A DUI stands for “driving under the influence” (commonly called “drunk driving”), which is a crime in every state. It occurs when someone is pulled over by a police officer and is found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over the legal limit. Some states statutes vary on the legal limit of alcohol content in one’s blood, but it generally ranges from .08% to .10%. Police officers typically use a breathalyzer test to determine the driver’s BAC.

What is the Penalty for Driving Under the Influence?

Driving under the influence can either be a misdemeanor or felony. For most first-time offenders, a DUI is charged a misdemeanor, which carries less severe consequences than a felony DUI. The penalty for a misdemeanor DUI depends on the state in which you reside, but it can include jail time, community service, and revocation of your license. The penalty for a felony DUI varies by state, but generally can result in a state prison term in addition to revocation of license.

Stages of a DUI Case

The stages of any DUI case vary slightly depending on the defendant and the particular circumstances. Typically, they include the following:

  • Arrest: If a police officer has probable cause to conduct a traffic stop and discovers that the driver is driving under the influence by administering a breathalyzer test, the driver will be arrested.
  • Booking and Bail: After the arrest, the driver is brought to a police station and “booked.” At this time, the police officer obtains personal information about the suspect, files his police report, takes the suspect’s fingerprints, etc. A bail hearing also takes place. The bail hearing will determine whether the offender can be released on bail (i.e. that the suspect is trusted to make court appearance without being detained in a jail cell).
  • DUI Arraignment: The defendant is then formally arraigned, or read his charges in a court of law by a judge. The judge then asks the defendant to submit a plea, either “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.”
  • Plea Bargain: A DUI defendant may make a deal with the prosecution for a lighter sentence by entering a “guilty” plea. Plea bargains are generally rare in DUI cases, but they can be associated with serious DUI charges with repeat offenders.

Stages of DUI Trial

If the defendant does not enter a plea bargain, his case will go to trial. Below are the steps a defendant should expect if his case goes to trial:

  • Pretrial Motions: Before the trial, the defendant’s attorney can bring various motions trying to exclude damaging evidence from being used by the prosecution during the trial (known as pretrial motions). These typically include BAC testing results, incriminating statements made during the arrest, etc.
  • Trial: The trial consists of choosing a jury, opening statements by the defendant’s attorney and the prosecution, testimony from witnesses (including police officers), jury deliberations, and finally, a verdict.
  • Sentencing: If the defendant is convicted of a DUI, he can serve time in jail, pay fines, be required to do community service, or install “ignition interlock,” among other penalties.
  • DUI Appeal: If eligible, the defendant may submit a request asking for a higher court to review the case for legal errors.

Even after the trial is formally over, the defendant may still be involved in administrative matters related to the DUI charges.  For example, the defendant may be required to attend mandatory DUI traffic courses or meetings with a probation officer as part of their sentencing. 

Should I Seek Legal Counsel?

DUI cases can sometimes be complex, especially if the case involved serious injury or property damage. If you are facing DUI charges, you have the right to request the assistance of a lawyer. A local DUI/DWI lawyer will be able to assist you at every stage of your case.  Your lawyer can help answer your questions, address your concerns, and represent you in a court of law.