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Drunk Driving Sentencing

Sentences for convicted drunk drivers

The sentencing hearing

In most DUI cases defendants plead guilty due to the strong evidence against them in the form of intoxication levels. Sentences may be handed down on the date of arraignment, especially if it is a defendants first DUI offense and it isn't a serious one.

However if a drunk driving case was deemed serious enough to warrant a continuance after pleading guilty at an arraignment. A drunk driver will be sentenced at what is known as the sentencing hearing after a pre-sentence report has been compiled.

A drunk driver may also be sentenced after being found guilty after a criminal trial.

During the sentencing hearing judges will hear statements from the prosecution, the defense counsel and any drunk driving victim impact statements. The drunk driving defendant will also get a chance to address the judge and speak to the court, this is known as the defendants right to allocution.

The prosecution will outline any and all aggravating factors present in the DUI case and outline any relevant previous criminal history and the defense counsel will outline any and all mitigating factors and try to justify a lighter sentence for the DUI.

The judge will then take everything into consideration alongside the pre sentence report and sentence the defendant accordingly.

Drunk Driving Sentences

Sentences for drunk driving vary in terms of length and severity depending on the state, judge and seriousness of the DUI offense in question. Sentencing options open to the courts inlcude:

A jail sentence: Jails (aka community correctional centers) are lock ups housing inmates that are serving short sentences, defendants who are unable to make bail and those that are awaiting trial. Because jails are geared towards short term incarceration, they usually lack many facilities that you would find in prisons such as libraries, gyms and exercise areas.

A prison sentence: Prisons (aka penitentiaries, the penitentiary, the pen) are geared towards long term incarceration and usually house inmates that are serving sentences that are usually well in excess of a year or more.

Suspended jail sentences: This is whereby a judge imposes a jail sentence of say 6 months, but suspends that sentence on the condition that the defendant complies with certain terms and conditions. If a defendant violates the conditions of suspension then the judge can order the defendant to serve the suspended jail sentence.

Fines: A monetary penalty that is paid to the government by the defendant. Fines are often combined with other punishments such as incarceration, community service and probation.

Community service: This is whereby a court orders the defendant to carry out some work in the community as an alternative to spending time in jail (aka unpaid community work). It can be imposed alongside other punishments and involves defendants working for nonprofit or government agencies in a variety of capacities.

Probation: This is a sentence given in lieu of incarceration, jail or prison. Defendants that are put on probation are required to adhere to certain conditions. Common conditions include:

  • Obeying all laws (if a defendant breaks any law whatsoever they may find themselves back at court and in jail)

  • Abiding by any and all court orders to pay fines, restitution and court fees

  • Reporting to a probation officer on a regular basis and the requirement to report any change of circumstances including employment and residential address

  • Abstaining from excessive use and misuse of alcohol or drugs

  • Refraining from traveling outside of the jurisdiction/county without express prior permission from the supervising probation office

  • Avoiding certain people and places

Defendants who are placed on probation can be subject to visits from probation officers either at their home or workplace on any day, they may also have to submit to random searches and drug tests. A defendant will be required to report to their probation officer on a regular basis, the frequency of which can vary.

A defendant can be sentenced to probation alongside other sentences such as fines, community service and suspended jail sentences. They may also have to serve a period of probation upon release from prison or jail.

Defendants who violate any conditions of their probation are subject to having their probation revoked and re-sentenced to jail time.

Alternative drunk driving sentences

Alternative sentences for DUI offenders are sentences which are given to drunk drivers that would otherwise have received a jail term. Due to overcrowded non-rehabilitative prisons and jails, these sentences may be deemed more beneficial to convicted drunk drivers who may have underlying alcohol or drug problems.

Alternative sentences are typically given to drunk drivers as part of their probation conditions. They are tailored individually for drunk drivers after drug and/or alcohol evaluations and their previous criminal history is also taken into account. Alternative DUI sentences aim not only to punish DUI offenders, but try to rehabilitate them and reduce recidivism.

Sober living environments: This is whereby defendants spend time in a sober living facility. This can be a viable alternative for defendants who are sentenced to a jail term. Instead of spending time in jail, time spent in a sober living facility will be credited towards any jail sentence imposed. Time spent in sober living environments can also be credited towards fines. This gives defendants with alcohol or drug problems incentives to stay in a sober living facility and address their alcohol or drug problem by partaking in therapy and 12 step programs.

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation: Incarceration does not offer much in the way of rehabilitation for DUI offenders and merely jailing drivers who have alcohol or drug problems is an ineffective method to reduce recidivism. Alcohol and drug rehabilitation is deemed a more effective method which focuses on the drunk drivers underlying addiction problem.

Treatment facilities provide a variety of programs and common treatments include motivation enhanced therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and 12 step program therapy.

Electronic monitoring: Electronic monitoring aka house arrest is whereby DUI offenders are confined to their homes during certain hours of every day. Drivers convicted of DUI are required to wear electronic monitoring equipment which pinpoints their location to within a certain radius and sends signals which are monitored by probation. Drunk driving offenders who are placed under 'house arrest' are required to pay for the installation and use of equipment themselves.

MADD victim impact program: Mothers against drunk driving provide a program whereby drivers convicted of drunk driving have meetings with with people whose lives have been affected by drunk drivers. They are designed to educate convicted drunk drivers and make them fully aware of the impact that the act of driving while drunk can have on other people. Meetings are often moderated by police officers.

In addition to these sentences, DUI offenders will also receive drivers license suspensions or revocations and possible ignition interlock restrictions. They may also have their license plate confiscated and their vehicles impounded or seized. You can view individual state laws and possible sentences by following the state laws link below.

If a defendant feels they have been wrongfully convicted of DUI or sentenced inappropriately they may look into filing an appeal with a higher appellate court.

Drunk Driving Laws by State


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AR Arkansas MD Maryland OR Oregon
AZ Arizona ME Maine PA Pennsylvania
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CT Connecticut MO Missouri SD South Dakota
DE Delaware MS Mississippi TN Tennessee
FL Florida MT Montana TX Texas
GA Georgia NC North Carolina UT Utah
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KY Kentucky NY New York DC Washington DC

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