Driving under the influence (DUI) basic concepts

In all states, it is a crime to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The specific offense can be called “driving under the influence” (DUI), “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “operating under the influence” (OUI) and even “operating a motor vehicle intoxicated “(OMVI). Beyond the name, the DUI laws determine that it is illegal to drive a car, truck, motorcycle or commercial vehicle if:

  • the ability of the person driving the vehicle safely is impaired by the effects of alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs such as analgesics or counter drugs like antihistamines; or
  • The level of intoxication of the driver exceeds the limits established by DUI, as the concentration of alcohol in blood.

Sobriety tests and chemicals

When a law enforcement officer stops a suspect vehicle because the driver may be intoxicated, it performs an examination of “sobriety” and the driver can apply for consent to carry out some kind of proof of chemical poisoning.

In general, field sobriety tests are to request the driver to perform a series of tasks to assess any decline in physical or cognitive abilities of the person. Examples of field sobriety tests include: make the driver walk in a straight line heel-to-toe; to recite the alphabet backwards; and use the official examination of “horizontal nest games” (eye and flashlight).

Chemical tests can be performed when the vehicle stops, with a breathalyzer that measures blood alcohol concentration, or in a hospital, with a urinalysis and blood. Many states allow the suspected DUI driver chooses which type of test undergoes for chemical substances.

Refusing to a chemical test: implied consent laws

All states have laws “implied consent” to require drivers of vehicles undergo some kind of test for chemicals, such as the breathalyzer or blood or urine, if it is suspected of DUI. The logic behind these laws is that the privilege of driving a vehicle in the streets and roads of a state shows that drivers have consented to testing DUI when a police officer believe, reasonably, that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If a driver refuses to submit to such tests, implied consent laws stipulate mandatory punishments such as suspension of driver’s license, usually for a period of six months to a year. Often related sanctions for refusing to undergo testing are more severe than those imposed for failing a DUI test. In most states, the fact that a driver refuses to submit to a chemical test can be used to intensify the sanctions imposed on it if is convicted of DUI.

DUI convictions: criminal sanctions

A DUI conviction may entail penalties such as fines, imprisonment, and probation or community service. Some state laws impose minimum penalties for first offenders, which are aggravated every time reoffend. The severity of the penalties varies according to the circumstances of the offense, including:

  • if the driver has a history of DUI violations;
  • if the driver was driving a commercial vehicle when DUI was committed;
  • if the DUI offense occurred when a child was in the vehicle;
  • if the DUI occurred while another dangerous violation of the law, such as driving recklessly;
  • if the DUI offense resulted in a car accident that caused property damage;
  • if the DUI offense caused a car accident in which there were other injured or killed;
  • if the driver had not reached the minimum legal drinking age at the time of the DUI violation.

DUI Arrest and Conviction: Sanctions of driving privileges

In addition to possible sanctions, a DUI arrest or conviction will have an immediate negative impact in driving privileges.

Most state laws allow motor vehicle departments immediately suspend the driver’s license of any person who operates a vehicle with an alcohol concentration above the limit of blood poisoning set by the state or any driver who refuses to take the BAC test.

It can also confiscate the driver’s vehicle and probably force DUI offender to pay substantial administrative costs. This loss of privileges may occur even before a conviction for DUI. Most states allow the driver arrested for DUI for a provisional license and request an administrative hearing in which to appeal the license suspension or request restoration of certain limited privileges.

As in the case of sanctions, the impact of a DUI arrest or conviction in driving privileges varies according to the history of DUI driver violations and severity of violations.

A sanction of increasingly common, especially for repeat offenders of DUI is the mandatory installation of a device “lock on” to the vehicle of the offender. This device scans the driver’s breath, measuring his or her blood alcohol concentration and prevents operate the vehicle if alcohol is detected at higher level  than that set by law, such a level of concentration above 0.02. When this punishment is used, most states require that the DUI offender to pay the costs of installation, rental and maintenance of the ignition interlock device. Rental costs are high, sometimes up to three dollars a day, so a DUI offender could expect to pay a lot of money if ordered using an ignition interlock device.

Plea agreements in DUI cases

Due to recent trends that focus on the prevention of DUI offenses with severe penalties on offenders, most district attorneys refuses to negotiate plea agreements in cases of DUI. This is especially true if the evidence of the violation is strong. In fact, many states have enacted laws that prohibit state attorneys negotiate or approve with the accused. However, sometimes a DUI charge can be reduced to a lesser offense, such as driving recklessly.

Consult an attorney specializing in DUI

If you or a family member is arrested for DUI, you may need the services of an experienced DUI lawyer. An attorney who specializes in defending DUI charges evaluate all the evidence, including the procedure and the results of field sobriety tests and chemical substances, to ensure that their rights are protected. It is also important to talk to a doctor familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction lawyer. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact a lawyer specializing in DUI.