Many of the DUI offenses in Kentucky are charged as misdemeanors. However, a DUI can be charged as a felony depending on your previous criminal history and aggravating circumstances. It is strongly recommended that you seek legal counsel after being charged with drunk driving, especially if you’re facing a felony DUI charge.
What are the DUI Charges in Kentucky?
DUI charges range from Class B misdemeanors to felonies. Drunk driving offenses are classified in Kentucky as:
- DUI First Offense – Class B Misdemeanor
- DUI Second Offense – Class B Misdemeanor
- DUI Third Offense – Class A Misdemeanor
- DUI Fourth Offense (and subsequent DUI offenses) – Class D Felony
The punishment for a DUI charge depends on your previous DUI convictions. Aggravating circumstances can increase the penalties the court orders for a drunk driving charge.
What Penalties Could I Face if I Am Convicted for Felony DUI in Kentucky?
A felony DUI conviction carries a prison term of up to five years. The minimum prison sentence for a felony DUI conviction is 120 days. You must serve your entire sentence in prison (there is no chance of parole).
Additionally, you are required to attend an alcohol abuse or substance abuse treatment program for one year. You will also lose your driver’s license for five years. The judge may also order you to pay a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.
Aggravating Circumstances Increase Your Punishment for a Felony DUI
If one or more aggravating circumstances are present in a felony DUI case, the mandatory prison sentence automatically doubles. The judge may sentence you to a longer prison term and impose harsher penalties.
The aggravating circumstances for a DUI are listed in KRS §189A.010(11):
- Refusing to submit to a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test
- Exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour
- Causing a DUI accident that results in severe physical injury or death
- Having a child in the vehicle who is younger than 12 years
- Driving in the wrong direction on a limited-access road
- Having a BAC of .015 or higher while operating a motor vehicle
Any one of the above aggravating factors is sufficient for a judge to give you the maximum sentence allowable under the law.
Other Consequences of a Felony DUI Conviction in Kentucky
When you are convicted of a felony DUI charge, you receive criminal penalties from the court. However, there are other consequences that you might encounter when you are released from prison.
For example, having a criminal record may make it more difficult to obtain the job you desire. Your criminal record could prevent you from obtaining or renewing some professional licenses.
You could have difficulty finding housing, especially if you are renting a home. In addition, felons lose their gun ownership rights. Therefore, you cannot carry, possess, or own a firearm unless your gun rights are restored.
If you want to go back to school, you could find it more difficult to obtain federal student loans for college tuition. Immigrants who are convicted of a felony are generally deported as soon as they complete the prison sentence.
Lastly, if you commit another crime, you could face harsher penalties because you have a felony conviction on your record.
Defending Yourself Against DUI Felony Charges
Being arrested for felony drunk driving is not a guilty verdict. However, you have the right to defend yourself against the charges. Hiring a DUI defense lawyer to mount a vigorous defense may be the best chance you have of beating DUI charges.
Some potential defenses your attorney might raise to DUI felony charges include, but are not limited to:
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion
Police officers must have a reasonable suspicion that you were committing a crime or had committed a crime to make a traffic stop. In DUI cases, the officer may claim that you were driving erratically, such as swerving, stopping for green lights, or driving too slowly.
If a police officer makes an illegal traffic stop, all of the evidence gathered during that traffic stop could be inadmissible in court. Without the evidence, the prosecution might not be able to prove its case.
Improperly Conducted Field Sobriety Tests
The officer may claim that you appear intoxicated or that he smelled alcohol. That is generally sufficient for the officer to request that you complete the SFSTs.
The standard field sobriety tests are:
- One Leg Stand Test
- Walk and Turn Test
- HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus) Test
Each of these tests must be administered using strict guidelines and rules. If the police officer fails to administer the test correctly, the court could disregard the results.
Problems with the BAC Test
BAC testing must also be conducted according to strict procedures and rules. If the police officer deviates from the procedures, the BAC test results may be inadmissible.
For example, the chain of custody must be maintained for the sample. Otherwise, it could be contaminated, which would render the results inaccurate and potentially invalid.
The BAC testing equipment must be properly maintained and calibrated. Defective equipment or equipment that is not maintained could result in inaccurate and invalid BAC tests.
Get Help with Your DUI Defense in Kentucky
A Lexington DUI defense lawyer can review your arrest to determine if there may be one or more defenses that could potentially result in a dismissal or acquittal. If the evidence proves that you were driving under the influence, an experienced criminal defense lawyer could help you avoid the harshest sentence for your DUI charge.