DUI penalties and punishments

DUI penalties can range from jail time and fines to community service, and depend on many factors. Read on for all you need to know regarding potential DUI consequences.

by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.
updated March 02, 2023 ·  3min read

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious crime, and DUI//DWI penalties reflect that. Although specific DUI laws vary by state, the consequences for drunk driving can be classified into the categories below.


One of the most serious potential DUI consequences is jail time. How much jail time can depend on whether the DUI was a first offense, the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the driver and how much it was over the legal limit, and whether anyone was killed or injured because of the driver’s impairment.

In all states, a DUI first offense is treated as a misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in jail. Note that some states require mandatory jail sentences for even a first-time offender, which may last several days.

For felony DUI convictions, which can occur where there is death, serious injury, and/or a particularly high BAC (two or three times the legal limit), a year or more imprisonment is a possibility.


A conviction for drunk driving can also mean DUI fines ranging anywhere from $500 to $2000.

Driver’s license suspension or revocation

A DUI can put your driver’s license at risk. In many states, a first-time DUI can get the offender’s license suspended for 90 days, a second offense for a year, and a third offense for three years.

Vehicle-related DUI penalties

In some states, a DUI offender’s car may be confiscated or its registration temporarily or permanently canceled. Moreover, a court may mandate the installation of an ignition interlock device on the offender’s car. Such a device is designed to prevent an intoxicated driver from operating the vehicle and measures BAC through a breath test.

Counseling and more

Some other options available to courts in DUI sentencing include the following:

  • Drug/alcohol treatment programs
  • Drug/alcohol prevention programs
  • Community service
  • Victim restitution

Note that these DUI penalties can be applied either instead of or in addition to jail time and/or fines.

Factors that may exacerbate DUI penalties

As mentioned above, a high BAC or the death or injury of someone can make DUI penalties more harsh. Another potentially aggravating factor may be the driver's refusal to take a breath, blood or urine test. In some states, such refusal can result in a suspended driver’s license regardless of whether there is eventually a drunk driving conviction, and other penalties may apply as well.

Note that individuals under 21 may face additional DUI penalties, including, often, driver’s license suspension of a year. Many states have a separate crime for underage drunk driving, and some states set lower acceptable BACs for those under 21 than for those of legal drinking age.

Other potential DUI consequences

Besides the penalties imposed by the legal system, a DUI conviction may result in the following:

  • Civil lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage incurred during an accident
  • Cancellation of the policy by the insurance company
  • Significant increase in rates by the insurance company
  • Loss of opportunity to obtain certain employment, especially jobs involving driving

As you can see, DUI penalties can be quite severe, so if you are facing potential charges, be sure to know all of your options before heading into court.

If you are facing a driving under the influence charge, you can get a free DUI/DWI consultation with an attorney to know what your options are and how to proceed.

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Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

About the Author

Michelle Kaminsky, Esq.

Freelance writer and editor Michelle Kaminsky, Esq. has been working with LegalZoom since 2004. She earned a Juris Docto… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.