John Q. Public's Mistake or Lack of Knowledge of Drunk Driving Laws Leads to Most Impaired Driving Arrests
Most Americans know a little bit about the drunk driving laws and drugged driving laws in their respective states, but not NEARLY enough. This gap in knowledge will be the primary culprit in most DUI-DWI arrests in 2009-2010. People using any impairing substance generally make very poor decisions about operating a vehicle after liberally partaking in their favorite "substance".
Over 51% of all Americans (age 16 and older) regularly consume alcoholic beverages. In light of this prevalent practice, and the well-known tendency of imbibing drivers getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. That is why over one million DUI-DWI arrests continue to be made in the United States each year.
This Legal Guide points out some hidden "traps" for the uninformed drinking (or medicating) driver. This brief overview may help some potential DUI-DWI arrestees make better decisions before risking being accused of America's most common crime.
It is not just about Alcohol any more - DUI-drugs, contraband and prescribed, make up an increasing number of arrests
First, there are several different ways a prosecutor may accuse a DUI-DWI case against a person accused of impaired driving. By far, alcohol is the most prevalent impairing substance used by drivers facing DUI-DWI charges. I will discuss alcohol first, but then explain other ways that impairment may occur, and lead to a DUI-drugs conviction.
If only alcohol is involved, there are two general ways that virtually all alcohol based "drunk driving" cases are brought against you: (1) impairment by consuming too much alcohol. I call this a "traditional" alcohol-based DUI-DWI arrest, where a law enforcement officer gathers circumstantial and direct evidence to support his or her "opinion" that you had consumed too much alcohol to drive safely; and (2) a "per se" DUI-DWI case is one that is based upon a "reading" or result from an EVIDENTIAL blood, breath or urine test "number" indicating that the driver had consumed alcohol that rendered a certain numeric reading (typically, 0.08 grams %.)
The range of available methods of proof used to arrest and seek conviction for DUI-DWI "impairment" by alcohol
The exact legal standard used in each state varies, but this is the general idea. This type of DUI-DWI occurs by the person driving a motor vehicle or "moving vehicle") (i.e., some states even prosecute people on horses, bicycles, riding lawn mowers, golf carts and wheelchairs --- whether MOVING or merely capable of moving) after drinking too much alcohol and then driving or operating the "vehicle". Starting in the 1970s, many states expanded their laws to try to deter impaired driving by enacting laws called "in actual physical control" laws. These laws were meant to deter drivers from even getting INTO a vehicle . These overly broad laws do not require proof that the vehicle mover one inch. If the driver has the keys and is drunk, that may be enough. This type of DUI-DWI case and does not require that the State (prosecutor) introduce into evidence any breath, blood or urine test, and (possibly) no results of you performing poorly on VOLUNTARY roadside sobriety exercises either.
The standard of proof needed to convict of "impaired driving" varies greatly from state to state
In some states, such as Maine and Arizona, the legal standard that is enacted in their statutes is "impairment (by alcohol) to the slightest degree". The language used in Georgia is "less safe" to drive by virtue of whatever alcohol was consumed. The wording is different, but carries the same general meaning. This level of proof is a very broad and expansive standard of proof intended to offer a jury the chance to convict a person on even the most transcient and minimal proof of alleged impairment. Other states define their statutory "level of proof" of alcohol impairment more narrowly or liberally (toward the drinking driver). These states, such as Texas, require proof that the mental OR physical faculties of the driver were impaired by alcohol "to an appreciable degree". One state, South Carolina, requires proof of impairment by alcohol of BOTH your mental AND physical faculties. This standard is America's most narrow and restrictive (upon the prosecutor) level of proof.
The other type of DUI-DWI by alcohol requires NO PROOF of Impairment - only the "number" generated by a forensic breath, blood ot urine test
A "per se" DUI-DWI alcohol case is one that is based upon an alcohol "reading" or numeric result from a blood, breath or urine test (or more than one of these tests) indicating that the driver had consumed enough alcohol to put him or her at or above that state's legal limit for that driver. Since 2005, every state in the United States now follows a 0.08 grams percent level for adult (21 and over) drivers who are not operating a commercial motor vehicle (big rig). The typical "per se" standard for commercial drivers is 0.04% (or less). Underage drivers are held to a much more strict standard. For example, a driver under age 21 stopped in GA is allowed up to a 0.02 reading, whereas a driver in GA who is age 21 or more (who is not operating a commercial motor vehicle) is allowed to have up to a 0.08 reading. An adult driver stopped in NC is allowed the same 0.08 result, but drivers under age 21 are held to a 0.00 reading. Impairment need not be proven in any "per se" alcohol case.
DUI-DWI "drugs" is a completely different type of "impaired driving" that is the same as a DUI-DWI "alcohol" conviction
Drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol are covered under different DUI-DWI provisions in most states' laws that prohibit driving while impaired by such drugs. The drugs can be over-the-counter medications, such as Nyquil, Sudafed or Benadryl, or can be prescribed drugs or can be "contraband" drugs, such as marijuana, crack cocaine or crystal meth. These "impairment by drugs" cases are often not detected as readily by law enforcement officers because no pungent and well-recognized smell of a suspected impairing drug, such as alcohol or marijuana, is detected. Plus, only a small fraction of police officers have obtained adequate training on drug impairment signs and symptoms to reliably move forward with an arrest based upon "probable cause" to believe the driver was impaired. Many officers are skilled in a course called "verbal judo" wherein officers are trained to casually ask the driver if he or she has taken any medications or drugs. A "yes" answer can often mean a DUI arrest
A DUI-DWI drugs conviction can provide as much or even MORE punishment than a DUI-DWI alcohol case
Some states have enacted statutes that call for even more harsh punishment for DUI-DWI drugs cases than for DUI-alcohol cases. For example, in Georgia, statutory "surcharges" added to DUI-DWI drugs cases is more than double the normal surcharge for a DUI-DWI alcohol case. In addition, a total loss of driving privileges (i.e., no limited "work" permit) for even a first offender DUI-DWI drugs offender can occur, whereas an adult driver convicted of a first offense DUI-alcohol charge can get a "work permit" immediately after the criminal conviction. Finally, Georgia's well-known "Hope Scholarship" program that permits any high school graduate in Georgia with a "B" average or better to get FREE full in-state college or technical school tuition can be lost for a recipient with ANY "drug-related" conviction, but is not treated the same if a Hope Scholarship recipient receives an alcohol-related conviction. This loss of scholarship benefits is not tied strictly to underage drivers either.
Other impairing chemicals or volatile inhalants can lead to a DUI-DWI "inhalants" or "noxious vapors" conviction
Many states now have statutes to deal with impairment by chemicals such as industrial solvents such as GHB (gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid) or GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone)that can be ingested (consumed in a liquid form) or inhalants, such as fumes from glues, aerosols or paint thinner vapors as an impairing substance. the type of "loss of faculties" from these substances can be much more pronounced and sudden than from impairment by other drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana. Detection of this type of impairment may require the special services of a specially-trained DRE (DRT) officer, or a medically-trained EMT or physician. Tell-tale signs of paint "huffing" may be observed from gold or silver paint around the driver's nostrils, or from the "chemical" smell that can be detected when the driver has spilled or oversprayed some of the volative chemical on his or her clothing.
Almost all states also have DUI-DWI "COMBINATION of SUBSTANCES" impairment offenses that cover being impaired by use of two or more substances
Finally, criminal law statutes exist in most jurisdictions that cover a "combination" of alcohol and drugs, or alcohol and inhalants, or drugs and inhalants, etc. The bottom line is that if you get impaired on anything, there is likely a law that allows for your prosecution for the crime of drunk/drugged/impaired driving. The laws currently on the books of virtually every state are designed much like a large "fishing net" on a trawler ---sweeping up any impaired "fish" that a law enforcement officer finds (or comes in contact with, such as at a roadblock or minor fender-bender) on the highways operating or "in actual physical control" of a motor vehicle.
The Best Bet is to stay away from any type of "vehicle" or means or transport if any impairing substance has been taken or ingested
By explaining how broadly most states have "defined" the prohibited act of "driving under the influence" many misconceptions and miscalculations by the average citizen can be cleared up. Hopefully, for readers of this Legal Guide, a needless DUI-DWI arrest (and a possible conviction) can be averted. For a drinking, drugged or "huffing" driver to try to "guess" when he or she is at risk of being arrested for (and possibly convicted of) drunk driving (or drugged driving) is a dangerous and foolhardy game. The laws relating to these crimes are NOT always logical or fair. The laws, as presently enacted, are written broadly and comprehensively so that every person who consumes alcohol or drugs is discouraged from not only utilizing any means of mechanized transport (whether by engine, pedal-power or wheels in some jurisdictions) afterwards, but punished harshly if a violation of that state's DUI-DWI laws occurs. Jail time a loss of driving privileges, and a criminal record may result.
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