What is a sentence enhancement in a DUI case?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Most states increase the penalty for a drunk driving offense in certain situations; this is known as sentence enhancement. The most common of these is one or more earlier convictions for the same or a similar offense — usually within five to ten years of the current offense. Other common sentence enhancements exist for allegations that:

(1) a child was in the car at the time of the drunk driving violation;

(2) the defendant was traveling 20 or 30 miles per hour over the speed limit at the time;

(3) the blood-alcohol concentration was over 0.20%;

(4) the defendant refused to submit to a chemical test;

(5) there was property damage or injury.

In most states, the existence of any personal injury caused by drunk driving elevates the offense to a felony. A death can trigger manslaughter or even, in a few states, second degree murder charges.

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