The term “DUI” refers to driving under the influence. Every state has some form of a DUI statute that prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence, or when intoxicated by a substance that is known to impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle.
Some states have different classifications for different DUI offenses, such as those caused by alcohol, illegal drugs, over the counter drugs, etc. Additionally, some states include other vehicles besides automobiles, such as bicycles, mopeds, or golf carts.
Any substance that impairs a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle could be included in a state’s laws regarding what constitutes a DUI. Alcohol is the most common, but some other substances that may contribute to a DUI include:
- Illicit or illegal, contraband drugs such as heroine, cocaine, PCP;
- Prescription medications that cause impairment, such as various painkillers, sleeping medications, muscle relaxers, etc.; or
- Over the counter medications, specifically in overdose proportions, such as antihistamines like Benadryl.
During a DUI stop, law enforcement will commonly utilize one of the following roadside tests:
- Field Sobriety Test: This is where a police officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, and perform a series of actions designed to test your balance and agility. The officer will observe and draw conclusions about your possible substance impairment.
- Chemical Breath Test: A breathalyzer test will be administered in order to determine the concentration of alcohol in your system.
- Blood or Urine Test: A medical professional will be required to obtain the specimen, and a lab will test the specimen to determine whether any substances are present, and at what level of concentration.
Once a person has been properly convicted of a DUI, they will then face sentencing. In almost all cases it is a judge that determines sentencing, not a jury. The judge considers a variety of factors when determining a DUI sentence, but in general, they commonly will look at:
- Past criminal history;
- Whether the defendant was the main actor in the crime, or just an associate;
- Whether there were any outside pressures to commit the crime; and
- Whether anyone was hurt as a result of the crime being committed.
Judges often look at how high the Blood Alcohol Content was at the time, and many states have an “aggravated DUI” charge if the BAC went beyond a certain number. Whether the defendant pleads guilty, makes a plea bargain, or is found guilty of a DUI, they must face sentencing. Most sentencing commences immediately after a final disposition of the DUI charges.
As such, if the defendant accepts a plea deal, they will immediately face sentencing. However, after a full trial, it is not uncommon for sentencing to be a separate procedure that is usually held several weeks after a conviction. Punishment for a DUI conviction may include one or all of the following:
- Fines and court costs;
- Suspension or revocation of your driver’s license;
- Community service;
- Court ordered drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs;
- A suspended sentence, meaning the full original conditions of fines and jail time will apply if specific conditions are violated;
- Short term jail sentence;
- Long term jail sentence, if the DUI seriously injured or killed someone; or
- Ignition interlock installation.
As previously mentioned, criminal sentencing depends on the crime committed, and a judge will consider several factors when sentencing the defendant. In addition to the previously discussed criteria, a judge may also consider the following when sentencing a DUI conviction:
- Previous DUI record and overall criminal history;
- The impact of the DUI on any victims;
- The defendant’s personal, economic, and social circumstances. When considering this factor, if the defendant has an impressive work record, solid family history, and is positively contributing to their community, their punishment may be positively influenced by these factors; and
- Regret or remorse expressed by the defendant .This means that if the defendant impresses upon the judge something special when they read the defendant’s personal statement before official sentencing, the punishment may be reduced.
Once you have been arrested for driving under the influence, you will be assigned a court date. Although consulting with an attorney is your best option when facing a DUI charge, as they can determine any and all appropriate defenses, the following are a few examples of common defenses to DUI charges:
- You were not actually the driver of the vehicle;
- There was no probable cause for law enforcement to pull you over in the first place; or
- The tests administered were unreliable or inaccurate.
Most states will suspend your driver’s license immediately pending the court date. If you are then convicted of a DUI, you may face an even longer suspension, or a total revocation of your driver’s license. This is especially true if this is your second or more offense. Some other restrictions may be placed on your driver’s license, such as:
- Being restricted to driving for school and work purposes only;
- Not being allowed to consume any alcohol or substance while driving, even within the legal limit;
- Not being permitted to transport children or other passengers;
- Being prohibited from driving for pay, such as driving for a taxi service; or
- Revocation of any secondary licensing, such as a CDL.
You should absolutely consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable DUI or DWI criminal attorney. An experienced DUI attorney will be able to evaluate your case to determine if any defenses are available to you, explain your rights to you, and represent you in court as needed.
Additionally, an attorney can help you assert your best legal defenses to the charges brought against you, or help you arrive at the best possible deal based on the specifics of your case.