August 19, 2020

A question  often asked is whether drunk driving is a felony or a misdemeanor. To answer that question,  it’s important just to understand the difference between a felony and misdemeanor in Massachusetts.

The Difference With Massachusetts Law

The confusion often comes in because Massachusetts has kind of a weird definition. Most states, as well as the federal government, say that a felony is anything that’s punishable by imprisonment by a year or more. Massachusetts does it differently. So what Massachusetts law says is that anything that has a potential punishment in state prison is a felony and everything else is a misdemeanor. That doesn’t mean you are likely to get something in state prison, you’re getting charged, or getting sentenced to state prison. It basically says that the law says that anywhere in there that that’s one of the potential punishments for you, some term in state prison, then it’s considered a felony.

And if it doesn’t, if it just says the maximum sentence is a fine or a sentence to the house of correction or something like that, and never mentions state prison, then it’s considered a misdemeanor.

Different Charges and Offenses

In the context of drunk driving there are both. There are charges in the drunk driving law that some are misdemeanors and some are felonies. So for instance, a first-offense drunk driving charge is considered a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is two-and-a-half years in the house of correction.

Likewise, a second offense, while there’s parts of that that are ratcheted up more than the minimum time you’d have to do, the maximum sentence is still two-and-a-half years in the house of corrections. So it is, in fact, a misdemeanor.

A third offense or above, those are state. Those have state prison potential to them. In fact, a third offense has a potential sentence of state prison of between two-and-a-half years to five years. So five is maximum state prison, with a minimum state prison of two-and-a-half years. So that’s important to understand that a third offense or above is in fact a felony.

There’s other types of drunk driving charges that have both felony components and misdemeanor components. Motor vehicle homicide caused by drunk driving has both the misdemeanor version, as well as a felony version. Same thing, if it’s a motor vehicle causing serious bodily injury, due to drunk driving, that also has a component in there where the person can be charged either with a felony or the misdemeanor.

It’s really important to take a look at the actual charge that you’ve been charged with. Review the law and the statute to know whether or not you’ve been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.

If you have any questions about whether your charge is a felony or a misdemeanor or any questions about this or drunk driving at all, please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to speak with you about it.