Most DUI charges in Kentucky are misdemeanor charges. However, misdemeanor DUI charges can carry severe penalties if there are aggravating circumstances present. Knowing what to expect when you are charged with drunk driving in Kentucky can help you remain calm until you speak with your experienced DUI defense lawyer.

When Does a DUI Become a Felony in Kentucky?

Under Kentucky laws, DUI offenses are charged as follows:

The penalties for a DUI offense depend on whether the person has prior DUI convictions within five years. It also depends on whether there are aggravating circumstances involved.

What is The Penalty for a Felony DUI in Kentucky?

If you are charged with felony DUI, you could face up to five years in prison, with a minimum term of 120 days without probation. You also must attend one year of substance or alcohol abuse treatment, and your driver’s license is suspended for five years. In addition, the judge may impose a fine between $1,000 to $10,000.

The mandatory prison term doubles if one or more aggravating circumstances are present. You also may receive longer prison sentences and harsher penalties. 

KRS §189A.010(11) lists aggravating circumstances as:

  • Traveling 30 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit
  • Driving the wrong direction on a limited-access highway
  • Causing an accident that results in serious physical injury or death
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher within two hours of driving
  • Refusal to submit to a chemical BAC test
  • Having a child in the vehicle under the age of 12 years

Just one of the above DUI aggravating circumstances is enough to enhance the penalties for a felony DUI charge.

Are There Defenses to a Felony DUI Charge?

Yes, there could be one or more defense strategies applicable in your case. A DUI defense attorney would need to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding your arrest to determine what defense strategy would give you the best chance of avoiding a DUI conviction.

Potential defenses for a felony DUI charge include:

Unlawful Traffic Stop

Police officers cannot pull you over without reasonable suspicion of a crime. If the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion, the evidence gathered by the police may be inadmissible in court and could result in a dismissal of the DUI charges.

For a DUI stop, police officers often state that the driver was operating the vehicle erratically. For example, they may say that you were driving too slowly or weaving back and forth. The officers then claim to have smelled a strong odor of alcohol and that you appeared intoxicated (i.e., bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, etc.).

The police officers use these phrases to justify having a “reasonable suspicion” that you were driving under the influence. 

Improper Field Sobriety Tests

The police officer will likely instruct you to get out of the vehicle to take the SFSTs (standardized field sobriety tests). 

The tests consist of the:

  • Walk and Turn Test
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
  • One Leg Stand Test

Each test must be administered according to specific standards and requirements. If the police officer deviated from the standards, the prosecution might not be able to use the results of the field sobriety tests in court.

Inaccurate BAC Tests

The result of your BAC tests can be the strongest evidence against you. However, these tests can be inaccurate and unreliable. The machines must be calibrated and maintained correctly, or they could malfunction.

If the operator failed to perform the test correctly or contaminated the sample, the results could be incorrect. Your lawyer may challenge the BAC test results on multiple levels to try to have the test results thrown out of court.

Depending on the facts of your case, your DUI charges could be dismissed or reduced. However, working directly with the prosecutor may not be in your best interest. The prosecutor wants a conviction.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to talk with a DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer understands the tactics used by the prosecution to get a conviction. They also understand how to fight DUI charges.

Before you accept a plea deal or make decisions regarding your case, make sure you get the legal advice you need. You could face up to five years in prison for a felony DUI. You have too much at stake to handle this criminal matter alone.