The definition, charges, and penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) vary by state and depend on a number of factors.
DUI is an acronym for Driving Under the Influence. Every state has its own DUI laws, but in all states it comes down to two basic criteria:
All 50 states set the legal limit for BAC at 0.08%. Above that level, you can get a DUI even if you’re not visibly impaired. If you are a commercial driver, the limit may be lower, usually 0.04%.
BAC can be measured one of three ways:
For the urine and breath tests, there’s a conversion formula used to determine BAC. Because of the math involved, defense attorneys sometimes question the validity of BAC levels based on urine or breath samples.
If you refuse a BAC test, most states will automatically suspend your license.
You can also get a DUI with BAC levels below the legal limit or after taking drugs/medications (even legal ones).
If you get pulled over, the officer may have you perform one or more field sobriety tests:
They may also make note of things like whether you smell of alcohol or your speech is slurred.
States differ on how they define impairment. In some states, even the slightest impairment is grounds to convict you of a DUI. In others, the prosecutor has to show you were not able to drive with the same care as a sober person.
In most cases, a simple first-offense DUI (no injuries or damage) is a misdemeanor. But if someone is injured, you could be charged with a felony DUI, and reckless homicide if someone dies.
A third DUI (and sometimes even a second) may also be a felony.
You can also face serious penalties even for a misdemeanor:
Aggravated DUI, which can result from added complications such as having an especially high BAC, usually increases jail time, fines, or both. The BAC level at which extra penalties kick in varies, but tends to range between .15% and .20%.
You may also have to attend DUI classes, alcohol or drug treatment, or do community service.
Although DUI is one of the most common terms used to describe impaired driving, some states use others, either in addition to or instead of DUI:
States may also use these acronyms in an effort to better describe the offense. For example, Ohio previously used OMVI but changed its laws to include non-motorized vehicles, like bicycles, so it started using OVI instead.
If you’ve been charged with a DUI, a lawyer can help you sort out your options based on your state’s laws.
Depending on the state, DUI can refer to being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, either, or both.
When considering your case, a lawyer will ask you things like: Is this your first DUI, or one of many? What was your blood-alcohol content (BAC)?
DUI outcomes depend on the circumstances of the arrest, but if you're found guilty you could face heavy fines.
An experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand your states DUI laws and even help you reduce your charges.
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