Drunk driving is a serious offense that can have big consequences. Depending on your state, a person is generally considered to be legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or 0.10%.

If you operate a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs that impair your senses, you can get ticketed, arrested and/or charged for driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). While your first offense is usually considered to be a misdemeanor, you may be charged with a felony if you injured someone, damaged property or if this was not your first drunk driving offense.

What Tests are Used to Determine Intoxication?

If a police officer suspects that you are driving drunk, they have probable cause to pull you over. This can occur if they observe you speeding or swerving on the road or if they observe alcohol and/or drug paraphernalia in your vehicle. After you are pulled over, a police office will likely request to administer some of the following tests to determine your sobriety:

  • Breathalyzer (can be both at the scene or at a police station);
  • Field sobriety tests (including the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk/turn and one-leg stand tests); and/or
  • Blood/urine testing.

The breathalyzer and field sobriety tests are almost always performed first at the scene. If you fail the tests the officer will have grounds to ticket and arrest you for drunk driving. If you refuse to perform the tests at the scene, a police officer can still arrest you if they suspect you have been drunk driving.

Things like, smell of alcohol on breath or open containers in the car (even if they are empty) can be evidence that the police officer can rely on to arrest you for drunk driving. Taking breath mints or using mouthwash will not hide the existence of alcohol, in fact mouthwash can make it even worse as it often uses alcohol.

What Happens After My Drunk Driving Arrest?

After you are arrested for drunk driving, you will be assigned a court date. If you are charged with a DWI or DUI you will have to decide whether you want to fight the arrest, take a plea deal or proceed to trial. A criminal defense attorney can assist you with this task. You also may have some defenses available to use, which include the following:

  • You were not the driver of the vehicle;
  • There was no probable cause to pull you over; or
  • The tests were unreliable or inaccurate.

Keep in mind that the basis for a DUI varies from state to state. Some states will arrest individuals who are drunk in a parked car. If the car was parked on the side of the road, a drunk person behind the wheel, with the keys in the ignition, but the car is not on can still be considered a DUI.

The location of the person who is drunk (passenger’s seat or driver’s seat), the location of the keys (in in the ignition, on the floor, in the person’s pocket), where the car is parked (parking lot, driveway, or side of road), and even if the person is asleep or awake. All of these factors can determine if the defendant will be convicted of a DUI or if the charges will be dismissed.

What Penalties Can I Face for Drunk Driving?

Penalties for drunk driving convictions will vary by state and severity of the crime. Some possible penalties you can face are:

  • Large fines;
  • License suspension or restriction;
  • Loss of driver's license;
  • Probation;
  • Community service;
  • Mandated drunk driving courses;
  • Prison time;
  • Inability to work at a job that is related to driving a vehicle; and
  • Increased insurance rates.

You will almost always face a harsher sentence if other crimes are involved. For example, if someone is seriously injured or dies because you were drunk driving there is a high probability that you will face jail time. Additionally, if you have prior drunk driving offenses on your record you will most likely face larger penalties.

If you work as a professional driver, like for a trucking company, then your employer has a right to know of your DUI conviction. They also retain the right to terminate your position. Remember that a DUI conviction can impact your employment, as well as your personal life.

Should I Hire an Attorney for a Drunk Driving Arrest?

If you are arrested for drunk driving, your first step should be to contact a DUI lawyer. An attorney can inform you of to learn your rights, defenses and possible penalties that you may face. An attorney can also help you to get the best possible deal, especially if this is your first offense and no one was seriously injured.