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What Constitutes Drunk Driving or Driving While Intoxicated?

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the most commonly used metric in determining the level of alcohol concentration in a person's body. All 50 states, with the exception of Arizona, have set the legal limit for adults over the age of 21 at a BAC level of .08%. In Arizona, you can be charged and convicted of driving under the influence with any level of alcohol in your body if you are "impaired to the slightest degree." A.R.S. 28- 1381 (A) (1).

Experienced criminal defense attorneys are well-equipped to fight DWI charges, while protecting the rights of their clients. If you have been charged with a drunk driving offense, do not wait to contact a lawyer. Not only will you be dealing with the court, but also the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Your lawyer can represent you in both instances, while providing guidance throughout the entire process.

What is the Difference Between DWI and DUI?

The terms, "Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)" and "Driving Under the Influence (DUI)" are frequently used interchangeably. However, some states classify DWI and DUI separately, with the former usually being a more serious charge. DUI can also mean a person was driving under the influence of drugs, which is also taken very seriously.

Other states use other terms in reference to drunk driving, such as: operating under the influence (OUI), operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI), driving while ability impaired (DWAI), operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII), and driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII).

What are "Per Se" DWI/DUI Laws?

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) "per se" laws generally establish that if a person has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above .08 percent, that individual will be considered legally intoxicated. Simply stated, if you drive with a BAC of .08 percent and higher, you can be convicted of DWI/DUI. For minors under the age of 21, there is a zero-tolerance policy, and makes driving with any level of alcohol in their bloodstream illegal.

Individuals who drive commercial vehicles are upheld to a higher legal standard than other motorists, and can be charged with a criminal offense if their BAC is .04 percent and higher. This standard also applies to individuals who drive for ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Can a Person Be Arrested for a DWI if their BAC is Lower than the Per Se Intoxication Limit?

Absent evidence of per se intoxication, it is still possible that a person may be charged with DWI. Even if a person’s BAC is lower than .08 percent, if he or she was driving while impaired, a DWI conviction could occur. The arresting officer must be able to provide the court with evidence of the individual’s impairment, such as visible weaving, slurred speech, and failing field sobriety tests.

In cases that involve an arrest for a charge of DWI/DUI with a BAC that is under the standard legal threshold, it is imperative for the defendant to contact a criminal defense attorney. DWI convictions are expensive, and can impact a person’s life in a multitude of ways, such as increased insurance premiums and even career and education opportunities.

What is a DWI/DUI Plea Bargain?

In some cases, the prosecution and defense can make a deal known as a plea bargain, in which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense. Plea bargains are essentially a way to avoid the costs associated with going to trial, in exchange for the defendant being convicted of a lesser offense.

For example, a defendant may be able to plead guilty to a "wet reckless" and agree to complete an alcohol diversion program, pay fines, or do community service.

Experienced DWI attorneys are able to negotiate with the prosecution and will quite often obtain a reasonable outcome for their clients. If a person’s BAC is near the legal limit, getting a reduced charge can be crucial for avoiding the implications that come with a DWI conviction.

What Factors are Taken Into Consideration in Issuing Penalties for DWI/DUI Intoxication?

States vary in how they determine the penalties for a DWI/DUI conviction. Penalties such as: license suspension or revocation, steep fines, jail or prison time, home confinement, the installation of an ignition interlock device, and community service are common.

In making a determination on a defendant’s penalties, the court will usually take into consideration the following:

  • Prior conviction history
  • Whether death or injury occurred as a result of the DWI charge
  • Whether any property damage occurred
  • Whether the driver was driving a commercial vehicle
  • If the driver was age 21 or over at the time of arrest
  • Whether or not a minor was in the car at the time of arrest

Should You Hire a Lawyer If You Have Been Charged with a DWI/DUI?

If you have been arrested for DWI or DUI, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer will advise you of your rights, build your case, and help you obtain the best possible outcome for your situation.

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