In virtually all American jurisdictions, drunk driving is a serious offense with penalties that include hefty fines, mandatory or suspended prison sentences, and lengthy terms of probation. The consequences that you'll face for driving while intoxicated may vary depending upon your past criminal history, your level of intoxication at the time of your arrest, and your state's specific DUI laws. For a first offense, you're likely to avoid prison. Instead, you'll receive a suspended sentence that involves three to five years of informal probation.
Penalties for your third DUI will be harsher. Most states impose mandatory prison sentences for three-time drunk drivers. Offenders in New Mexico may be required to spend a year or more behind bars while convicts in Michigan may languish in prison for up to five years. Unlike in first-offense situations, these sentences are rarely suspended or reduced.
While your case may feature extenuating circumstances that keep your judge from imposing the maximum possible prison sentence, you'll be very lucky to walk away from your third DUI without spending some time in jail. If you kept your cool during your arrest and received no charges other than your DUI, you can expect to serve the minimum mandatory sentence and finish out a lengthy term of probation afterwards.
You'll also face other consequences that may change your life for years to come. First, your license will be suspended for several years. For instance, New Mexico's suspension period lasts a minimum of three years and provides only limited exceptions for drivers who need to drive to work or school.
Many states impose even harsher penalties, including a lifetime license suspension subject to a bi-annual review in court. If you receive a "lifetime suspension," your driving privileges may be adversely impacted for a decade or more even if you avoid further trouble. In addition, third-DUI fines can be astronomical. Many states impose four-figure "mandatory" fines on top of fees for driver retraining, license renewal and alcohol-awareness classes.
If your offense involved a hit-and-run accident, you'll face several additional penalties. Standard penalties for hit-and-run accidents that cause property damage include a six-month prison sentence and a fine that ranges from $1,000 to $10,000. For incidents that involve injury or death, mandatory prison terms start at one year and may range up to 10 years. A hit-and-run that occurs in combination with your third DUI arrest will likely incur the maximum penalties for both offenses. Depending upon the laws in your home state, you may be sentenced to a prison term of five years or more.