In an average year, over one million drivers will be arrested by law enforcement officers for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. After a motorist is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), it's up to the district attorney's office to file charges. The exact nature of criminal charges related to drunk driving depends on several factors. These factors include:
- Any prior convictions
- The severity of the offense
- The level of intoxication
- Whether the offense caused injury or death
This article covers the basics of a DUI offense and how a felony DUI differs from a misdemeanor DUI charge. It also addresses various types of drunk driving offenses and the elements of a standard DUI offense. Check out FindLaw's Guide to DUI Charges for a printer-friendly reference about these charges.
Elements of a DUI Offense
Each state has varying statutes covering DUI charges. However, there are common elements authorities must prove to obtain a drunk driving conviction. First, states must classify what driving under the influence means under the law. Generally, this is understood as poor or impaired driving, such as swerving or an accident, combined with the presence of alcohol in the driver.
Some states, however, have laws regarding per se DUI offenses. That means you can still be convicted of a DUI, even if you were driving fine, if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the established legal limit.
The next major elements of a DUI offense are driving and intoxication. While it may seem straightforward to prove you were driving a motor vehicle, there are some gray areas. These can arise when:
- Police don't arrive until a driver has exited a vehicle
- Someone is asleep in a stationary vehicle
- Someone is using a vehicle as a temporary shelter
Proving intoxication can be difficult, too. Often this factor comes down to police officer testimony about the condition of the driver or the results of a urine or blood test.
Types of DUI Offenses
Not all DUI cases are the same. A standard drunk driving charge can quickly escalate if certain factors are present. For instance, a typical DUI charge can become an automatic felony if you're driving on a restricted, suspended, or revoked license, or if you have a prior DUI conviction.
Charges and penalties can also increase if there are aggravating factors. Aggravating factors can include:
- An extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
- Children present in the vehicle
- Injury or death arising from your drunk driving
Refer to your state's laws governing DUIs to learn more about possible charges and penalties.
Hiring a DUI Attorney
Criminal charges, especially drunk driving charges, can carry severe penalties. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand DUI laws and DUI penalties after a DUI arrest. Whether you're dealing with a first offense or second offense as a repeat offender, a defense attorney can assist you in negotiating an appropriate plea bargain or crafting a criminal defense at a possible trial.
Since a DUI or driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction can lead to possible jail time and a driver's license suspension or revocation, it's important to take the charges against you seriously. Losing your driving privileges or having to perform community service can impact other areas of your life. Contact an attorney today to learn about driving laws in your jurisdiction.