Drunk driving is a criminal offense that takes place when an individual operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Depending on the laws in your state, this may be known as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating a vehicle while impaired (OVI).
There are many things that fall under drunk driving offenses, depending on the state you are in. For instance, many people are familiar with DUI or DWI, and these are most often associated with alcohol consumption. Typically, a DUI charge is given to a driver suspected of driving drunk for having a blood alcohol content (BAC) test above the legal limit (typically. 08 BAC) or failing a field sobriety test.
These offenses and others like them also take into account drugs, controlled substances and other factors that may impair a person’s ability to drive. Additionally, drunk driving cases are not just for cars and trucks. A person on a bike or even a boat can receive these same stiff criminal charges.
While federal law largely pertains to commercial drivers (for whom the legal BAC while driving is .04 or less), state laws are generally called on when infractions of the law come into play for the average citizen. Federal DUI laws can be levied if the offender is traveling through federally-owned lands, indigenous lands or crossing state lines, but the vast majority of drunk driving charges are meted out at the state level.
Drunk driving can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. First-time offenders with no aggravating factors, or other legal issues, could be looking at a misdemeanor charge in most states. Repeat offenders, or offenders who commit DUI or DWI with aggravating factors, could find themselves facing felony charges.
Aggravating factors may include, but are not limited to: committing DUI with children in the car, speeding or reckless driving while under the influence, highly elevated BAC levels while measured (.08, .15 and above) or causing a serious personal injury or death as a result of driving while under the influence.
If you are found guilty of drunk driving, there are a variety of penalties you may face. These penalties will become even more severe with each repeat offense. These penalties include:
Misdemeanor drunk driving such as DUI and DWI at the state level typically results in a jail term lasting up to one year as well as an associated fine. Mandatory attendance of an alcohol treatment program or an accredited alcohol education program can also be part of the judgment against those found guilty.
Felony drunk driving at the state level can result in more punitive penalties being handed out to those convicted. If found guilty of felony DUI or DWI, offenders can be sentenced to up to five years behind bars in addition to any fines or forms of restitution. Having a track record of multiple DUI arrests and convictions may increase these penalties as well.
Yes, in many jurisdictions it is possible to be charged with drunk driving even if parked. Commonly, this occurs when a police officer finds someone asleep in their car. A conviction may depend on actual proof that you operated the vehicle while intoxicated.
Further, attempted DUI is a discrete charge in many states and as such, the burden of proof to establish this particular charge is much lower than with full DUI. Regardless of the situation, it is not advised that you enter the drivers’ seat of a car with a BAC higher than the established level in your state.
Operating under the influence (OUI) charges becoming more common. While BAC can be easily measured by the use of the breathalyzer, blood test, or a number of other devices, it can be more difficult to prove intoxication by a number of other drugs, including cannabis (marijuana).
Cannabis’ active ingredient (THC) stays in a human system for a number of weeks, so false positives have proven particularly difficult for state prosecutors looking to secure convictions based on allegations of intoxicated driving. Newly deployed devices seek to circumvent this problem, but the matter remains legally contested in many jurisdictions.
Field sobriety tests, body cam evidence and other metrics are currently also used to judge whether or not a driver is impaired by drugs other than alcohol. In terms of legal repercussions, DUI laws are generally broad enough to encompass all activity where a driver is intoxicated on drugs or alcohol, and the sentencing is usually severe for both.
Those found guilty of DUI or DWI for drugs other than alcohol may face additional drug-related penalties (possession, trafficking, etc.) in some jurisdictions. Diversionary programs, or mandatory drug education programs may also be part of any punishment for drunk driving.
If you are facing drunk driving charges, you are undoubtedly worried about what is going to happen. Of course, drunk driving charges are serious, but whatever charges you are facing can be mitigated with the help of an experienced drunk driving lawyer.
Some of the ways an attorney may be able to help you include:
Obtaining legal representation for your DUI case is an important step toward ensuring your rights. Finding a criminal defense attorney may seem like an intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. Most law firms and DUI attorneys offer a free consultation to review your case, and a number of the best DUI criminal defense lawyers offer payment plans as well.