When a person is charged with driving under the influence, state law may require harsher minimum penalties if certain circumstances apply. A judge also has the discretion to impose a steeper penalty than the minimum required by law, and may be more likely to do so in certain situations.
Factors resulting in worse consequences are known as aggravating or aggravated factors or circumstances. The charges may be classified as an aggravated or enhanced DUI. If any of these apply to you, you need legal representation by an experienced DUI lawyer.
Six Examples of Aggravating Factors
Specific details of aggravating factors vary somewhat by state, but they are similar nationwide.
Causing an Accident
Any type of collision you caused can be an aggravating circumstance, but a collision that results in an injury or a fatality has more serious consequences.
Having Previous DUI Convictions
The legal system does not take multiple DUIs lightly. In general, one or more convictions of DUI within a certain time frame is an aggravating factor. The length of time between these convictions that the prosecution considers varies among states.
Having a Very High Blood Alcohol Level
If your blood alcohol content was double or nearly double the legal limit, that is an aggravating factor in most states. In all states, a BAC of .08 or higher constitutes an illegal level for driving.
Having Minor Passengers With You
The welfare of minor passengers is generally considered to be the responsibility of adults. This means you put a child at a significant safety risk as you were driving while intoxicated.
The age varies by state; a minor passenger might be defined as someone younger than 18, 16 or 12.
Driving Significantly Faster Than the Speed Limit
Driving while intoxicated is a substantial safety risk, and speeding makes it worse. States typically set a certain level of speed as an aggravating factor, such as 20 to 30 miles per hour over the speed limit.
As with the specific circumstances, consequences vary by state. However, if you are convicted of DUI with one or more aggravating factors, you could be at risk of incarceration for a lengthy time frame and a very steep fine. Some states do not increase monetary penalties but double minimum jail sentences for each aggravating factor.
How a Lawyer Defends Against Aggravating Factors
An attorney first investigates whether any technical issues or irregularities occurred when you were pulled over, during law enforcement's evaluation of your condition and during your arrest. Errors by law enforcement can lead to a dismissal of charges by the prosecution.
If no errors occurred, your lawyer from a site like http://www.hogankimrey.com may negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecuting attorney to eliminate the aggravating factors. This is important because some state laws set minimum penalties for aggravating factors that a judge cannot override.
Using mitigating factors can help. These are essentially the opposite of aggravating factors and are used to encourage leniency by the prosecution or the judge. Even if the prosecution will not reduce charges, a judge may be less likely to impose a higher-than-minimum penalty if there are mitigating factors.
Examples of mitigating factors include:
- a BAC just barely above the legal limit when you were pulled over
- no prior moving violations or serious driving offenses for the past 10 years
- no harm occurring as a result of your impaired driving
- your having enrolled in a substance abuse program or residential rehab after the incident
What You Can Do Now
Schedule a consultation with a DUI lawyer and get some advice on how to proceed. If you become this lawyer's client, he or she will protect your legal rights and help you prevent the worst consequences from a DUI conviction with aggravating factors.