Driving While Intoxicated vs. Driving under the Influence

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Is There a Difference between DWI and DUI?

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) are often used interchangeably. Both of these charges, after all, stem from a criminal charge involving a driver being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, depending on the state, these charges may be separate and distinct.

What Is the Difference between DWI and DUI?

In the states that distinguish between Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI), the DUI will likely be exclusive to alcohol, whereas the DWI will include both alcohol and drugs. Regardless, both charges require the officer to make a subjective determination about the driver’s impairment.

However, it is important to emphasize that some states do not make any distinction between DUI and DWI. In fact, some states use different terms altogether, such as "Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated." Moreover, some states have crafted what are called "zero tolerance" states, meaning not is there no distinction between a DUI and DWI, but that any BAC over the legal limit is considered impaired.

Which of the Two Crimes Is More Serious?

In some jurisdictions that distinguish between the two, the DUI is generally the lesser charge. Thus, on paper, a DWI would be more serious than a DUI. In these states, it is not uncommon for the prosecution to offer a plea bargain to the DUI in lieu of taking a DWI to trial.

What Are Some Examples of the Differences between DUI and DWI?

It may be confusing to understand how a DUI can be distinct from a DWI. Consider these two examples to help illustrate how different states classify the crimes.

In Texas, a DWI arrest occurs when an officer suspects that the person driving is intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol. One of the characteristics of a DWI is a driver has lost control of their normal mental functions. A DUI, however, usually occurs when a minor is pulled over with any amount of alcohol in their system, regardless of impairment. Essentially, the distinction between the two charges is the age of the driver.

In New York, a DWI means driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over .08%. If that same person is driving with a BAC of .07%, or even lower, they may not be facing a DWI, but rather the lesser charge of DUI.

Seeking Legal Advice

As you can tell, the laws surrounding driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be confusing and complicated. If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI, an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area can explain to you the differences between the two, if there are any, and any defenses you may have.

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Last Modified: 05-07-2014 02:33 PM PDT

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