Is It Possible to Avoid a Jail Sentence in DUI Conviction?

The Arizona DUI Team are highly experienced DUI Defense Lawyers who represent individuals charged with DUI and other vehicular-related offenses in the Phoenix, AZ area.
Last updated on: April 19, 2023
No matter where you are in the United States, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to get arrested for drunk driving.
Is It Possible to Avoid a Jail Sentence in DUI Conviction?

DUI or driving under the influence is a criminal offense in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and its consequences can be life-changing. At the same time however, drunk driving is one of the easiest offenses to commit. A temporary lapse in judgment can get an otherwise law-abiding citizen into a great deal of trouble with the law and may end up facing penalties such as fines, license suspension, and even time in jail.


Yes. Jail. One of the worst possible punishments for drunk driving and something no one looks forward to.

Jail Time as A Penalty for DUI Conviction


While you hardly have to spend any time in jail after a DUI arrest if you can post bail, either in cash or through a bail bond, jail time is a common penalty for DUI conviction in the U.S., even mandatory in a number of states.


Under state and federal law, the maximum jail sentence for a first-time DUI conviction is six months. With the help of a good DUI attorney, it’s highly unlikely for first-time DUI offenders to spend time behind bars, however, as long as they meet all the other requirements of their sentencing terms. Still, there are cities and counties where jail time for DUI is mandatory, even for the first-DUI offense.


The amount of jail time, if any, that a person will have to serve for a DUI conviction largely depends on the circumstances surrounding his or her arrest. A past DUI conviction considerably increases the likelihood of and time spent in jail. Apart from previous convictions, other factors like presence of minors in the vehicle, accidents, high BAC, and physical injuries or property damage resulting from the DUI.


In North Carolina, the judge determines the sentence level for a DUI case by considering the presence of certain factors: grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors. The courts usually bestow harsher punishments on DUI cases with aggravating factors and grossly aggravating factors, while the presence of mitigating factors may reduce or lighten the charges. A DUI attorney can help you identify which sentencing factors apply to your situation and build the best defense for your case.


Grossly aggravating factors


  • A past DWI conviction (within seven years)
  • Driving on a suspended license at the time of the arrest
  • Causing serious injury to another while DUI
  • Presence of child or person with a disability in the vehicle


Aggravating factors


  • Highly intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (.15 percent or higher)
  • Reckless driving
  • Negligently causing an accident
  • Past convictions for traffic violations (within five years)
  • Committing other traffic offenses while DUI


Mitigating factors


  • Slight impairment and a BAC of less than .09 percent
  • Safe driving despite impairment
  • Good prior driving record
  • Voluntary submission to a mental health assessment and/or substance abuse assessment after being charged


Can You Avoid Jail Time for a DUI Conviction?


A DUI conviction may result in severe penalties. including  jail time, prompting drivers to question whether it is possible to avoid a jail sentence for a DUI. In some instances, jail time may be inevitable, but  working with a DUI attorney might help you avoid jail time.


Whether or not a DUI offender, especially a first-time offender, will spend time in jail depends largely on the judge imposing the sentence. Even in the event of conviction, a skilled DUI defense attorney may be able to secure alternatives to jail for their clients.


First-time DUI offenders, who are typically charged with a misdemeanor, may receive more lenient sentencing from the court and become eligible for alternative sentencing. However, if the first-time DUI results in injures or kills another person, the likelihood of avoiding jail time decreases significantly.


In North Carolina, the judge who issues the DUI judgment may "suspend" any active prison or jail sentence and instead impose a probationary sentence. The probation will require the offender to fulfill of a number of distinct obligations in lieu of serving time in jail, which may include:


Fines and Court Costs


The total amount of fines and other fees that a person convicted for DUI has to pay will vary depending on the level of DUI. The Court fees are paid to the Clerk of Court. Some judges may demand for the immediate payment of all fees, fines, and court costs.

Alcohol Assessment and Rehabilitation


Alcohol education is widely believed to prevent repeat offenses. As such, in some cases, you may be able to avoid jail time for a DUI conviction if you agree to participate in substance abuse screening and the recommended alcohol and drug treatment program


If you agree to participate in the program to avoid or reduce your jail sentence, you'll have to complete an alcohol assessment at a court-approved assessment center.  Following the assessment, you may receive treatment recommendations, which could range from completing an alcohol awareness program to receiving in-patient treatment.


You may face sanctions if you do not violate the terms and conditions or fail to complete the recommended treatment once the agreement is in place.


Community Service


Community service is a frequently imposed condition for a suspended DUI jail sentence. Community service can take many forms, including but not limited to public works, mission work, and volunteer work at animal shelters, charities, food banks, and other organizations. 


The required number of community service hours can vary from person to person, depending on the details of their case. Moreover, a community service fee may be imposed, but it is possible to have the fee waived in court. 

Secured Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM)


Alcohol monitoring may be an alternative to an active jail sentence in certain limited circumstances. If you qualify for a probationary sentence, the sentencing Court may also order you to abstain from drinking alcohol and/or using illegally prescribed controlled substances. 


A judge in North Carolina can reduce the active jail sentence of a DUI defendant if the defendant wears a SCRAM bracelet for a specific number of days, usually 120 days.

Legal Help in a DUI Case

It is worth noting that judges are not required to hand alternative or probationary sentences to DUI offenders. In fact, some judges will not even consider it as an option. 


At all levels, the court retains significant discretion in sentencing a DUI offense. Working with an experienced DUI lawyer can help ensure that the court uses this discretion in your favor. In the event of a jail sentence, your attorney can plead with the judge for an alternative sentence instead.


Whatever the circumstances of your DUI case, you should consult with a reputable DUI lawyer as soon as possible.



About the Author

Michelle White is currently the Content Marketing Strategist for Arizona DUI Team. Aside from spreading awareness on DUI and vehicular-related offenses, she enjoys reading and hiking with her family and friends.