Is a DUI Charge a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

Being charged with a DUI is scary. The worst part is not knowing what will happen next. There’s an old saying, “waiting to be hung is worse than being hung.” This is how it feels to have a DUI. You’ve already been through the humiliation of the arrest, now you’re just anxiously awaiting your fate.

If you’ve been charged, police have probably thrown some terms at you already, words like “misdemeanor” or “felony.” What do those terms mean, and how does a DUI fall into those categories?

The Different Levels of Crime

In the United States, there are typically three levels of criminal behavior: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are small crimes, usually punishable with citations and small fines. Misdemeanors are where penalties start to ramp up.

Normally, misdemeanor crimes have levels or classes of their own. The higher up you go on the list, the more serious the crime. Misdemeanors can sometimes be sentenced with fines only, but some states take their them more seriously. In Michigan, for example, the lowest level of misdemeanor can be sentenced with jail time right away.

Felonies, too, have levels. These are the serious crimes, the kind they make documentaries about. Most likely, a felony will put someone in prison, not jail. Murders, rapes, stealing huge sums of money, etc. are all felonies. Lower level felonies would like be things like stealing a car or robbing a liquor store.

DUI Charges in West Virginia

West Virginia treats DUIs seriously. The lightest penalties are steep, and they get worse from there.

First Offense

A DUI in West Virginia could be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Your first offense, or your first offense in over ten years, will be a misdemeanor. It has the least sever punishment of all DUI offenses, but it is still steep. A sympathetic judge can drop jail time and just hit you with fines between $100 – $500. If you do serve jail time, it will not exceed six months. This will not be the case, however, if you had a high blood alcohol content (BAC). A BAC of .15% or more demands at least two days in jail, no exceptions. High BAC fines range from $200 – $1,000.

First time offenses will cause a license to be suspended for six months, but you may opt to have your ignition locked, instead. Dubbed the “Motor Vehicle Alcohol Test and Lock Program,” the program starts with a 15-day suspension. After that, an IID (ignition interlock device) is installed on the car. This device will require you to blow into it, so it can test your BAC. If you come up clean, the car will start. If the device detects alcohol in your system, the car won’t work. The IID will be on your car for the next 120 days. For high BAC offenses, those numbers climb. The license suspension lasts 45 days, and the IID stays on the car for 270 days.

You could also be relegated to a “hardship license,” where you are able to drive only to places like work or school.


The good news is this: depending on your prior history, a judge may take pity on you and offer you a deferment. This will require a 15-day suspension, a 165-day IID, and an educational program. If you can satisfy the court by meeting those requirements, the judge may drop the charges.

Second Offense

In West Virginia, a second DUI offense is still a misdemeanor. The penalties, however, get harsher for a second offense. Jail time can go up to a year, and fines can go as high as $3,000. Your license can be revoked for up to 10 years, and you must have an IID installed for two years after your license is reinstated.

Three or More Offenses

A third DUI within 10 years is a felony. Jail and deferment are no longer options. Offenders must serve prison time, from one to three years. There is also a fine between $3,000 – $5,000. Your license will be suspended for at least one year, and an IID will be in use for three years after you get your license back.

DUI Charge Enhancements

When drunk driving charges involve other people, the penalties are far more severe. The punishments get worse f someone had a minor in the car at the time of their arrest. A DUI that results in someone’s death is charged as a felony, and separate vehicular homicide charges can be added.

Don’t try to fight a DUI charge alone. The Wagner Law Firm is here to defend you and help you keep your freedom. Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (304) 461-6000 or contacting us online.