The penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) are generally severe. But if you get a DUI while unlicensed, the consequences will typically be even worse—especially if you were without a license because of a prior DUI conviction.
In every state, you're required to have a valid driver's license to operate a vehicle. If you get a DUI without having a valid license, you'll likely face two separate charges—a DUI charge and a second charge for unlicensed driving. Drivers who end up being convicted on both charges can expect penalties for each charge. In most states, DUI penalties remain the same regardless of whether the driver was licensed. But the penalties imposed for unlicensed driving depend on the reason the driver was without a valid license.
DUI penalties generally depend on how many prior DUI convictions the driver has and whether the offense involved any aggravating factors. Common aggravating factors include having a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), having minors in the vehicle, and resulting in accidents and injuries. But typically, a DUI conviction will result in fines, license suspension, and possible jail time. For instance, a standard first DUI conviction might carry up to $1,000 in fines, a maximum six months in jail, and a six-month license suspension.
The penalties for unlicensed driving (where the driver's license expired or driver never had a license) are generally less severe than those for a DUI. In most instances, unlicensed driving carries only a fine. For example, a driver convicted of unlicensed driving in Oregon faces a fine of $135 to $1,000. Even in states, like New Jersey, where jail time is a possibility for unlicensed driving, the probability that a judge will actually impose a jail sentence is typically lower than it would be for a DWI (driving while intoxicated) conviction.
The penalties for unlicensed driving are typically more severe if the driver was unlicensed because of a suspension or revocation. And if the suspension or revocation was related to a prior DUI, the penalties are likely to be even more serious.
For example, in New York, driving while suspended or revoked is called "aggravated unlicensed operation" (AUO). A standard AUO where the suspension or revocation was unrelated to a DWI conviction carries $200 to $500 in fines and up to 30 days in jail. But if the driver's license had been suspended for a DWI, the AUO conviction carries $500 to $1,000 in fines and seven to 180 days in jail.
If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, driving without a license, or anything else, it's a good idea to get in contact with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A qualified attorney can help you decide how best to handle your situation.