Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.
Drunk driving charges are always very serious, but a DUI second offense can come with much harsher penalties than a first offense.
Many states have strict mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders, so it’s important to be prepared for the potential consequences and to understand your legal rights.
Here’s what you need to know.
Timing of Repeat Offenses
In many states, you will be considered to have committed a DUI second offense only if it happens within a certain number of years after the first offense. If decades have passed, your initial DUI offense may no longer count against you for purposes of the charges you face or the sentence you receive.
That’s why it’s important to understand what your state’s rules are for the DUI look-back period. .
DUI look-back periods are the length of time that your past drunk driving conviction counts against you for purposes of determining if a new offense counts as a second offense.
Look-back periods could be as little as five years in some states. In others, there is no limit on the length of time that an offense will count. Ten years is a very common look-back period, though, and applies in a variety of U.S. States, including California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Many states also impose different look-back periods for a second offense versus a third or subsequent offense. For example, in Delaware, the look-back period is 10 years for a second offense but there’s a lifetime look-back period used to determine if you have committed three or more DUI crimes.
It’s important to understand what your state’s rules are if you are potentially facing charges for a DUI second offense as the timing can matter a great deal in determining if you’re subject to harsher penalties for repeat offenders.
Aggravated Second DUI
When you are accused of driving under the influence, certain aggravating factors can make your situation worse.
A prior DUI conviction is one of these aggravating factors in some states. Others include drunk driving in an accident that causes injuries, a BAC above a certain higher threshold such as 0.16 instead of 0.08, or driving drunk with a young person in the vehicle.
If you are accused of an aggravated second DUI, you can expect to face harsher penalties. In many states, an aggravated second DUI is considered a felony offense versus a misdemeanor offense.
Find A Personal Injury Lawyer In Your Area
Get Your Free Consultation From a Top Lawyer
Felony vs. Misdemeanor
While first offense DUI charges are almost always misdemeanor, a second DUI offense is much more likely to lead to felony charges.
Felonies are more serious crimes with harsher penalties. You could face a longer jail sentence and larger fines. When you undergo a background check in the future, a felony offense could cause more problems than a misdemeanor in terms of things like getting a job or renting an apartment.
Felonies also can lead to the loss of voting rights and the loss of your second amendment rights.
Penalties for a DUI Second Offense
Penalties for a second DUI vary by state and depend whether you were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
But they are always going to be more serious than for a first drunk driving conviction. Some of the potential penalties that you could be looking at for a second offense include:
- Larger fines than for a first offense
- A longer jail sentence than for a first offense
- A longer suspension of your license
- Mandatory attendance at an alcohol treatment program
- A requirement you participate in an ignition interlock program and have a device installed on your vehicle that detects whether you are intoxicated before the car can be started
Remember, whether you are subject to these harsher penalties or not is going to depend on whether the second arrest for drunk driving occurred within your state’s look-back period.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
One big difference between a second DUI offense and a first offense is that you are more likely to face mandatory minimum penalties and those penalties are likely to be harsher.
When you are subject to mandatory minimum penalties, the judge assigned to your case loses some discretion. If you are convicted, you will at least be sentenced to the minimum penalties imposed under the law.
For example, in Pennsylvania, if you have one prior drunk driving offense and you are accused of general impairment (which means your BAC was undetermined or was between 0.08 and 0.099%), penalties include:
- A 12-month suspension of your license
- Between five days and six months of jail time
- A fine of $300 to $2,500
- Require attendance at alcohol highway safety school
- A one year ignition interlock device
These are much harsher penalties than with a first offense, which includes up to six months of probation, a $300 fine, and mandatory attendance at highway safety school.
With these mandatory minimums in place, you will be forced to go to jail for at least five days along with these other consequences if you are found guilty of a DUI second offense.
Second DUI Penalties by State
The second DUI penalties that you are looking at can vary substantially by state, but it is common to see a minimum of around five days in jail, along with a one-year license suspension and a one-year ignition interlock requirement. Some states imposed mandatory minimums that are even more strict, though, while others are more lenient.
Ultimately, the best way to determine the specific second DUI penalties where you live is to check the website of your local department of motor vehicles or to speak with an attorney.
A drunk driving lawyer can help you to understand the look-back period that applies so you can determine if you will be charged with a DUI second offense. Your attorney can also help you to understand potential consequences and can work with you to develop a strategy to fight the charges so you can minimize the long-term damage to your future.
Since a second DUI offense is so serious, you should get legal help ASAP upon being accused of driving impaired for the second time.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is considered a second DUI offense?
A second DUI offense occurs when you are accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and you already have a past conviction for a similar crime. The prior offense must have occurred within your state’s look-back period. Look-back periods often last 10 years, although they could be as little as five years or as long as your entire life.
What are the penalties for a second DUI offense?
Penalties for a second DUI offense tend to be more serious than for a first offense. You will often face mandatory minimum sentences that require you to serve at least a few days of jail time and that require the suspension of your license for at least 12 months. It is also likely you will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle.
Is jail time mandatory for a second DUI?
Jail time is mandatory in many states for a second DUI offense. For example, in Pennsylvania, you must serve a minimum of five days in jail if you are convicted of a second drunk driving offense. You will need to check the laws in the state where your DUI took place to determine if there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence.