Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sentence "enhancement"?

Most states increase the punishment in drunk driving cases if certain facts exist. The most common of these is an earlier conviction for the same or a similar offense — usually within five or seven years of the current offense. Other commonly encountered enhancements (which must usually be alleged in the complaint) include:

  • A child was in the car at the time.
  • The defendant was traveling 20 or 30 miles over the speed limit at the time.
  • The blood-alcohol concentration was over .20%.
  • The defendant refused to submit to a chemical test.
  • There was property damage or injury.
  • The defendant was under 21 ("zero tolerance" laws commonly require a much lower blood - alcohol level and impose longer license suspensions).

In most states, the existence of significant personal injury caused by drunk driving elevates the offense to a felony. A death can trigger manslaughter or even, in a few states (including California), murder charges.