The constantly accelerating (and politically popular) DUI "crack- down," together with the increasing carrot-and-stick presence of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has resulted in a wave of new and ever-harsher approaches to punishment in drunk driving cases. Fines and jail terms have been raised for the basic offense of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or driving with .08 percent blood-alcohol concentration. License restrictions, suspensions, and revocations are more extensive and easier to obtain. The impact of prior convictions has raised terms of incarceration to felony levels.
One facet of this "get tough" approach has been a proliferation of sentence enhancements: statutes providing for increased penalties where specific criteria exist. While this varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are a number of such enhancing grounds that appear likely to continue to spread across the country. These include:
Prior Convictions - If the defendant has a conviction for drunk driving (DUI or .08%) within the previous 10 years, the minimum jail sentence, DUI school and license suspension are increased. Two priors within ten years increases the penalties further; three "priors" will result in felony charges (punishable by state prison).
High Blood-Alcohol Concentration - California imposes an enhanced sentence where the BAC is .15 percent or higher.
Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing - The increased jail term for refusing is in addition to the administrative suspension for refusing.
Speeding and/or Reckless Driving - This enhancement involves driving in excess of a specified speed while under the influence of alcohol or over .08/.10 percent BAC. California, for example, imposes the enhancement where the defendant drove 20 mph over the speed limit on a surface street or 30 mph over the limit on a freeway.
Child Endangerment - Increased penalties are imposed where there is a minor passenger in the vehicle at the time of the drunk driving. In California, this is defined as an individual under the age of 14.
Accident or Injury - In many jurisdictions, the existence of property damage can trigger a more severe sentence; in others, it will define a different offense. Where there is personal injury involved, most jurisdictions elevate the offense to felony status.
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