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Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious matter in every state, and can result in the loss of driving privileges, fines, mandatory counseling or even jail time. In addition to these court-imposed consequences, there are can also be significant collateral consequences associated with a DUI, including the inability to obtain employment, damage to your reputation, increased insurance rates and the loss or denial of professional licenses. As a result, it is important for anyone who is facing DUI allegations to retain the services of a DUI attorney as soon as possible to help mitigate any legal or other consequences you may be facing.
What Is a DUI?
A DUI (driving under the influence) charge is an offense where the perpetrator is accused of operating a vehicle while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Different states use different acronyms (DUI, DWI, DUII) to refer to this offense and related offenses, but DUI is the most commonly used term in the United States.
DWI vs. DUI: What’s the Difference?
The difference between DUI charges and DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While many states conflate the charges as being essentially the same, some states make a distinction between the two, defining DUI as intoxication via alcohol and DWI referring to intoxication via other drugs.
In California, for example, if you take a breathalyzer test and fail (it should be noted that California is a zero-tolerance state concerning alcohol blood level while driving, for minors) you might face DUI charges. However, if you are found to be under the influence of drugs while driving, you could face DWI charges.
In states such as Illinois, only DUI charges exist. There is no classification for DWI or DWAI (driving while ability impaired).
What Is an Aggravated DUI?
An aggravated DUI is generally categorized as a DUI which takes place alongside several aggravated elements.
Some common examples of behavior that may elevate a DUI charge to an aggravated DUI include driving with a blood alcohol level substantially above the legal limit, driving while intoxicated and while transporting children in the vehicle or causing a serious or fatal accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
State Drunk Driving Penalties
The penalties for DUI convictions range greatly depending on the severity of the offense as well as what state is involved. Regardless, DUI cases almost always carry severe penalties and should be treated seriously.
For example, in Florida a first offense DUI conviction results in a penalty of a $500 to $1,000 fine (or a fine of $1,000 to $2,000 if a minor was present, or if the BAC level recorded was over .15). A first offense aggravated DUI conviction results in imprisonment for no more than six months (or nine months if a minor was in the vehicle, or if the BAC recorded was over .15). Penalties increase with each repeated offense of the same nature.
Federal DUI Penalties
Federal DUI charges are somewhat rarer than state DUI charges. Federal DUI charges occur if you are charged with driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over .08% while on federal land such as military bases, national parks, national monuments and some airports.
Penalties for Your First DUI
Penalties for first-time DUI offenders are typically less than the punishments repeat offenders usually face.
In Texas, a state which has harsher DUI laws than others, first-time DUI offenders face the loss of their driver’s license for up to a year, up to $8,000 in fines and a potential jail sentence of 180 days, with three days served being mandatory. If a child under the age of 15 was present in the car during the time of the offense, you could also face child endangerment charges. These charges enhance the previous penalties to include a further loss of driver’s license for an additional 180 days, an added fine of up to $10,000 and a potential jail term of two years.
How Long Does a DUI Stay On Your Record?
A DUI will stay on your driving record for a period of time ranging between one and 10 years in most cases, depending on the state. Some states keep records of the DUI on file permanently. In almost all cases, a DUI will also add an assessment of between two and 10 points to your record, with these points generally being removed over a lengthy period of maintaining a clean driving record.
In Alaska, for example, a DUI will stay on your driving record forever. In Colorado, a DUI stays on your driving record for 10 years. In Hawaii, that period of time is five years.
Possible DUI Defense Strategies
The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution regulates the way in which law enforcement may search and seize people and places, and any official action that is aimed at gathering evidence is subject to its rules. This means that the police must have had probable cause to stop your vehicle in the first place, and also to detain or search you after a stop.
In addition, decisions by the United States Supreme Court have limited the way in which police can conduct chemical testing, requiring a warrant for any compelled blood draw. In addition to constitutional challenges, a DUI lawyer may be able to challenge a DUI in the following ways:
- Calling into question the accuracy of any chemical testing
- Challenging the way in which any field sobriety testing was conducted
- Questioning the way in which any breathalyzer used was calibrated
- Impeaching the accuracy of the police report
What Does a DUI Defense Lawyer Do?
An experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in DUI cases may be able to help increase your chances of providing an adequate legal defense in court, reduce penalties or perhaps even evade conviction, depending on the circumstances. Given the severity of DUI charges, both state and federal, and the impact that a conviction may have on your life, it is advised that you seek professional legal counsel if you are facing DUI charges.
These are just some of the ways that a criminal defense lawyer can help you with DUI charges. The specific arguments made will depend largely on the circumstances of your case. The best way to ensure that your case results in the best legal outcome possible is to retain the services of an experienced DUI lawyer.
When choosing a DUI lawyer, you should be sure to look at the attorney’s reputation and previous case results as some of the factors to consider. DUI law has become a highly specialized area, and it is important to retain an attorney who fully understands the most effective ways to defend against a DUI.