Possible Penalties for Drunk Driving

If you are found or plea guilty to the offense of drunk driving, there are a variety of possible penalties you will face. Since the offense of a drunk driving is controlled by state law, penalties upon a conviction will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, the penalties are usually progressive and become more severe for each repeat offense and the increase of the amount of alcohol in the blood, as determined by chemical testing.

While states are free to define their own legal levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) that presumes a person is drunk, Congress has established a level of 0.08 as the legal threshold and states who wish to receive the maximum possible amounts of federal highway funds must comply with that limit.

Moreover, the penalties are imposed when a driver of a motor vehicle is convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level that is above the state’s blood alcohol limit. This means that a driver must be arrested, charged, and either plea guilty or is found guilty of an alcohol impaired driving offense. Generally in most states, a convicted DWI offender could face suspension of his or her license, a fine, jail or imprisonment, or a combination of the three penalties, as well as other penalties.

Losing the Right to Drive

When you first got your driver’s license as a teenager, your parents may have often repeated that driving is a privilege, not a right. Well, the state concurs with their assessment that driving is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, many states make licenses conditional on compliance with certain rules and regulations. For example, a driver’s license may be suspended in many states if a driver refuses to cooperate with a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. These types of laws are known as Implied Consent laws because upon being issued a driver’s license you have given your consent to abide by the rules of the road, including submitting to field sobriety testing.

Drivers who cooperate with the police and who are found to have a BAC above the legal limit is also likely to face license suspensions. The suspension period will vary state to state and from case to case because each state has the authority to establish the ranges for a license suspension period, as well as procedures to have your licenses restored. Most states will require you to request a hearing within a very short time period. You should contact a drunk driving defense lawyer who can help you to get your driving privileges restored. 

Financial Penalties

The court may impose a fine on a driver who is found guilty of drunk driving. The fines could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and depend on whether or not you have any prior drunk driving offenses. However, drivers should be aware that there are other financial penalties for drunk driving. The driver will also be required to pay court costs, and could also face paying attorney fees, if a lawyer is hired. Also, if you were involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving impaired with alcohol or drugs, you could be forced to pay for the property damage and any personal injuries, including medical costs as a result of your drunk driving. Further, and perhaps most significantly, the driver’s automobile insurance rates are more than likely to skyrocket and that additional cost will recur annually.

Prison Time

Some states impose prison time, particularly on repeat offenders, those with high BAC levels or those who causes the death or serious bodily injury upon another during the time they operated a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other Penalties

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense and states have become harsher on the penalties imposed upon a conviction. Many states also require drivers to participate in mandatory alcohol education and prevention programs and in some cases to seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Judges may also impose sentences of community service on drivers who operated a vehicle while intoxicated.

Additionally, several legislatures across the country have enacted laws that require a drunk driver to install a mechanism on their vehicle’s dashboard under some circumstances. For example, under California law if you caused serious injury while driving drunk, the judge could force you to install an instrument known as an ignition interlock device (IID) prior to the engine starting. The IID collects a sample of your breath to measure the level of alcohol in your breath at several intervals.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense that endangers the public safety. Accordingly, every state has provided judges with an array of penalties to impose on drivers convicted of this type of offense. If you have been arrested and are facing an alcohol impaired driving conviction, it is best to contact a criminal defense attorney who specializes in drunk driving related offenses.

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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