Drunk Driving Law
Whether you drove home too soon from the bar or went cruising with a joint, drunk driving laws in each state and in the District of Columbia criminalize the act of driving under the influence of alcohol or other impairing substances. In the United States, drivers are presumed drunk if they have a blood alcohol concentration at or above the federally recommended blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, although many states have lower limits for commercial drivers and underage drivers.
LawInfo's drunk driving law section covers a variety of issues related to drunk driving, such as different type of charges, possible penalties, Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) issues, sobriety checkpoints, problems with testing, and more.
If a law enforcement officer pulls you over out of suspicion that you are drunk, the officer will ask your permission to conduct a field sobriety test. This test involves a set of tasks that would be difficult for a drunk driver to do. The officer may also administer a chemical test to detect alcohol using a breath-alcohol screening device or a blood screening. These tests have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, although breath tests are the most commonly used method.
Drunk Driving Charges
If a motorist fails the test and fails chemical testing, then he or she will generally be charged with "driving under the influence (DUI)", "driving while intoxicated (DWI)", or a similar charge. While these cases may seem straightforward, there are many potential defenses to a drunk driving charge.
The Fourth Amendment and Drunk Driving Stops
The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This right extends to both your car and your body. In order to stop your car in the first place, police must have a "reasonable suspicion" that you committed some sort of an offense, even something as minor as having a broken taillight. There is an exception if the stop is made at a sobriety checkpoint, which have been declared to be constitutional. Sobriety checkpoints involve officers stopping vehicles according to a predetermined order, such as every other vehicle passing through a designated area.
If you were not stopped as part of a sobriety checkpoint and it appears the officer lacked reasonable suspicion of a traffic or other offense, a DUI defense attorney may ask the court to suppress (throw out) any evidence gained from the traffic stop. If a police officer drew your blood for testing without probable cause or a warrant, an attorney may challenge the blood test and move to have the results thrown out.
Problems with Testing
A DUI attorney normally reviews any testing that was performed in a client's case. This review includes how roadside sobriety tests were administered as well as how any chemical testing was obtained, performed, and analyzed. Your attorney may challenge the way a test was administered or argue that there were issues with the testing machine itself.
Potential Penalties for Drunk Driving
The penalties for a drunk driving conviction vary depending upon a variety of factors. These include BAC levels, the number of prior DUI convictions, and whether the act of driving under the influence resulted in an injury. Generally, people may expect the consequences of a conviction to include one or more of the following:
- Loss of driving privileges
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Mandatory alcohol treatment and counseling
- Incarceration or house arrest
- Community service requirements
A DUI/DWI Attorney Can Help
In addition to asserting defenses to the charges, there are several ways DUI defense attorneys may help their clients. They can in some cases be able to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor in order to get the charges and subsequent penalties reduced. By asserting constitutional challenges, legal counsel may also be able to get the case dismissed. In addition to criminal proceedings, attorneys may help their clients by advocating on their behalf at DMV hearings regarding the suspension or revocation of driving privileges.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here.
Get a Free Claim Review from an Attorney
Maybe you told your friends "I got this" or "it's all good" -- either way, you managed to convince them you were "cool to drive" and the officer that pulled you over thought otherwise. A drunk driving charge is no small deal. If you have been charged with a violation of your state's drunk driving laws, get a free claim review from an experienced attorney.
Additional Drunk Driving Articles
- The Crime of Drunk Driving
- Defending a Drunk Driver Hit and Run Charge
- Possible Penalties for Drunk Driving
- The Constitutionality of Sobriety Checkpoints
- What is an Aggravated DUI?
- Overview of Drunk Driving Offenses in the United States
- Drunk Driving & Fourth Amendment Issues
- Breath/Blood Testing in Drunken Driving Cases
- DUI/DWI: The Crime of Drunk Driving
- Drunk Driving Defense Laws in Vermont
- Drunk Driving Defense Law in Rhode Island
- DUI Checkpoints
- What are "acts of God" and are they covered by my homeowner's insurance policy?
- DUI Traffic Stop: FAQ
- What happens when someone is arrested for drunk driving?
- Should I take police breathalyzer/blood test?
- Reasonable Suspicion for a DUI Stop
- DUI Field Sobriety Tests
- DUI Basics
- Implied Consent Laws
- Breathalyzer Test FAQ
- Can I Refuse a Breathalyzer?
- Questioning Breathalyzer Calibration
State Drunk Driving Articles
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York