Drunk driving occurs when a person is driving an automobile, after consuming alcoholic beverages to the extent that his ability to drive a motor vehicle is impaired.
Drunk driving can be called by a number of different names or abbreviations, depending upon what state you are in. Common names are "Driving While Impaired" (DWI), "Driving Under the Influence" (DUI), or "Operating a motor vehicle while Under the Influence of intoxicating Liquor" (OUIL).
Many people charged with drunk driving protest that their driving was fine. They believe either that the officer made up an excuse to pull them over, or that the "mistake" that the officer observed was appropriate or had nothing to do with their driving.
Every state imposes a maximum permissible blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers, and you can be considered legally impaired even if you do not feel that you are in any way affected by the alcohol you consumed. The legal limit for blood alcohol is normally 0.08%, although drunk driving charges are often possible based upon your driving conduct even at a lower BAC.
It is thus possible to be charged with drunk driving based solely on the measurement of alcohol in your breath, blood or urine. When your blood alcohol is measured to be above the legal limit, you can potentially be convicted of drunk driving no matter how well you were able to operate your vehicle.
Even if the traffic stop had nothing to do with your driving conduct, it is possible to end up with a drunk driving charge. For example, you may be stopped because there is a mechanical problem with your motor vehicle or after an accident. If the officer finds you to appear intoxicated due to such factors as slurred speech, poor balance or coordination, bloodshot or glassy eyes, a conspicuous odor of alcohol, confusion, clumsiness, combativeness or disorientation, the officer may investigate further for evidence that you were operating your vehicle while intoxicated.
A per se impaired driving charge allows a conviction for drunk driving based solely upon a driver's blood alcohol content, without the need for further evidence that the defendant's ability to drive was impaired as a result of intoxication. A per se offense can only be charged if your blood alcohol content is known.
As a broad rule, defendants do have the right to represent themselves in court. At the same time it is not a good idea to try to represent yourself against any criminal charges.
Drunk driving may seem to you like a relatively simple offense, but it is in fact a relatively complicated charge, and it carries significant potential penalties and financial consequences. There are many technical defenses that an attorney may be able to raise to assist you either in avoiding conviction, negotiating a lesser charge, or in reducing the consequences of conviction such as a driver's license suspension or increased insurance costs.
The penalty for a drunk driving offense varies significantly from state to state. All drunk driving offenses carry potential jail sentences.
- Most first offenders are given lesser punishments, such as driver's license restrictions, fines, mandatory attendance of drunk driver's education classes, mandatory attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or alcohol counseling, community service, or probation.
- It is common for people to be sentenced to jail for a second or subsequent drunk driving conviction.
- Some jurisdictions sentence all drunk drivers to jail following conviction, although the term may be very short (e.g., one weekend) for a first offender.
- Habitual drunk drivers face more severe sanctions, such as driver's license revocation, incarceration, and larger fines.
In most states the potential penalty may increase if a minor child was a passenger in the impaired driver's vehicle, or if an accident or injury results from the impaired operation of the vehicle. Some states also impose higher penalties where a defendant driver's blood alcohol is exceptionally high, or if the defendant was driving in a particularly dangerous or reckless manner while impaired.
Impaired driving charges involving the use of pharmaceutical products or illicit drugs often carry more serious penalties than alcohol-related drunk driving charges. For drivers who operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, even for first offense violations some states allow felony charges.
In some cases a convicted drunk driver will be required to install an ignition interlock device on his car, requiring him to pass a breath test in order to start the ignition. Some states will immobilize or impound the drunk driver's car. Some drunk drivers also have a breath testing device installed in their homes, and have to submit to random tests on that device when called by their probation officers.
Some states have vehicle forfeiture statutes, and those laws may allow the state to try to take away your car as the result of a drunk driving conviction.
Some states impose very serious penalties on habitual drunk drivers, including the possibility of felony charges that carry possible prison terms. For example, in Michigan, the crime of OUIL 3rd is a felony offense, punishable by up to five years incarceration.
For impaired drivers, the possibility of being involved in an accident that results in a serious or fatal injury is very real. To be blunt, drunk drivers cause a lot of accidents and, due to their diminished capacity to drive, are less likely to avoid accidents even when they're not at fault.
- Many states make it a felony offense to cause a serious bodily injury as the result of a drunk driving accident.
- Many states have specific felony statutes for drunk driving causing death. Drunk driving causing death can also result in manslaughter or "second degree murder" prosecution.
If the state can prove that the driver's intoxication was the cause of an accident, the driver can face a very long prison term. In some states, the driver's intoxication at the time of an accident is sufficient to support a conviction, even if another driver was at fault.
If an impaired driver injures or kill somebody, the driver will also likely be sued by the injured person or their family. Any damages caused to people or property as a result of drunkenness are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, meaning that an impaired driver can have a judgment hanging over his head for many years, perhaps indefinitely. Many states will not allow you to have a driver's license until you satisfy (pay off) a judgment against you for injuries you cause in an automobile accident.