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DUI Basics

It is a crime in every state to drive while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances. Having a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction on your record can cause you many problems. DUI penalties will complicate your life, no matter your age. You will lose your driver's license for a while. You may have to serve jail time and complete community service. Some states require installing an ignition interlock device, even if you are charged with a misdemeanor.

What Is a DUI?

Driving under the influence is the act of operating or being in control of a motor vehicle while an intoxicating substance impairs your ability to operate that vehicle safely. A motor vehicle can be a car or truck, but it may also include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), mopeds, boats, lawnmowers, golf carts, and snowmobiles. Some state laws include riding a bicycle, skateboard, or horse within the scope of their DUI laws.

Impaired driving varies in what they call the offense. Driving or operating under the influence (DUI or OUI) and driving or operating while intoxicated (DWI or OWI) are all the same criminal charges. State laws around drunk driving are similar throughout the country. The legal limit for your blood alcohol level (BAL), or the amount of alcohol in your system, can vary by state. The legal BAC level or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can also change if you are below the legal drinking age.

Driving or operating under the influence of drugs includes a wide range of intoxicating substances, not just controlled ones. Prescription drugs, sleeping medications, and any substance that causes impairment can lead to a DUI charge.

When You're Pulled Over

When a law enforcement officer suspects you may be driving while intoxicated, they will pull you over or stop your vehicle. Law enforcement will occasionally set up checkpoints to screen for DUI drivers.

If the officer suspects intoxication, they will ask you to take part in field sobriety tests. They will also conduct a chemical test to screen you for intoxication. A chemical test may include a breathalyzer test and a blood test and/or urine test at a hospital. All states have implied consent laws that require you to submit to these chemical tests. Refusal to undergo these tests can mean immediate license suspension, depending on your jurisdiction.

If you fail the breath or field test, or the police officer feels you are too impaired to drive, you are not allowed to drive away. You will be arrested, and your vehicle will get towed at your expense.

Criminal Charges and Penalties

All states recognize "per se" intoxication for DUI. This means that if you are over the legal limit for intoxication in your state, the state needs no other evidence to prove impaired driving charges.

Many states have zero-tolerance laws. These prohibit anyone below the legal age to have any intoxicants in their system while driving.

Penalties for a first offense vary by state. They often include fines, community service, possible jail time, and license revocation. You may have to attend substance abuse treatment. Many states will require installing an ignition interlock device in your vehicle after reinstating your driving privileges. An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer test that will prevent your vehicle from functioning if it detects any breath alcohol content.

You may be able to get a limited driving license so that you may work during specific hours. This may require a court appearance or a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hearing.

Penalties and consequences increase with your second offense. The severity of the criminal penalties will increase depending on your blood alcohol content and whether you are a repeat offender.

If you hold a commercial driver's license (CDL), you may lose your job with a DUI charge or conviction. Certain state and federal agencies also have zero tolerance for DUI convictions.

You can learn more about the ins and outs of impaired and drunk driving laws in the articles presented below. If you have been arrested for a DUI or DWI, you will need legal advice from an attorney familiar with the laws in your state. Contact a criminal defense lawyer to help you through the process.

Learn About DUI Basics

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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