Every state in the U.S. has implemented some version of a law that prohibits operating or driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Although the main point of adopting such laws is to protect society from harm and to deter individuals from driving while impaired, the requirements, definitions, and penalties associated with these laws may vary widely by state.

Even the way in which a state refers to this law can differ from state to state. For example, some states call these offenses “DUIs” or “driving while under the influence,” whereas other states may use the terms “operating under the influence (“OUI”)” or “driving while intoxicated (“DWI”).” Regardless of which title a state applies, these laws generally prohibit the same or similar conduct (i.e., driving while drunk and/or under the influence of drugs).

When a driver is charged with a standard DUI or DWI offense, it usually means that they are a first-time offender and that the level of their blood alcohol content (“BAC”) was within a range of 0.08% and 0.15%.

Drivers who are convicted on standard DWI charges will face lesser penalties than those who are convicted of aggravated DWI charges. This is because committing an aggravated DWI offense is considered a more serious crime due to some element that elevates the risk of injury to others. For instance, you may be charged with aggravated DWI if you are a repeat offender or are pulled over with a BAC of 0.15% or higher, depending on state DWI laws.

Generally speaking, the higher the percentage of BAC that a driver has, the greater the chances that they are too intoxicated to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Additionally, some states have gone as far as to pass what are called “zero tolerance” and “per se” laws. Both types of laws provide a certain BAC level, which if passed, will automatically establish that a person was drunk or drugged while driving based on the amount of substances found in their bloodstream.

A driver who is found guilty of violating a state’s zero tolerance or per se law can usually be sentenced in accordance with the penalties reserved for an aggravated DWI offense in that particular state. While the penalties for an aggravated DWI conviction will be discussed in greater detail in the section below, it is important to keep in mind that an aggravated DWI offense is a more severe crime than a standard DWI offense; though both are serious.

Therefore, if you are facing charges for an aggravated DWI, you should speak to a local DUI/DWI lawyer about your case as soon as possible.

What are Some Penalties for Aggravated DWI?

As previously mentioned, the laws, requirements, and penalties for aggravated DWIs can vary from state to state, as well as will differ from those associated with a standard DWI offense.

For example, a driver who is convicted of a standard DWI offense can receive a fine ranging between $500 to $1,000, a jail sentence for up to one full year, a suspension or revocation of their driver’s license for up to six months, and/or mandatory enrollment in a treatment program.

In contrast, a driver who is convicted of an aggravated DWI offense can receive a prison sentence for one full year or longer, heftier fines, community service hours, a suspension or revocation of their driver’s license for one year or longer, and/or mandatory enrollment in a counseling or treatment program.

To better understand how different states may impose these penalties, consider the aggravated DWI punishments for the following states:

  • In the state of New Hampshire, a driver who is convicted of a felony aggravated DWI can receive a fine ranging between $750 to $2,000 or more, a minimum jail sentence of at least 17 days, revocation of their license for one to two years, and an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle.
    • A driver will likely be charged with an aggravated DWI in New Hampshire when they are caught speeding 30mph or more over the limit while intoxicated, have a BAC of 0.16% or greater, and/or are speeding to evade law enforcement.
  • On the other hand, the state of New Mexico automatically imposes at least a 48 hour jail sentence if a driver gets convicted of an aggravated DWI offense. They will also be placed on probation for one full year, need to pay some amount of fines as ordered by the court, and in some cases, may be required to attend driving courses or counseling.
    • A driver can be charged with aggravated DWI if their BAC level is at 0.16% or higher, they cause harm or injury to another party, and/or they refuse to take a DWI test that is requested and administered by law enforcement.

Again, the conditions as to when a driver can be charged with an aggravated DWI offense will vary by state, as will the penalties they can receive. Thus, it is very important that drivers facing aggravated DWI charges hire an attorney to defend them in court.

What Happens If a Person Gets a Second Aggravated DWI Charge?

In cases where a driver gets convicted of a second aggravated DWI offense, the penalties will be even stricter than they are for a first-time offense. In other words, the more times that a defendant is convicted of aggravated DWI charges, the harsher their punishment will typically be. Since the laws for aggravated DWIs can differ considerably from state to state, so can the penalties associated with a second aggravated DWI charge if a driver is convicted.

In general, most states will charge a defendant with a second aggravated DWI offense when the second offense occurs within ten years from their first offense. Some examples of the types of punishments that a driver may face for this crime can include:

  • A mandatory probation or evaluation period;
  • Fines ranging from $1,000 to up to $5,000 or more (contingent on state law);
  • Mandatory registration in a driving course or treatment program;
  • Suspension or revocation of their driver’s license for one year or longer;
  • Installment of an ignition interlock device on their motor vehicle for a greater period of time;
  • Impoundment of their motor vehicle; and
  • Felony charges on their criminal record.

Some other factors that can also affect a defendant’s sentence include whether they caused severe harm or death to another party, how far over the speed limit they were traveling, and if they refused to take a DWI test or were not cooperative with law enforcement. Additionally, it will be much harder for a defendant to negotiate a plea deal if they are facing charges for a second aggravated DWI offense.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for an Aggravated DWI Charge?

As is evident from the above discussion, aggravated DWI charges can result in serious penalties, such as prison time, heavy fines, and revocation or suspension of your driver’s license. Therefore, if you are facing charges for an aggravated DWI offense, then you should contact a local DUI/DWI lawyer immediately for further legal advice.

A lawyer who has experience in handling cases involving aggravated DWI issues will already be familiar with the various laws and legal procedures required for compliance in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer can also discuss your options and can explain the potential penalties you might receive based on each of those options. In addition, your lawyer can perform legal research and determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the charges.

Lastly, your lawyer can provide legal representation in court or negotiate on your behalf with the prosecutor for a plea deal if you are eligible. Your lawyer will also be able to answer any questions you have throughout the process and can advise you of your rights as a criminal defendant under the relevant laws.