In most states, a first-offense drunk driving charge is usually a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is a lesser crime than a felony and typically carries a much shorter jail term, if any at all. Therefore, if police arrest you for drunk driving and you have no previous convictions in New Hampshire, you may feel relieved to know that you probably will not face jail time. However, you should not misunderstand this by thinking that your penalties will be minor.
Even misdemeanor convictions can carry long-term consequences that have the potential for affecting you the rest of your life. For example, you may pay considerable fines and fees that could send your finances spiraling. Having a conviction on your record, even a misdemeanor, can impede you from pursuing certain employment opportunities. Even if your recent arrest is your first offense, certain factors can quickly escalate the charge to a felony, making your future even more uncertain.
Factors that raise the charges
If police pull you over under suspicion of drunk driving, it may follow a traffic violation, such as crossing the center line or driving through a red light. These violations may be additional charges, but your first-offense DUI may still be a misdemeanor. However, any circumstances that increase the level of danger for others may elevate the charges and enhance the penalties. For example, these factors or others can result in felony DUI charges, which may lead to jail or even prison, following a conviction:
- Having a blood alcohol concentration considerably higher than the legal limit of .08
- Having a child in the car at the time of your DUI arrest
- Involvement in an accident that leaves someone else with serious or fatal injuries
- Having three or more drunk driving convictions on your record
Even if authorities do not charge you with a felony, you may face enhanced penalties or additional charges if you refuse to consent to a breath test at the time of your arrest or are driving on a suspended license.
The laws in each state treat drunk driving crimes differently, but few states have laws that are lenient. In many cases, you can face steep fines, probation, license suspension and other penalties that can have serious ramifications. This is why it is wise to seek legal representation as soon as possible after an arrest for alcohol-related crimes.