The term drunk driving specifically refers to operating an automobile after drinking while under the influence of alcohol. It is also known as driving under the influence (“DUI”), or driving while intoxicated (“DWI”).

Although a DUI is generally reserved for driving under the influence of other intoxicants such as illicit drugs, and a DWI typically refers to driving while drunk from alcohol, the two may be used interchangeably. In most states, a person’s blood alcohol content level would need to be over a specific limit before they could be charged with drunk driving. Generally, this level is above 0.08%.

Many states also have a zero tolerance law for minors, or those under the age of eighteen. This means that minors may not have any level of alcohol at all in their system while driving. Further, while most states charge drunk drivers with a DUI, every state has its own set of criteria regarding what constitutes a drunk driving offense. There are different varieties of the potential charges that may apply to any given case.

It is important to note that drunk driving is considered to be much more serious than a simple traffic citation. Drunk driving is considered a criminal offense, which means that it will appear on your criminal record. What that specific charge is issued, and how that charge appears on your criminal record, will of course vary according to what state issued the charge.

What Tests are Used to Determine Whether a Driver is Intoxicated?

Before a police officer can administer a test in order to determine if a driver is intoxicated, they first need probable cause. What this means is that the officer must have witnessed the driver doing something or driving in such a way that the officer has reason to believe they are driving drunk.

An example of this would be if the driver was speeding or swerving all over the road. Another example would be if the officer pulled the driver over for something unrelated, but observes alcohol or drug related paraphernalia in the vehicle.

Once the officer has established probable cause, they will likely ask the driver to step out of their vehicle so they may administer a sobriety test. The following are common police tests for sobriety after a traffic stop:

  • Field Sobriety Tests: These tests are most commonly administered at the scene and include a variety of different activities designed to test a person’s balance and agility. The reason these tests are administered is because a drunk person is considered not to have the balance and agility and to complete these activities.

    • This is because intoxicated individuals motor skills are typically impaired. Sobriety tests could include touching a finger to your nose, reciting the alphabet, or standing on one foot while counting to a specific number. The officer will make observations and come to a conclusion about the driver’s possible substance impairment,
  • Chemical Breath Test: This test is what’s most commonly known as a breathalyzer test. A handheld device measures the concentration of alcohol in a person’s system by having that person blow into the device.

    • A chemical breath test may be administered at the scene where the vehicle was pulled over, or at a police station. Drivers can refuse to take chemical tests, as the evidence they gather will likely be used against the driver in court; however, refusal will likely result in the suspension of their driver’s license,
  • Blood or Urine Test: A sample of the driver’s blood or urine is taken in order to measure the amount of a chemical substance in their system. These tests are mostly accurate, as they pick up on any traces of any substance a person has ingested.

    • However, these tests require a medical professional to obtain the sample, so they are generally not administered at the scene. Additionally, the police will need to obtain a warrant before being allowed to conduct such testing.

Are There Any Defenses to Drunk Driving?

There are a few defenses to drunk driving, the availability of which will be determined based on the specifics of every individual case. The following are some of the most defenses to drunk driving:

  • Inadmissible or Faulty Test Results: As previously mentioned, a person’s BAC level may be tested through a device. If you can prove that the device was somehow inaccurate, or faulty, that may serve as a drunk driving defense;
  • No Impairment: This defense may be utilized when the driver was not actually drunk or impaired at the time of testing;
  • No Probable Cause: As previously mentioned, a police officer must have probable cause to pull over a driver and test them for impairment. They need probable cause to stop and/or arrest a person for drunk driving. Failure to establish probable cause could serve as a defense; and/or
  • Not Driving at the Time: Some states require that the police officer must actually witness driving while intoxicated. This means that the defendant must have been driving at the time of the officer’s action. If the police officer only observed the person sitting in a parked car, they may not have probable cause to make an arrest.

However, some states will determine that the individual committed a DUI if they were in the parked car but the keys were in the ignition. For example, if the person fell asleep in the car after they drank, then it will depend on where they keys were in the car and where the person was sleeping.

Above all, defenses are applied on a case by case basis, so it is always best to consult with a local lawyer to determine what defense will work for you based on your situation.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Been Charged with Drunk Driving?

Drunk driving laws and available defenses will vary from state to state and from case to case. Additionally, some cases may even require the hiring of an expert witness in order to provide input when a case is especially complicated.

Therefore, it is in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable DUI/DWI attorney if you are being charged with drunk driving. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, as well as any defenses that may be available to you. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.