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What You Need to Know About Drunk Driving Charges

 

When Is a Driver Drunk?

The definition of drunk driving is left up to each state, which decides what a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) has to be to operate a motor vehicle safely. In every state, however, that level is set at .08%.

Many states also have lower levels of permissible blood alcohol content for certain classes of drivers. For example, many states have limits as low as 0.04% for commercial truck drivers and even lower limits for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21. Many states also have enhanced drunk driving laws, which allow for harsher penalties if your BAC is, for example, double the legal limit.

What Are the Penalties for Drunk Driving?

While every state now considers driving with a BAC of .08% to be driving drunk, penalties for a drunk driving conviction vary widely. However, in nearly all states, a conviction on a charge such as driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), or operating under the influence (OUI), include some combination of:

What is "blood alcohol level"?

 Blood alcohol level (BAC) is a term used to describe the level of alcohol in the bloodstream of a person arrested for drunk driving. It is used in court as evidence of that offense. The most common method of determining BAC is through a breath test, although blood and urine testing is done in some instances. If the level is found to be at or over .10, or .08 in some states, the test results can establish a presumption of impairment.

Can I refuse a Breathalyzer?

Although the answer can vary by state, in many cases, a refusal is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties. In addition, if the case against you is proven, there may be additional penalties for the refusal, above and beyond those for the drunk driving offense.

Are breath test results always accurate?

Some courts allow the defendant in a drunk driving case to challenge the scientific accuracy of Breathalyzer tests in general, whereas others may allow challenges based on the particular circumstances of a test, such as improperly calibrated equipment or inadequately trained officers. If the test results are inadmissible or can be challenged, the case will have to be proven based on other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony and field-sobriety test results.

What if I lose my license but continue to drive?

If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to drunk driving chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences, including fines and imprisonment. The more prudent course of action is to rely on friends and family for rides or use public transportation.

How can I get automobile insurance after a drunk driving conviction?

Although your rates will likely be higher, your insurer may continue to insure you even after a conviction. A subsequent clean driving record will result in lower rates in the future. If your insurer drops you as a result of the conviction, another insurance company may be willing to accept the risk. In fact, some companies specialize in offering insurance to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving, but the rates are much higher.

  • Jail sentences ranging from a few days to several months or a few years
  • Fees for court costs and fines
  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation
  • Mandatory classes on the dangers of drunk driving
  • Usage of an ignition interlock device to drive
  • Court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation
  • If you are ever arrested and convicted for driving drunk more than once, each conviction will likely come with worse penalties. The penalties will also increase in severity if you cause an accident with injuries or fatalities.

Getting Through the Drunk Driving Stop
Even the calmest person can have a tough time maintaining their composure during a drunk driving stop. The flashing lights in your rearview mirror, the cop’s flashlight, and the questions can be tough to process.

But it’s important to remember that you have the same rights as people in other arrest situations:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • You have the right to refuse a search of your car
  • You have the right to refuse to take roadside sobriety tests (which could include walking a line, reciting the alphabet, breathing into a portable breath-testing device)
  • However, if you refuse any of the above requests, it’s important to know that police may still arrest you for drunk driving if they have probable cause that you are drunk.

Probable Cause for the Stop
Police will stop you if they have probable cause to believe that you might be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed a list of things that might indicate that a driver is drunk. That list includes:

  • Taking a turn too wide
  • Straddling or crossing lane lines
  • Weaving and swerving
  • Striking or almost striking another vehicle
  • Braking too quickly
  • Speeding
  • Running red lights or stop signs

If an officer stops you for an unrelated traffic violation such as speeding, you may end up with a drunk driving charge. This could result from the officer observing the smell of alcohol coming from the car or on your breath, your slurred speech, or bloodshot eyes, which may also provide probable cause for a drunk driving evaluation.

Some states also have laws that allow police to set up roadside checkpoints where they can stop any vehicle. In some cases, those checkpoints may also have judges on hand to sign search warrants to allow vehicle searches. In this situation, you still have the right to refuse to answer questions, but it may lead to an arrest.

Once you are arrested, police will likely administer a Breathalyzer test at the police station. Every state now has an “implied consent” law that makes taking the test mandatory. You can refuse to take the test, but that may mean you face an automatic penalty, such as a driver’s license suspension.

Do You Need a Lawyer for a DUI?
As soon as you have the chance to make a phone call, your first call should be to a lawyer who has experience handling drunk driving cases. You may not realize it at the time, but there may be several options for mounting a defense against the charges, such as a lack of probable cause or police not getting your permission to search your vehicle.

The potential penalties for a conviction are too high to simply plead guilty to “put it behind you” without talking to an attorney first. An attorney will put you in the best position to minimize any damage from an arrest.

Speak to an Experienced Drunk Driving Attorney Today.  This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.