When Is a DUI a Felony in Illinois?

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Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is illegal in every state, and Illinois is no exception. In this state, most DUI offenses are misdemeanors, but they can become felonies under certain circumstances. A felony DUI is a serious conviction that carries severe penalties, including a maximum fine of $25,000 and many years in prison.

Standard DUI in Illinois

Illinois Legislature statute 625 ILCS Section 5/11-501 states that a standard DUI is a Class A misdemeanor. The state considers drivers who hold noncommercial licenses legally drunk if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08 percent or higher. The BAC legal limit is lower for those with commercial licenses at 0.04 percent or more, and drivers under 21 can't legally have any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system.

Law enforcement considers motor vehicle drivers with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) limit of 5 nanograms or greater within two hours of driving to be legally under the influence of cannabis. Even with a lower BAC or THC level, if a driver shows obvious impairment at the time of the traffic stop, they can face a DUI charge.

A driver pulled over by a police officer for even a first DUI will lose their driving privileges immediately for up to a year, but won't see criminal penalties until there is a conviction, according to NOLO. These would include a minimum of 364 days in jail and a maximum of $2,500 in fines. If their BAC was 0.16 percent or higher, they face a minimum $500 fine and 100 hours of community service. If there was a passenger younger than 16 in the vehicle at the time of the stop, they face a minimum fine of $1,000, a mandatory 25 days of community service with a children's organization and six months of incarceration.

Felony DUI and Prior Violations in Illinois

A standard DUI charge becomes a felony charge if a driver has two prior DUIs, according to NOLO. Each subsequent DUI conviction brings penalties more severe than the last:

  • Third and fourth DUI: A prison sentence of three to seven years.
  • Fifth DUI: A prison sentence of four to 15 years.
  • Sixth DUI : A prison sentence of six to 30 years.
  • A prior DUI in which reckless homicide or great bodily harm occurred: A prison sentence of two to five years.

A driver on their third DUI can receive a license revocation of a maximum of 10 years. They can get it reinstated, but must apply for a restricted driving permit (RDP) and have it for at least five years. If a driver has more than four DUI convictions, they could lose their license for life, but they can still apply for an RDP after five years.

Injury, Death and Felony DUI in Illinois

A DUI becomes a Class 4 felony when a person suffers great bodily harm, permanent disfigurement or permanent disability resulting from a driver caught drunk driving. If convicted, that DUI offender faces incarceration from one to 12 years. If the driver is operating an all-terrain vehicle, snowmobile or watercraft, and great personal injury occurs, it is a Class 2 felony. If there is one death, the vehicle operator faces three to 14 years in prison, and if there are two deaths or more, they face six to 28 years in prison.

These convictions include a driver's license suspension for up to two years. The driver can regain their license two years from the date of suspension or two years after they leave prison, whichever date is last.

Underage Passengers and Felony DUI

A driver's first offense DUI with a passenger under 16 who suffers great bodily harm is a Class 4 felony. In this instance, the driver faces one to three years in prison, a mandatory minimum fine of $2,500 and 25 days of community service working with an organization that benefits children.

If a driver with a prior DUI commits a second DUI whereby they have a passenger under 16 who suffers great bodily harm, it is a Class 2 felony. Penalties include a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000, 25 days of community service working with an organization that benefits children and three to seven years in prison.

Additional Felony DUI Charges

A felony DUI conviction can occur in many circumstances. For example, Illinois considers these acts Class 4 felonies:

  • A person operating a school bus while impaired with one or more passengers.
  • A driver in an accident that causes bodily harm in a school zone with a restricted speed limit in effect.
  • A driver who has a suspended or revoked license due to a prior DUI, reckless homicide or due to having left the scene of an accident in which injury or death occurred.
  • A driver without insurance or a valid driver's license.
  • Impaired drivers who transport passengers in a vehicle for hire.

Each of these carries with them one to three years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. In most cases, the court will require someone convicted with a felony DUI to complete substance courses and counseling, carry high-risk insurance for a number of years, and drive with an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle, according to the National College for DUI Defense. A felony conviction is permanently entered on an offender's driving record.

Probation and Conditional Discharge for Illinois DUIs

Drivers convicted of a felony DUI may receive probation or conditional discharge as part of their sentencing under certain circumstances. Their sentence will include a minimum 10-day jail stay or 480 hours of community service.

There are, however, offenders who cannot choose probation or conditional discharge. For drivers with more than four DUI convictions; a prior reckless homicide offense as the result of impairment; or a DUI in which death or great bodily harm occurred, this option is not available.