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Understanding the Elements of a DUI | LegalMatch Law Library

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What is a DUI?

A DUI, also known as "driving under the influence", is when a person is caught operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a substance like alcohol or, in states that have legalized it, marijuana. The driver does not need to be marked impaired, and a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher will automatically result in a DUI.

What is Required for a DUI?

While DUI laws vary from state to state, most states will require the following elements to be present for a DUI to apply:

  1. The driver is operating a vehicle; and
  2. The driver is intoxicated.

What Does It Mean to Operate a Vehicle?

While this seems like a simple question, the answer isn’t very clear. Each state has their definition of what it means, and it can vary from:

  • Driver has the engine on but the car is parked;
  • Keys are in the engine and driver intends to turn it on;
  • The driver is pushing the vehicle;
  • The car is broken down and driver is in the driver’s seat;
  • The engine is running but the driver is asleep; and
  • If the keys aren’t in the ignition but the driver has the keys and is behind the wheel.

The above reasons vary, but they have all been used to successfully convict a person of a DUI. Ultimately, what it means to operate a vehicle will vary from state to state and it is important to ask an attorney as to what your jurisdiction considers to be operating a vehicle.

What is Considered a Vehicle?

In most states, a DUI can be issued for:

  • Automobile;
  • Truck;
  • Motorcycle;
  • Boats;
  • Tractors;
  • Mopeds;
  • Snowmobiles; and
  • Any kind of heavy machinery that can be driven.

Some states even consider horses or bicycles to be vehicles which means that much like what it means to operate a vehicle, the vehicle itself is also up to interpretation.

What Does it Mean to Be Under the Influence?

Now that many states have legalized marijuana, it is possible to be charged with a DUI if you smoke/imbibe cannabis and drive. In fact, it is also possible to be charged with a DUI if you’ve taken strong prescription drugs (even if you obtained the medication legally).

While there aren’t tests like a breathalyzer for marijuana or medication, police officers/highway patrol can administer the same sobriety field tests as they would for alcohol. It’s important to keep in mind that it is not just alcohol that can result in a DUI.

Does it Matter Where I Am Driving the Vehicle?

Some states do specify that a DUI can only be issued if the driver operated their vehicle in a public area. Other states do not specify, so that means even if you were driving your vehicle on private property you can still be charged with a DUI.

Importantly, you do not have to be on a road or a highway to be charged with a DUI. Parks, parking lots, road shoulders, and trails, anywhere you can drive a vehicle, are places where you can be charged with a DUI.

Do I Need Help From a Lawyer with my DUI Charge?

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, then you should contact a local criminal defense lawyer. A DUI is a serious charge and it carries penalties like a suspension of your driver’s license, jail time, probation, and/or a fine. You already made the first mistake of getting a DUI, don’t make the second mistake or not getting the right lawyer to help you.

Photo of page author Janice Lim

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 01-19-2018 12:52 PM PST

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