The penalties for DUI can be fairly light or quite severe, and they are a matter of perspective and circumstance. As a general rule, the penalties have become greater with time, as societal pressure has increased. In the 1970's DUI penalties often were only a fine or other minor penalty. As Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other organizations lobbied for increased penalties against drunk drivers the penalties have increased.
Those who are arrested and convicted for a first time DUI offense are treated much better than those who are convicted for a second, third, or more times. Often a first time DUI driver receives only 1-2 days in jail. A second offense brings a mandatory 30-45 day jail sentence, and 90-120 days minimum for a third offense. Many judges will impose the statutory maximum of one year in jail for those with continuing DUI convictions.
The sentence within a particular range is often affected by the circumstances of the DUI. The factors that I regularly see causing a prosecutors and judges to seek additional jail time are: 1) blood/breath test refusals; 2) extremely high levels of intoxication; 3) car accident DUI cases, especially those with significant property damage or injury; 4) DUI with passengers, especially children. Cases with these types of aggravating factors are more difficult to negotiate with prosecutors, and are more likely to draw longer sentences. The exception is 1) blood/breath test refusals, which is an aggravating factor, but may create problems for a prosecutor's case and make negotiations easier.
There are substantial other penalties in a DUI case, beyond jail time. These include fines, court costs, financial special assessments, restitution for both physical damage and police response time, driver's license suspension, SR-22 insurance requirements, Ignition Interlock requirements, probation costs and supervision, alcohol/drug treatment costs and time required to complete, mandatory DUI victim panel attendance, and many others.
I have attached the DUI sentencing grid effective 9/26/2015 for reference, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation or with any questions regarding this subject.