Drunk driving is a very serious offense that can lead to some major consequences. Depending on the laws of 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 a person chooses to operate a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs that impair their senses, then it can result in having to face many legal ramifications, such as getting ticketed, criminally fined, arrested, and charged for driving while intoxicated (DWI), or the more commonly known term, driving under the influence (DUI).

While an individual who has been charged with drunk driving usually only receives a misdemeanor for their first offense, they can still be charged with a felony if they have injured another person or caused damage to property. A person may also face felony charges if it was not their first drunk driving offense.

Additionally, though most states will charge a drunk driver with a DUI, every state has their own set of criteria for what is deemed a drunk driving offense, as well as different varieties of the potential charges that may apply.

Finally, it is important to note that drunk driving is more than just a mere traffic citation; it is considered a criminal offense. As such, if you are convicted of a drunk driving offense, it will appear on your criminal record.

What Tests are Used to Determine Intoxication?

If a police officer suspects that a person is driving drunk, then they will have probable cause to pull that person over. This can occur under many circumstances, including when they see that a person is speeding or swerving all over the road, and if they observe alcohol or drug paraphernalia (e.g., certain types of pipes) in the vehicle.

After a person gets pulled over, a police officer will likely request that they step out of the vehicle and ask them to take one of the following tests to determine whether they are sober:

  • Breathalyzer: This is a handheld device that measures the concentration of alcohol in a person’s system by having them blow into it. It can be administered at either the scene where the car was pulled over or at a police station.
  • Blood or Urine Testing: This test is a bit more complicated as it requires a medical professional to do the testing and produce lab results. Additionally, the police will need to obtain a warrant first. Thus, this test is not normally administered at the scene.
  • Field Sobriety Tests: These are commonly given at the scene and include a variety of different activities that are designed to test a person’s balance and agility, such as touching a finger to your nose, reciting the alphabet, or standing on one foot while counting.

If the person fails any of these tests, the officer will have grounds to ticket and arrest them for drunk driving. Also, if a person refuses to perform any of the tests that can be administered at the scene, then a police officer can still arrest them if they suspect that the individual has been driving drunk.

Lastly, things like the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or from open containers in the car (even if they are empty), can be used as evidence that a police officer may rely on to arrest them for drunk driving.

What Happens After a Drunk Driving Arrest?

After a person gets arrested for drunk driving, they will be assigned a court date. If they are charged with a DWI or DUI, then they will have to decide whether they are going to fight the arrest, take a plea deal, or proceed to trial.

Also, there might be some defenses available to use against the charges. These may include the following:

  • The person being arrested was not the driver of the vehicle;
  • There was no probable cause to pull them over; 
  • The test itself or the results were unreliable or inaccurate; or
  • There was insufficient evidence to make an arrest.

As previously mentioned, the requirements for a DUI offense varies widely from state to state. Some states will permit the police to arrest an individual who is drunk, even when their car is in park.

For example, in certain states if the police find a car parked on the side of the road with a drunk person behind the wheel and their keys are in the ignition, but the car is not turned on, they may still be able to charge them with a DUI.

Depending on the laws of the state, there are also many factors that will determine whether the defendant can be convicted of a DUI or if the charges will be dismissed. Some of these involve:

  • The location of the person who is intoxicated (e.g., are they in the driver’s seat or passenger’s seat?);
  • Whether the person is asleep or awake;
  • The location of the car keys (e.g., in the ignition, on the floor, in the person’s pocket, etc.); and 
  • Where the car is parked (e.g., in a parking lot, driveway, or side of the road).

If you are facing charges for a DWI or DUI, it may be in your best interest to consult a criminal defense attorney. They can help you decide the best path to take, whether any defenses are available, and what factors are applicable under the laws of your particular state.

What Penalties Can I Face for Drunk Driving?

The penalties for drunk driving convictions will vary by state law and the severity of the crime. Some potential penalties that a person may face are:

  • Serious criminal fines;
  • License suspension or restriction;
  • Loss of driver’s license;
  • Probation;
  • Prison time;
  • Community service;
  • Mandated drunk driving courses;
  • Increased insurance rates; and 
  • Inability to work at a job that requires driving a vehicle (e.g., cab or truck driver).

Also, if other crimes are involved in connection to the drunk driving, it will almost always result in a harsher punishment. For instance, if someone was seriously injured or died due to the actions of a drunk driver, there is a high probability that they will receive jail time.

Additionally, if the person has prior drunk driving offenses on their record, they will typically have to pay larger fines.

If an individual is employed as a professional driver, such as for a trucking company, then their employer has a right to know of the DUI conviction. The employer will also have a right to terminate that person’s job.

As discussed above, a drunk driving offense can have far-reaching consequences.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Drunk Driving Arrest?

If you have been arrested for driving drunk, the first step that you should take is to contact a DWI lawyer. A lawyer with experience in this field can inform you about your rights, any defenses that are available to your case, and the possible penalties that you may face if convicted.

An attorney can also potentially help you to get the best possible deal, especially if this is your first drunk driving offense and no one was seriously injured.