“BAC” is an acronym that stands for “blood alcohol content.” A person’s blood alcohol content is a measurement, expressed in a percentage, of the amount of alcohol that is found in that person’s bloodstream at the time of measurement.
Most often, a person’s BAC is detected through the administration of a medical exam. This produces information that law enforcement may utilize when determining whether or not a person should be charged with drunk driving or another criminal action related to having a high BAC. A person’s BAC may also be measured by hospital emergency rooms or another medical facility in order to administer care to an individual.
The term drunk driving may also be known by several other names, such as Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”), Driving While Impaired (DWI), or Operating Under the Influence (“OUI”). Generally speaking, drunk driving refers to the consumption of alcohol, while terms such as DUI or DWI often include intoxication through other substances, such as illegal drugs.
Once a person has been pulled over, the law enforcement officer who administered the stop will most likely request that the driver submit to a test to determine whether they are operating a vehicle while drunk. In general, one of the following tests will be performed in order to determine whether a driver is drunk or sober:
- Breathalyzer: This test utilizes a handheld device to measure the concentration of alcohol by having the person blow into the device. A breathalyzer test may be administered either at the scene or at the police station;
- Blood or Urine Testing: Blood or urine tests require a warrant to be administered and are traditionally performed at a medical facility.
- It is important to note that many states have laws that state the operation of a motor vehicle carries an implied consent of the driver to have a blood or urine test to determine their BAC level;
- Field Sobriety Tests: Field sobriety tests include a variety of activities designed to test a person’s balance and agility.
- Examples of commonly utilized field sobriety tests include touching a finger to your nose, reciting the alphabet, or standing on one foot while counting to a specified number.
If the driver that was pulled over fails any of these sobriety tests, the officer will have the authority to ticket and arrest them for drunk driving. This means that the individual will receive drunk driving violations and possible felony charges if they have a particularly high BAC level.
Each state has adopted a law and has a definition for what constitutes a person being legally drunk. In general, a person is considered to be drunk if their BAC is at or above 0.08%. There are some states that have designated 0.10% as their blood alcohol content percentage for being legally drunk.
What Is Considered a High BAC Level?
As previously mentioned, each state has its own set of laws and requirements concerning what constitutes a high BAC level. In general, the range for what is considered to be a high BAC level in the United States is any BAC that is over 0.15%. This is because most enhanced legal penalties for drunk driving involve a BAC of over 0.15%.
Once again, any person who is charged with drunk driving and is found to have a high BAC level may receive enhanced criminal penalties if they are convicted of their drunk driving charges. In other words, when a person has a high BAC level, it is more likely that they will receive harsher criminal penalties.
What BAC Is Too High for Driving?
Once again, in most states, a person’s blood alcohol content level needs to be over a specific limit before they could be charged with drunk driving. Generally, this level is at or above 0.08%.
However, many states also have a zero-tolerance law for minors or those under the age of majority. The age of majority determines who is classified as a minor in that state for purposes of drunk driving charges and is typically between 18 and 21 years of age. This means that minors may not have any level of alcohol 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.
It is important to note that drunk driving is considered to be much more serious than a simple traffic citation or moving violation. Drunk driving is considered a criminal offense, which means that it will appear on an individual’s criminal record. Further, certain drunk driving charges associated with high BAC levels may result in enhanced penalties and felony charges in some cases.
What Kind of Enhanced Penalties Are Imposed Under High BAC Laws?
In general, if a person is found guilty of driving over the legal limit for BAC in their jurisdiction, they will receive a legal punishment based on the laws of that jurisdiction. Although the exact penalties for driving with a high BAC vary by state, the punishments are generally harsh in order to deter or prevent the recurrence of drunk driving incidents.
Criminal sentencing for driving with a high BAC is largely dependent upon whether the incident was a first-time offense, as first-time drunk driving offenses can sometimes result in a lesser sentence. First-time offenses generally include a traffic citation or short-term license suspension.
Legal consequences for drunk driving increase in severity if the driver is cited for repeat or habitual drunk driving offenses. Repeat offenses for driving with a high BAC can result in serious criminal charges, even felony charges, with legal punishments including:
- Monetary Fines: First-time driving with a high BAC offense generally involve fines of a few hundred dollars, with repeat offenses involving criminal fines exceeding $500;
- Incarceration and Probation: Driving with a high BAC is generally punished with a jail or prison sentence.
- First-time drunk driving offenses generally result in a county jail sentence of no more than one year.
- Repeat offenders may face a sentence to be served in a state prison facility exceeding one year;
- Driver’s License Penalties: Individuals found to be guilty of driving with a high BAC often have their driver’s license suspended, restricted, or outright revoked;
- Restitutionary Measures: If there are financial losses resulting from the drunk driving incident, the criminal judge may also order the defendant to reimburse the victim for any such losses.
- Punitive damages may also be required if malice and/or criminal intent to cause harm was involved in the incident.
As mentioned above, states may impose harsher or more severe penalties for driving above a certain BAC level. The following is a list of state penalties associated with drunk driving with a high BAC:
- California: In the state of California, driving with a BAC level of 0.15% or higher is deemed to be excessive enough to warrant enhanced criminal penalties. These include the suspension of one’s driver’s license, mandatory attendance for alcohol and drug counseling or treatment, fines, and a prison sentence.
- The court will also use a high BAC level to determine whether a person should be granted probation or not. In addition, the court will also consider this factor in deciding if an ignition interlock needs to be ordered as well.
- An ignition interlock may also be attached to an individual’s car, which requires them to take a breathalyzer test before they can start their car;
- Florida: The state of Florida also recognizes a BAC level of 0.15% or higher as the percentage that will prompt criminal courts in Florida to issue enhanced criminal penalties on a drunk driver, including:
- Up to nine months in prison, criminal fines of between $1,000 and $2,000 for a first-time conviction, along with an ignition interlock device for six months;
- Up to one year in prison, criminal fines between $2,000 and $4,000 for a second conviction, along with an ignition interlock device for at least two years; and
- Up to one year in prison, criminal fines of not less than $4,000 for a third or subsequent conviction;
- Illinois: The state of Illinois punishes drivers who have a BAC level of over 0.16% with a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and 100 hours of community service for a first-time offense.
- A second violation increases the criminal fine to $1,250 and a minimum jail sentence of two days.
- A third conviction will carry a mandatory criminal fine of $2,500 or greater and a minimum of at least 90 days in prison;
- New York: New York imposes enhanced penalties on drivers with a 0.18% or higher BAC level, which results in increased jail time, criminal fines, and criminal charges for aggravated driving; and
- Texas: Texas also has enhanced penalties for a BAC level of 0.15% or higher, including imprisonment of up to one year in jail or longer, as well as monetary fines.
As with the other states listed above, habitual offenders are subject to harsher penalties, including longer periods of imprisonment and heavier criminal fines.
What Should I Do if I Am Arrested for Drunk Driving DUI/DWI?
If you have been arrested for drunk driving, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced DUI or DWI lawyer as soon as possible. Because state laws vary widely in terms of drunk driving, it is important that you work with an area attorney so they can help you successfully navigate your state’s specific laws.
An experienced and local DUI or DWI attorney will be able to help you assert any available legal defenses on your behalf and will be able to help negotiate a less harsh criminal penalty. They may also be able to get the charges brought against you dismissed. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.