Criminal sentencing enhancements are laws that have been enacted in order to increase jail time according to the Stanford Computational Policy Lab. In order to understand how sentencing enhancements change the sentencing process, some parts of the process should be explained.
When a defendant is found guilty of a crime, the judge will schedule a date for a sentencing hearing. At this hearing the judge will hand down a sentence in accordance with the law. This decision is not arbitrary, judges are limited by state and federal law and their decisions are guided by sentencing guidelines established by The United States Sentencing Commissions. These guardrails ensure that a judge is not allowed to issue extreme or disproportionate sentences.
What sentence enhancements do is serve to remove some of those restrictions, allowing for the judge to impose more severe punishments than would usually be called for based on circumstances. The most notorious sentence enhancement is the The Three Strikes law which granted enhanced punishment options for criminals who had committed multiple crimes in the past to include life in prison.
While not always as severe as life in prison, a sentence enhancement can allow some crimes which are tried as misdemeanors to instead be tried as felonies. These felonies can have a far greater impact on the criminal record of the defendant, altering the options available to them if they are found guilty.
Driving under the influence is already a crime that faces increased scrutiny by the court. In most states a first time DUI is a misdemeanor, in the same criminal category as trespassing or shoplifting. Despite this, the penalties for DUI can include hundreds of dollars in fines, mandatory substance abuse training, and even temporary or permanent loss of driving privileges. When a DUI becomes enhanced, the penalties can increase radically.
The most important question regarding DUI enhancements is when and how they are applied. The most common way that a judge will gain access to enhanced DUI sentencing options is if the defendant has already been convicted of a DUI. Second or third DUI convictions can be infinitely more costly than the initial DUI charge.
Some states, like Arizona, will enhance DUI penalties based on the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC). A defendant with a BAC of over 0.10 will receive a mandatory sentence of 10 days while a defendant with a BAC of over 0.20 will receive over a month and a half of mandatory jail time.
While prior convictions and BAC are largely individual circumstances, there are also DUI enhancements if the defendant threatened or injured others. For example, if there is a minor in the vehicle while the driver is caught under the influence, that can sharply increase the jail time being given by as much as two years.
If a defendant has injured or killed someone while driving under the influence the enhancements become far more severe. In most states if an individual under the influence injured or killed someone then the DUI immediately becomes a felony in addition to any vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges that are filed on top.
In all cases, the DUI sentencing enhancements are designed to impose extra penalties for behavior that the court views as extra negligent. If an individual is over the legal limit and drives home, the court considers that to be a different set of circumstances to an individual who is several times over the legal limit with a minor in the vehicle.
If you have been accused of driving under the influence, the prosecutor may use sentencing enhancements to intimidate or to illustrate the severity of penalties you may face if you go to trial. The most important thing to do if you are being charged with a DUI of any kind is to contact a DUI attorney.
An experienced DUI attorney can help you to present your case in the best possible light. A DUI attorney can try to defuse any threats of enhancement or argue against an aggravated DUI charge. A DUI attorney can also produce expert witnesses and excellent cross-examination to possibly prevent a guilty verdict altogether.