Driving with a BAC or blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is illegal in all 50 states. DUI, or driving under the influence, includes alcohol and any type of intoxicant or narcotic that can impair your physical abilities and judgement. This also includes prescription drugs. A driver can theoretically register a BAC of .00 percent and still get a DUI, if the police officer has probable cause to stop the vehicle.
When you drive on public roads, you have given your implied consent to be tested to see what the alcohol or drug content of your blood is. These tests are administered at the request of a police officer, and he or she must have reasonable grounds to think that you have being driving under the influence.
Note that DUI offenses are charged at the state level, and each state has its own specific DUI laws.
YouTube Special Feature
DUI Attorney Michael Worgul from Pittsburgh PA talks about the DUI charge in length.
Each state has different definitions of what DUI is, and some states call the offense by another name. Some of the common alternative names for DUI under state laws are:
- DWI – driving while intoxicated
- OUI – operating under the influence
- OWI – operating while under the influence
- DWAI – driving while ability impaired
- OUIL – operating under the influence of liquor
- OMVI – operating a motor vehicle
- OMVWI – operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated
- OWUI – operating while under the influence
All states have what is called a ‘per se’ DUI law, which makes it an offense in and of itself to drive with a BAC of .08 or above. This means that if the driver blows a .08, he is presumed to be drunk, regardless if the driver shows any signs of being intoxicated. This is an arrestable offense regardless of any other violations, injuries or accidents.
All states also have an implied consent law. This means that because you have a driver’s license, you have consented to submitting to an alcohol breath test or a blood alcohol test, if you are asked to by police. If you refuse, state laws usually find that you will face more severe consequences than if you consent.
Implied consent laws do differ by state. Also, implied consent applies in the state in which you were arrested and not where you got your license.
DUI Crimes and Charges
DUIs fall into one of two categories:
- Misdemeanor: This is common for a first time DUI offender who did not injure or kill another person.
- Felony: For more serious DUIs, the driver can be charged with a felony. This usually occurs if the driver kills or injures someone else while drunk. You also can be charged with felony DUI if you have a BAC of well over the legal limit. If you have prior DUIs, a subsequent DUI can be charged as a felony and you could go to jail for years. This can occur even if you did not injure anyone.
To prove that you are guilty of a DUI, the state must prove that you drove the vehicle, and that alcohol was present in your blood at a BAC of .08% or higher. In some states, you can be found guilty of DUI even if you are simply sitting in your vehicle with the engine off. As long as you have a BAC of .08% or higher, you still can be charged.
In all US states, a first offense DUI is a misdemeanor and you can receive six months in jail. Your jail time can be enhanced in certain circumstances. For instance, some states require stricter punishments for a DUI offender with a BAC of 0.15% or higher. This is more than double to legal limit.
Some states also mandate minimum jail sentences for a first offense, which could range from a few days to a few weeks. Subsequent offenses can lead to a jail sentence of months or even years.
For a DUI that is classified as a felony, jail terms of several years are common.
Courts in the various states can impose fines for DUI from $500 to $2000.
Driver’s License Suspension
You are likely to have your driver’s license suspended; in many states, a first time offender loses their license for 90 days. A second offense equals a one year suspension, and third can mean a three year suspension.
Some states also may require the convicted drunk driver to attend an alcohol teaching and prevention program, or require him to do community service. In TX, for example, a minor convicted of DUI can receive the regular DUI punishments but also must perform community service.
DUI Sentencing Guidelines
Generally, first time DUI offenders can receive six months in jail, although some of that term could be suspended. Some states do have a minimum jail time for first time offenders. In CA, there is a 48 hour minimum, mandatory jail time. In AZ, the minimum is 10 days, but 9 of them can be suspended.
For a second or third misdemeanor offense, you can be sent to jail for six months to a year. For felony DUI where there is serious injury or loss of life, jail terms of three years or more are common.
DUI Statute of Limitations
Generally, the statute of limitations for misdemeanor DUI is 18 months from the date of the offense.
DUI cases are prosecuted under the state laws where the offense occurred, but some DUI offenses have had national implications:
- Bell v Burson: For years, the US government considered having a driver’s license a privilege and not a right, and there were few remedies for a driver who wanted to contest a license suspension. The US Supreme Court recognized that having a driver’s license can be essential for one’s job or career. Thus, driver’s licenses can no longer be taken away without procedural due process as laid out in the 14th Amendment.
- Berkemer v. McCarty: The Supreme Court was called upon in this case to apply Miranda to a DUI case. When is the suspect actually in custody, for the purpose of determining when the Miranda warning has to be given before the suspect is questioned? Miranda request that the warning has to be given when the suspect is in custody. However, the USSC did not provide clear guidance regarding when a DUI suspect is in custody.
DUI Quick Links & References
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
- Impaired Driving: Get the Facts (CDC)
- Drunk Driving Fatalities (Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility)
- State Drunk Driving Laws (Governor’s Highway Safety Association)
DUI Laws by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming