While drunk driving is considered a serious crime in virtually every American legal jurisdiction, most courts go relatively easy on first-time impaired-driving convicts. Your first-offense DUI sentence may involve three to five years of unsupervised probation, a several-month course of regular alcohol-awareness and driver-retraining classes, and a temporary suspension of your driver's license that typically lasts for less than 18 months. After you successfully complete these steps and pay a slew of fines and court fees, you'll be able to get on with your life as before.
After your second and third DUI offenses, you may not be so lucky. Most third-offense DUI convictions come with mandatory prison sentences of between three months and five years. In most states, this jail time can't be converted to a term of unsupervised probation. To make matters worse, you'll lose your driver's license for at least five years and may not be able to apply for a work permit. In other words, you'll have to rely on friends, family members or public transportation to get to and from work.
Depending upon the length of time separating your first, second and third offenses, the severity of the penalties that you'll face for your third DUI conviction may vary considerably. In most jurisdictions, you'll be labeled a "habitual offender" after receiving your third DUI conviction in less than five years. You may lose your license for 10 years or more and face your state's maximum prison sentence for DUI offenses.
If 10 years separate your three DUI convictions, you'll still face some serious penalties. You'll be on the hook for up to $5,000 in fines and be required to attend an intensive alcohol treatment program. While your license will be suspended for at least five years, you may be able to regain some driving privileges by agreeing to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
This arrangement, which prevents you from operating your vehicle after consuming any alcohol at all, may become permanent. If you wish to retain your ability to drive yourself to work, you'll have no choice but to accept it. Without an interlock device, you may be unable to secure a work permit. However, most states refuse to grant work permits to "habitual offenders" who garner three or more DUI convictions in less than a half-decade. After your third DUI conviction, you may lack mobility for a long time.