Arizona law divides DUI charges into multiple levels with some classified as felonies and some classified as misdemeanors. As a general rule, most first and second time DUI offenses are misdemeanors. Aggravating circumstances that can upgrade a DUI to a felony include:
• DUI while under license suspension for a previous DUI (class 4 felony)
• Third DUI within 84 months (class 4 felony)
• DUI in violation of an ignition interlock requirement (class 4 felony)
• DUI while a minor under 15 is in the vehicle (class 6 felony)
In addition, if there was an accident involving serious injuries or fatalities, the driver may face additional felony charges such as assault or manslaughter. One of the most common charges is endangerment.
Endangerment is defined as recklessly endangering another person with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury. If there was a substantial risk of death, endangerment is a class 6 felony. Otherwise, it is a class 1 misdemeanor. Because many DUI accidents involve fatalities, prosecutors will allege felony endangerment in almost every DUI case.
During plea bargaining, a plea to felony endangerment is often offered in exchange for dropping a felony DUI charge. This can make sense for the defendant in two scenarios. The first is when a class 4 felony DUI was charged. A class 4 felony carries a presumptive prison sentence of 2.5 years with a minimum sentence of 1.5 years and a maximum sentence of 3 years. A class 6 felony carries a presumptive prison sentence of 1 year with a minimum sentence of 1/2 year and a maximum sentence of 1.5 years. In addition, the judge has the discretion to treat a class 6 felony as a misdemeanor for sentencing purposes and may impose a fine or probation in place of incarceration. If the judge orders incarceration, you may be allowed to serve your sentence only at night and on weekends while being allowed to leave during the day to work. Accordingly, a plea bargain to endangerment may substantially reduce the risk of a prison sentence.
A second scenario where a plea to endangerment may make sense is when you specifically wish to avoid a DUI conviction. This is often the case where a DUI conviction will disqualify you from your current or planned employment. However, you should carefully explore whether a conviction of endangerment related to DUI would also be considered disqualifying if the underlying circumstances were revealed in a background check.
Felonies have life changing consequences and you shouldn’t proceed without a full understanding of how your specific life circumstances will be impacted by a felony charge. The Schill Law Group in Phoenix, Arizona, is here to help you weigh your possible options through plea bargaining or taking your case to trial. Call us today to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney.