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All You Need to Know About DWI Charges

With over 10,000 lives lost annually due to drunk driving, being arrested for driving while impaired is a serious offense that may even carry a jail term depending on the state in which it occurred.

A DWI (driving while impaired/intoxicated) conviction can have a lasting effect on your reputation, which may stretch into your career and social life as well. Below, we look at all you need to know about a DWI charge, the likely outcomes, and everything else in between.

The Arrest

After being arrested for impaired driving, you will be taken to the nearest police station. Here, an officer will document your details including photographs and fingerprints. 

Depending on the state in which the arrest took place, you can be released if someone posts bail on your behalf, or you might have to serve a mandatory jail term, especially for repeat offenders.

Court Appearance

After the arrest, you’ll be issued with a court summons, where the charges will be read, and as usual, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. 

If you plead guilty or the jury establishes guilt, the sentence will vary depending on the state and the circumstances surrounding your DWI. Incidents such as accidents or injuries caused by impaired driving may mean stiffer penalties.

Is a DWI a Felony or a Misdemeanor? The Likely Outcomes

A DWI can either be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on location and the circumstances surrounding your arrest. 

A first conviction is considered a misdemeanor in most states, while subsequent convictions can escalate a DWI charge from a misdemeanor. Other reasons like injuries, deaths, or children passengers involved may make the DWI a felony charge.

The outcome of a DWI charge is dependent on the level of intoxication and previous arrests on the same. Different states have laws that may determine your outcome upon a conviction as detailed below.

Jail Time or Probation

A misdemeanor may mean a jail term of less than a year, while a felony charge carries a jail term of more than one year. You might also serve a probation sentence instead of the former.


Generally, fines increase with the severity of a DWI charge. Repeat offenders often have higher penalties than first-timers, ranging from $500 to thousands of dollars.

License Suspension

In most states, a DWI charge can lead to the suspension of your driving license upon a court order or administrative revocation by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). The suspension duration will depend on previous convictions. 

If you are not convicted, the only way to keep your license after a DWI is to have the administrative suspension overturned. You may also have to undergo substance treatment, education, and assessment programs to restore your driving rights

Other Consequences

Getting convicted for a DWI charge may translate to higher insurance premiums or cancellation of existing policies. Besides, civil suits may follow if there was significant property damage or bodily harm suffered by the victims of your DWI. 

Some states will require you to install an interlock ignition device in your car. Wired to the car’s ignition, these devices prevent it from turning on upon detecting alcohol in the driver’s breath.

How to Deal with a DWI Charge

DWI laws differ according to state, and given that there are various possible outcomes, it’s best to hire an attorney well-versed in that particular jurisdiction. In some instances, especially where a DWI conviction appears as a permanent criminal record, it may be advisable to battle the DWI charge in court. With a knowledgeable lawyer, you stand a better chance of not being convicted.

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