DUI Basics

Drunk driving is a serious criminal offense that can lead to significant consequences if a conviction is obtained. There is a variety of terms used to describe these charges that differ among states.

The generic and most widely used term for drunk driving charges is driving under the influence, or DUI. Some states refer to it as driving while intoxicated, or DWI, while others use operating under the influence (OUI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI). In the state of Ohio, it is referred to as operating a vehicle impaired, or OVI. These charges can be imposed regardless of whether the impairment is caused by alcohol or drugs.

What Specifically Do DUI Laws Prohibit?

DUI laws in each state prohibit drivers from operating a motor vehicle if their blood alcohol content is at or higher than .08 percent. In many states, drivers under the age of 21 may not have any alcohol in their system at all. With respect to commercial vehicle drivers, most states have adopted the regulations issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which set the legal limit for such drivers at .04 percent.

Implied Consent, Per Se and Zero Tolerance Laws

Implied consent means that people have given consent based on another action they have taken. In the context of DUI, people have consented to a chemical test of their breath, blood or urine when they have been issued a driver's license. Refusal to take a breath test, therefore, could lead to criminal charges in some jurisdictions.

A per se law as it relates to a DUI is any law that sets an objective standard for impairment by drugs in excess of a specified limit. Six states have these types of laws in effect for one or more drugs. Zero tolerance laws provide that a driver could be charged with a DUI for having any amount of drugs whatsoever in his or her system. Sixteen states have zero tolerance laws regarding one or more drugs.

DUI Convictions: Criminal Penalties

There are many different penalties that a driver could receive after being convicted on a DUI charge. Those found guilty of a misdemeanor could face jail time, a fine and a license suspension. People convicted of felony DUI could face prison and a license revocation in addition to a fine or probation. Interlock ignition devices may be required for repeat offenders in order for them to retain or eventually regain their driving privileges.

Driving Penalties

After a conviction for a DUI, a driver may lose his or her license for a period of several weeks to several years. However, a driver may be allowed to get a restricted license that makes it possible to drive to work or school. Drivers may also be limited as to how far they can drive as well as what hours they are allowed to operate a motor vehicle.

Plea Bargains in DUI Cases

It is possible that a defendant may be offered a deal by the prosecutor after being charged with a DUI. This may involve entering a plea of guilty to a lesser offense, such as reckless driving. It may help a defendant avoid more serious penalties such as jail time. These types of agreements often require the defendant to agree to perform a specified number of hours of community service as well as the payment of a fine and completion of alcohol or drug awareness classes. They are often offered to first-time offenders or to those who didn't have any aggravating factors, such as an extremely high BAC or an accident involving serious injuries to others, in their cases.

Get Advice From an Experienced Attorney

Those who have been charged with DWI/DUI may find it advisable to obtain the assistance of a DUI attorney as soon as possible. There are several strategies that a defense attorney might explore, including a challenge to the method in which sobriety tests were performed or to the constitutionality of the traffic stop itself.

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. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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