Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a criminal offense classified as a misdemeanor, which is less serious than a felony. The actual offense that constitutes a DWI misdemeanor and the punishment for a conviction will vary from place to place, depending on the local laws. An offense that is classified as a DWI misdemeanor in one jurisdiction might constitute a felony or a petite misdemeanor in another jurisdiction. A person might be charged with a DWI misdemeanor if he or she is alleged to have been driving drunk and has not had any or just a few previous DWI convictions. If the person has had several previous DWI convictions, was in an accident or caused someone to be injured because of the drunken driving, a DWI felony charge might be filed.
Misdemeanors usually are punishable with imprisonment of less than one year and a fine, and they might be classified into sub-categories such as petty misdemeanors, petite misdemeanors or infractions. Felonies typically are offenses that carry the possibility of fines and imprisonment of one year or more, and they might be classified into sub-categories such as first-degree felonies, second-degree felonies or aggravated felonies. A DWI could fall into any classification, depending on the circumstances, the offense and how the jurisdiction chooses to punish the offense. A jurisdiction's classification system is important because it affects the rights of persons charged with crimes. For example, a person charged with a DWI misdemeanor might not be entitled to a jury trial if the offense is punishable with a jail term of less than six months.
A conviction on a charge of a DWI misdemeanor might allow a person to be released on probation without having to serve jail time. By contrast, a person charged and convicted of a DWI felony typically will not be eligible for probation until he or she serves a specified period of time in jail. The laws in some places, though, impose a minimum jail sentence for a DWI misdemeanor. A person found guilty of a DWI misdemeanor also might have his or her driver's license revoked for a certain period of time and might be required to attend alcohol counseling or driving safety classes.