A driving under the influence (DUI) charge is a traffic violation because it occurs while someone is driving a vehicle, but that doesn't relegate it to the least serious category of crimes like speeding or running a red light. Most driving violations fall into the "infraction" basket of crimes that do not subject the defendant to jail time. But in the vast majority of states, DUI convictions are not infractions but crimes, either misdemeanors or felonies.
Categories of Crimes
Crimes are generally divided into three categories. From the most to the least serious, the categories are: felony, misdemeanor and infraction.
Felonies are crimes that can result in a jail sentence over one year and a fine of over $1,000. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, those in which the maximum jail sentence is one year, and the maximum fine is under $1,000. Both felonies and misdemeanor convictions show up on a person's criminal record. Someone convicted of an infraction doesn't risk any jail time but only a fine, and the infraction does not give her a criminal record.
Most traffic tickets are infractions. For example, if a person gets a ticket for speeding, she can usually pay the fine assigned without even going to court. In no case will she be sentenced to jail. Regular traffic tickets are classic infractions, but they aren't the only infractions. Loitering is usually an infraction, for example.
Driving Under the Influence
A person convicted of driving under the influence has been found to have been driving with more alcohol in his body than the law allows. Different states have different legal levels of alcohol, and driving with amounts exceeding those limits results in a DUI, driving while impaired (DWI), operating a vehicle impaired (OVI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI), depending on which state it happens in.
DUI is both a traffic offense – since by definition it happens when a person is driving and is a black mark on his driving record – and it is also a serious crime. As a traffic offense, a DUI can cause a driver's license to be suspended. As a criminal offense, a DUI will require a court appearance, and conviction may result in fines and jail time.
Reporting DUIs on Job Applications
An applicant is required to disclose criminal convictions on certain applications for jobs, volunteer positions, rental housing and loans. But she is not obligated to disclose traffic tickets that are infractions.
When someone asks if a DUI counts as a traffic offense on an application, what she really wants to know is whether she must list it as a crime. If she has been convicted of a DUI, she must admit on a job application that she has been convicted of a crime.
Felony or Misdemeanor
A DUI is a criminal offense much more serious than an infraction, and it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. That usually depends on whether the drunk driving caused injuries to another person or vehicle and the defendant's criminal history.
In California, for example, if a DUI is the first offense for the defendant, it is charged as a misdemeanor. The defendant will usually get up to six months imprisonment, a fine of $390 to $1,000 and a license suspension. The time the license is suspended will be less if the person installs a Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in his vehicle. He must also attend DUI school for up to nine months.
For a second and third offense, the DUI is usually charged as a misdemeanor with increased jail time (up to a year), increased license suspension and increased DUI school time.
A DUI offense will be charged as a felony if someone is injured or the driver has four or more prior DUIs on his record.
Read More: What is a Misdemeanor Traffic Violation?
- Nolo: Does a DUI Conviction Count as a Criminal Issue on Your Record, Rich Stim
- Findlaw: Traffic Ticket Basics
- Findlaw: Misdemeanor and Felony Traffic Offenses
- Findlaw: Felony DUI
- Lawyers.com: Classification of Crimes
- Ervin Kibria Law: Is a DUI/OWI Considered a Criminal Offense?
- Shouse Law: Drunk Driving Penalties
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.