35, 45, 50, 55 (2016).)

Though the details differ by state, here’s the bottom line: You can generally expect more severe penalties when your DUI involved a wreck.

(For more on DUI accidents, including information about the experiences of drivers arrested in DUI-accident cases, see DUI Accidents: The Consequences of Causing a Collision While Driving Under the Influence.)

Talk to an Attorney

DUI convictions come with serious consequences, especially when the case involves a fender bender. If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, get in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer. A qualified DUI attorney can tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and let you know what you’re up against.

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