Criminal Law FAQ
Answers to Common Questions About DUI/DWI
Although it may have many names, including driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI), drunk driving and drunken driving, operating a car after consuming or while using alcohol or drugs is a serious matter. As the name varies, so do the laws in each state concerning DUI/DWI. However, there is one constant: it can cause serious injuries or death and it is against the law. The following provides answers to some common questions that arise in situations involving DUI/DWI.
How serious is DUI/DWI?
DUI/DWI is a serious problem. Thousands of Americans are killed each year in DUI/DWI accidents. Although many of those accidents result in the death of the intoxicated party, a significant and unfortunate number involve the death of “innocent” parties who were in the wrong place at a time when someone chose to drive a car while impaired. DUI/DWI is dangerous both for those individuals who choose to operate a car under the influence and for those individuals who are on the road at the same time. In addition to the severe physical injuries that may result from a DUI/DWI accident, there are also serious emotional and mental scars that may never fully heal for either the offender or his or her victims.
Is it “safer” to drink beer, wine or hard liquor in excess?
Any type of alcohol is dangerous when consumed in excess. Different types of drinks contain different concentrations of alcohol or what may be called “proofs.” The proof rating is two times the alcohol concentration. Therefore, 200 proof liquor has a 100 percent alcohol concentration. Most hard liquors have a higher alcohol concentration than most wines and most wines have a higher alcohol concentration than most beer, meaning that it may take fewer drinks containing hard liquor or fewer glasses of wine than beer to become intoxicated. However, the alcohol concentration of a drink is not everything. You also have to consider the size of the drink that you are consuming. Therefore, a shot glass of hard liquor, which is usually only about 1 1/2 ounces of alcohol, may end up having the same effect as one five-ounce glass of wine or one twelve-ounce beer.
Drinking any alcoholic beverage to excess is never a good idea. You may seriously injure yourself or others if you decide to operate a car. However, even if you decide not to drive, you may also suffer other physical injuries. Excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, heart or brain. Excessive use of alcohol within a short period of time can lead to death.
What is a blood-alcohol content?
Blood-alcohol content (BAC) or blood-alcohol level (BAL) is a measure of how much ethanol is in your blood. Ethanol in your blood is a byproduct of the broken-down alcohol that you consumed. BAC and BAL are scientifically measured by calculating the ratio of ethanol to blood within your system. Therefore, if you have a BAC of .15, you have .15 grams of ethanol per 210 liters of breath, which equals .15 grams of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood. If your BAC or BAL is above .08 and you are operating a car or other vehicle (including some machinery), you are probably breaking the law in all US states.
You may still be charged with DUI/DWI even if your BAC or BAL is under .08
Do I have to take a breath-analyzer test?
A breath-analyzer test measures a person’s BAC or BAL. The amount of ethanol that is in your system is the same as the amount of ethanol that is “on” your breath when you exhale. As a result, police are able to test your BAC or BAL by having you breathe into a breath analyzer. Whether you are required to take the test depends on the law of the state you are in at the time you are pulled over. Under the law in some states, if you refuse to submit to a breath-analyzer test or other similar test for measuring your BAC or BAL, such as a blood test, your license will automatically be suspended. If you are later found not to have been intoxicated or impaired, your license may still be suspended in some states as a result of your failure to cooperate.
Can I be charged with DUI/DWI for driving after taking drugs?
Yes, although the crime may have a different name. If you operate a car under the influence of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana or any other illegal substance, you can be charged with a crime. In addition, it is not only illegal drugs that can get you into trouble. Many prescription medications and some over-the-counter medications carry with them specific warnings that they may impair abilities and should not be used while operating any motor vehicles. Check the labels on all medications carefully. Do not get behind the wheel if you are taking any medications that are incompatible with safe driving.
What will happen if I have more than one DUI/DWI conviction?
The consequences of multiple DUI/DWI convictions depend upon the state in which you received the convictions. In most jurisdictions, there is a “step-up” method for handling multiple DUI/DWI convictions for the same person. In some states, a person will be required to pay a fine and perhaps serve a minimum term of imprisonment for a first conviction, in addition to having their license suspended. For a second offense, some states may increase the fines and imprisonment or term of suspension. Additional offenses may result in drivers license revocation, incarceration or the loss of driving privileges for life. Additionally, in some states, a judge may order that the offender participate in an alcohol or drug treatment and education program. Of course, if you seriously injure or kill another person while operating under the influence, you may face additional charges and civil lawsuits.
Are “alternative” penalties appropriate for DUI/DWI?
In many cases “alternative” penalties are allowed in DUI/DWI cases. A judge hearing your case may have discretion in deciding how you should be punished. In situations where you have seriously injured or killed another person, the judge may not have such discretion, but in first-time offenses or in less serious matters, a judge may be able to require you to perform community service, such as giving talks about the dangers of drunk driving. In other situations, a judge may require you to place a license plate on your vehicle or a mark on your drivers license that indicates that you have been convicted of DUI/DWI.
Should I get an attorney if I have been charged with DUI/DWI?
Although you are not required to have an attorney, it is advisable to retain a defense lawyer if you have been placed under arrest or charged with DUI/DWI. These laws are strictly enforced and an experienced DUI/DWI attorney can help protect your rights. Some states require that the police provide you with a list of local DUI/DWI defense attorneys. Your chances of successfully making defense arguments or finding mistakes that may have been made in your arrest are much greater if you have an attorney assisting you. If you are faced with a DUI/DWI charge, an attorney is your best bet for avoiding or reducing potential penalties or imprisonment.
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