DUI: Penalties and Consequences

The penalties and consequences for a DUI conviction often include jail time, fees and fines, an ignition interlock device, insurance complications, and DUI school. These penalties and consequences vary by state law and will also vary greatly depending on the circumstances of the incident. First-time DUIs without injuries to people or property will have lighter consequences compared to subsequent DUIs or DUIs that result in injury.

Jail Time

When you get a DUI, you will most likely spend some time in jail at the time of your arrest. If you are later convicted of the charge, you may face additional time in jail. Most states have minimum jail time requirements for first, second, and third convictions.  But the judge will weigh the circumstances – if your DUI caused injury, if you had a very high BAC, or if there were other factors that made the situation worse, the judge can require more jail time than the minimum. 

  • First-Time DUIs.  For those states with minimum jail time for first time DUIs, the mandatory sentences range from 24 hours to a few days. Often the time served at the time of arrest will count as time served. So with a first-time DUI without any other complicating circumstances, you may end up with very little additional jail time.
  • Second and Subsequent DUIs. Most states have jail requirements for second and subsequent DUIs. These minimums range from a few days to several months for second DUIs and several weeks to a year for subsequent convictions.

For the jail time minimums in your state, go to DUI/DWI Laws in Your State.


At what point are prior DUIs so old that they don’t count as priors for a current DUI charge?  It might seem reasonable that if you were convicted of a DUI 20 years ago, that the charge wouldn’t be relevant to a DUI you got this year, right?  It depends on your state’s law.  Some states look back five to ten years for prior DUIs, but many other states look back indefinitely – in those states, any prior DUI will be considered when sentencing you for a new DUI.  To learn your state’s law, go to DUI/DWI Laws in Your State.

Ignition Interlock Device

If you’re convicted of a DUI, the court may also require that you use an ignition interlock device when you drive.  If so, you will be required to purchase or rent the device and install in your car. After it’s installed, you must blow into its breathalyzer before you try to start the car.  If it detects any alcohol in your system, the car won’t start.  Both the device and the installation are not cheap – installation can cost between $50 and $200 dollars, and rental can be up to $100 a month. Plus there will be maintenance and calibration fees. The court that sentences you will probably provide you with information about how to get your device.  Whether an ignition interlock device is a mandatory part of your sentence and how long you’ll have to use it depends on state law.

Other Consequences

In addition to jail time and the requirement to use an ignition interlock device, there are many other consequences that result from a DUI conviction.

  • Probation.  Even if you don’t get much jail time, you’re likely to get probation.  Probation for DUI probably won’t require regular check ins with a probation officer, but it will mean that you subject to rules that restrict your behavior.  For example, probation may require that you go to jail if you’re caught driving with any alcohol in your system. Probation usually lasts several years.
  • Fines. Most states impose heavy fines for DUIs. Fees for a first offense may be several hundred dollars, and fines for second or subsequent offense may be several thousand dollars.
  • License suspension. DUIs almost always result in the suspension of your driver’s license.  The court will inform the DMV and the DMV will suspend your driving privileges.  You can appeal to get a restricted license that will allow you to go to school or work, but you will likely be required to use an ignition interlock device to do so.
  • Difficulties with insurance. After a DUI conviction, your car insurance costs are likely to sky rocket.  The insurance company will see you as a liability, and it will also know that you will be desperate to be insured. The state may also require you to get an SR-22 insurance rider from your insurance company to certify that you are insured.
  • DUI School.  Most states will also require that you go to DUI school. Depending on the circumstances of your DUI, the class might be one full day, or it might be a few hours a week for several months.  You’ll have to pay for it too – and the longer the course, the more it costs.

In sum, besides being a logistical hassle, getting a DUI is very expensive.  If convicted, you can expect to pay many thousands of dollars in court fines, increased costs of insurance, DUI school fees, and costs associated with getting an ignition interlock device.  In addition, you’ll have legal fees if you decide to hire a lawyer -- a good idea in most DUI cases. To learn about whether you should hire a lawyer, read “DUI: Hire a Lawyer or Represent Yourself?”

Reducing the Charge to Reckless or Wet Reckless

One way to reduce the penalties and consequences of a DUI is to have the charge reduced “reckless driving” or in some states a “wet reckless.”  Doing this almost always requires a lawyer’s know-how and familiarity with the court. But if the circumstances are right – for example if your BAC was just above the legal limit and there were no other complicating factors – then the reduced charge will result in a much lighter sentence, with many fewer repercussions.

A reckless driving charge does not require bad driving on your part, just the fact that you were driving with alcohol in your system is reckless enough.  Some states have a specific charge of “wet” reckless to describe DUI charges that have been reduced.  The “wet” indicates that alcohol was involved in some way. Wet reckless charges rarely result in jail time or license suspension, but they may count as priors if you’re later charged with another DUI.

To learn whether your state has a wet reckless charge, go to DUI/DWI Laws in Your State

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