Misdemeanor vs. Felony OUI: What’s the Difference?

In Massachusetts, the offense of operating under the influence can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, leaving many people to wonder, “what’s the difference?”

Let’s start by looking at what these terms mean generally. A misdemeanor is typically defined as an offense that is less serious than a felony. While there may be the possibility of jail if convicted, generally there is no mandatory minimum jail time associated with a misdemeanor. A felony is a more serious offense that carries the possibility of imprisonment for over one year. Felonies are punished more harshly than misdemeanors. Additionally, a felony could have serious ramifications on your employability, ability to obtain a firearms license, and even your ability to vote. Similarly, in the context of an OUI, the primary difference between a misdemeanor OUI and a felony OUI is the consequences that each carries. Misdemeanor OUI offenses can result in up to 2 ½ years in jail, though most do not usually result in actual incarceration. Additional consequences may include license suspension for not less than 45 days, the requirement to attend a driver alcohol education program or an inpatient program, fines up to $10,000 (or higher if a third offense or greater), and a probationary period. Felony OUIs carry more severe penalties, including license suspension for more than 8 years, fines ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, up to 2 ½ years in jail and 5 years in prison, revocation of vehicle registration, or even forfeiture of your motor vehicle.

So, what elevates an OUI from a misdemeanor to a felony offense? Generally, an OUI charge is not elevated to a felony offense until the charge is a third offense. However, when a serious accident, personal injury, or death is involved, even a first-time OUI charge can be elevated to a felony offense. Because Massachusetts has a lifetime look-back period, a judge may look at any part of an individual's criminal record to consider prior OUI convictions, regardless of how long ago the conviction occurred. Each subsequent OUI conviction results in harsher penalties, including increased jail time, heavier fines, and longer license suspension. A third or greater OUI charge may become a felony, even if no accident or injuries were involved. In addition to multiple OUI convictions, OUIs involving accidents where an individual sustained serious injuries or where a fatality occurred are often charged as felony offenses. This may also be the case where an individual fled the scene of an accident.

Facing a criminal charge can be a stressful and uncertain time, especially if that charge is a felony. Don’t leave your personal freedoms to chance. Call The Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard today.