Kentucky’s DUI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI in Kentucky.

Like all states, Kentucky prohibits driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, DUI definitions often differ by state—particularly with how state laws define "driving" and "under the influence."

This article explains Kentucky law defines driving under the influence and outlines the possible penalties for a conviction as well as some ways to reduce or avoid certain consequences that would otherwise result from a conviction.

Kentucky's DUI Laws

To convict a driver of DUI in court, prosecutors must prove he or she was operating or in physical control of a vehicle:

  • while "under the influence" of alcohol or any other substance
  • with any amount of certain controlled substances in his or her blood (within two hours of operating or being in physical control of the vehicle), or
  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08% (within two hours of operating or being in physical control of the vehicle).

In other words, a DUI conviction can be based on the amount of drugs or alcohol in the driver's system or actual impairment.

What It Means to be "Operating or in Physical Control" of a Vehicle

While most DUI violations involve a moving vehicle and a traffic stop, neither of these elements is essential to a conviction. Even if the vehicle is stationary, the occupant can still be "in physical control" of the vehicle and convicted of a DUI.

Kentucky courts have said that in determining whether an occupant was in physical control of a vehicle, it's important to consider four factors:

  • whether the person in the vehicle was asleep or awake
  • whether the motor was running
  • the location of the vehicle, and
  • the intent of the person behind the wheel.

There are some nuances to the law as well as some bright line rules (which you should discuss with an attorney), but courts generally rely on these four factors in deciding whether the driver was "operating or in physical control" of the vehicle for purposes of the state's DUI law.

What It Means to be "Under the Influence" for Purposes of Kentucky's DUI Laws

A Kentucky DUI is generally classified as either an impairment-based DUI or a "per se DUI" (per se offenses involve an excessive BAC or failed drug test).

Impairment-Based DUIs

Under Kentucky law, a driver is considered to be "under the influence" if, as the result of ingesting alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, she or she lacked the mental and physical capabilities necessary for the safe operation of a vehicle.

Per se DUIs

A Kentucky driver is considered to be per se under the influence if she or she has, within two hours of operating or being in physical control of a vehicle, a BAC of at least .08% or any amount of certain controlled substances in his or her system (includes drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine but excludes marijuana).

Generally, prosecutors prove per se DUI using the results of breath, blood, or urine tests. A per se DUI conviction doesn't require proof of actual impairment.

The fact that a driver was legally prescribed the substance is a defense to per se DUI but not for impairment-based DUI.

Penalties for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DUI in Kentucky

The penalties for a DUI conviction generally vary based on the number of prior convictions the driver has that occurred within the last ten years.

Jail and Fines for Kentucky DUI Convictions

Generally, a first, second, and third DUI conviction will be charged as a misdemeanor. The possible fines and jail time are outlined in the chart below.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense

Jail

48 hours to 30 days

7 days to 6 months

30 days to 12 months

Fines

$200 to $500

$350 to $500

$500 to $1,000

Treatment and Rehabilitation Requirements for Kentucky DUI Offenders

All persons convicted of a DUI must complete some form of court-ordered treatment. For a first-offense DUI, the court will order a 90-day outpatient treatment program, while a second offense requires the offender to complete a one-year outpatient program. Subsequent violations require the offender to complete a minimum one-year residential or inpatient substance abuse treatment program.

Kentucky's Enhanced DUI Penalties for Aggravating Circumstances

Many circumstances can enhance the penalties for a DUI conviction. The minimum jail time is doubled for any DUI violation involving:

For example, a second-offense DUI—which would normally result in a minimum jail sentence of seven days—carries a minimum of 14 days in jail where the offense involves a BAC of at least .15%.

Kentucky DUI Probation

After the offender serves the minimum jail sentence, the judge will generally place the offender on probation for up to one year. During this time, the offender must complete all sentencing requirements including the payment of fines and completion of treatment. Failure to comply with the probation terms can result in jail time.

Community Service for Kentucky DUI Convictions

Judges are permitted to order DUI offenders to perform community service in addition to the other penalties. And for a first-offense DUI, the judge is permitted to order up to 30 days of community service instead of jail time.

Kentucky Felony DUI Penalties

While generally a misdemeanor, a DUI will be charged as a felony under certain circumstances.

4th or Subsequent DUIs are Felonies in Kentucky

A DUI is a felony in Kentucky if the offender has at least three prior convictions within the last ten years. For a conviction, the driver is generally looking at one to five years in prison, $1,000 to $10,000 in fines, and a one-year treatment program.

Felony DUI Charges for Offenses Involving Injuries

Impaired driving can lead to a separate felony charge for second-degree assault if the offender caused serious bodily injury to another person. Second-degree assault is a class C felony and carries five to ten years in prison and $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.

Felony DUI Charges for Offenses Involving Deaths

Causing a fatality while driving under the influence can lead to reckless homicide, second-degree manslaughter, or even murder charges. A conviction for any of these offenses can result in a long prison sentence.

License-Related Penalties for Kentucky DUI Offenses

Generally, driving under the influence leads to license-related penalties. These penalties vary depending on the number of prior DUI convictions (within the last ten years) as well as the driver's cooperation with testing.

License-related penalties can result from a DUI arrest and/or conviction.

License Revocation for DUI Convictions in Kentucky

At the initial hearing for a DUI charge (the arraignment), the court will review the circumstances of the case and order the revocation of the driver's license during the pendency of the trial. If the driver is acquitted of the DUI charges, his or her license will be reinstated. However, if the driver is convicted, his or her license will be revoked for:

  • six months for a first offense
  • 18 months for a second offense
  • 36 months for a third offense, and
  • 60 months for a fourth offense.

Drivers will generally receive credit for the duration of revocation served prior to the conviction.

Kentucky's Implied Consent Law

Kentucky's "implied consent" law generally requires all drivers who are lawfully arrested for operating while intoxicated to submit to one or more chemical tests (breath, blood or urine) when requested to do so by an officer. While a driver can rescind this consent and refuse to comply with testing requests, a test refusal will result in additional consequences.

Refusing a Chemical Test in Kentucky

An unlawful test refusal (implied consent violation) will result in license revocation for the same amount of time as a DUI conviction. Prior offenses include DUI convictions as well as license revocations for test refusal within the last ten years.

Drivers revoked for conviction and refusal are only required to complete one of the penalties. In other words, a test refusal suspension won't stack with a DUI conviction suspension.

The fact that a driver refused testing can be used at the criminal trial to prove the culpability of the offender (trying to hide their impairment).

Failing a Chemical Test in Kentucky

When a driver submits to a chemical test and produces an unlawful BAC or drug concentration, the results are forwarded to the prosecutor for use at the criminal trial. A failed test alone does not result in license revocation.

Revocation Modification for Participants in the Ignition Interlock Program

A person convicted of DUI can enroll in the Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program (KIIP) to reduce the suspension period and obtain restricted driving privileges. To be eligible, a driver generally must enroll in the court-ordered treatment program and install an ignition interlock device on any driven vehicle.

Program enrollment can reduce a first-offense revocation to four months, a second-offense revocation to 12 months, and a third-offense revocation to 18 months.

Kentucky's Underage DUI Laws

In Kentucky, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with a BAC of .02% or more. While a conviction does not carry jail time, the driver's license will be suspended for 30 days to six months. The driver must also complete a substance abuse treatment program and either perform 20 hours of community service or pay a $500 fine.

Talk with a Kentucky DUI Lawyer

If you've been arrested for driving while under the influence in Kentucky, you should get in contact with a qualified DUI attorney in your area. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand how the law applies in your case and advise you on how best to handle your situation.

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