The term “DUI” stands for driving under the influence.
Every state has its own version of a DUI statute, which makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence or intoxicated by a substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
These laws may differ slightly between states, with some jurisdictions having separate classifications for DUI offenses based on the specific substance involved, such as alcohol, illegal drugs, or over-the-counter medications.
In some states, DUI laws extend beyond automobiles to include other forms of transportation like bicycles, mopeds, and golf carts.
The substances that can lead to a DUI charge are not limited to alcohol; other substances that could impair a person’s driving ability and result in a DUI charge include:
- Illicit or illegal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and PCP;
- Prescription medications that cause impairment, including painkillers, sleeping medications, and muscle relaxers;
- Over-the-counter medications in excessive doses, such as antihistamines like Benadryl.
What Happens During a DUI Stop?
During a DUI stop, law enforcement officers may employ one or more of the following tests to determine impairment:
Field Sobriety Test
An officer may ask the driver to exit the vehicle and perform tasks to evaluate their balance, coordination, and agility.
Based on the officer’s observations, they may determine if the driver is under the influence of a substance.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: The officer will ask the driver to follow a pen or small flashlight with their eyes as it moves horizontally. The officer will observe the driver’s eye movements, looking for involuntary jerking, which may indicate impairment.
- Walk-and-Turn Test: The driver will be instructed to walk in a straight line, placing the heel of one foot against the toe of the other for a certain number of steps. After reaching the designated endpoint, the driver must turn around and walk back in the same manner. The officer will observe the driver’s ability to follow instructions, maintain balance, and walk in a straight line.
- One-Leg Stand Test: The driver will be asked to stand on one foot while lifting the other approximately six inches off the ground. They will then be instructed to count out loud until the officer tells them to stop. The officer will observe the driver’s balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.
Chemical Breath Test
A breathalyzer test may be administered to measure the concentration of alcohol in the driver’s system.
- Breathalyzer Test: The driver will be asked to blow into a handheld device, which will analyze their breath for the presence of alcohol. The device will then read the driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). In most states, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired for adult drivers.
Blood or Urine Test
A medical professional may be required to collect a sample, which will then be analyzed in a lab to determine the presence and concentration of any substances.
- Blood Test: A medical professional, such as a nurse or phlebotomist, will collect a blood sample from the driver. This sample will be sent to a laboratory to analyze the presence and concentration of alcohol, drugs, or other impairing substances.
- Urine Test: The driver will be asked to provide a urine sample, typically in a private bathroom or under the supervision of a medical professional. The sample will be sent to a laboratory, where it will be tested for the presence and concentration of alcohol, drugs, or other impairing substances.
DUI Sentencing: When and How Does it Happen?
After being convicted of a DUI, an individual will face sentencing. Usually, a judge will determine the appropriate sentence, not a jury.
In deciding on a DUI sentence, the judge will typically consider factors such as:
- The defendant’s past criminal history;
- The defendant’s role in the crime (whether they were the primary actor or an accomplice);
- Any external pressures that may have influenced the commission of the crime; and
- Whether anyone was injured or harmed as a result of the crime.
Judges may also consider the defendant’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at the time of the offense and may impose an “aggravated DUI” charge if the BAC exceeds a certain threshold.
Sentencing generally happens immediately after a final disposition of the DUI charges, whether the defendant pleads guilty, accepts a plea bargain, or is found guilty at trial.
If a plea deal is accepted, sentencing will usually occur immediately. However, following a full trial, sentencing may be a separate proceeding several weeks after a conviction.
What Are the Punishments for DUI?
Punishments for a DUI conviction can include one or more of the following:
- Fines and court costs;
- Suspension or revocation of the driver’s license;
- Community service;
- Court-ordered drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs;
- A suspended sentence, with the threat of fines and jail time if certain conditions are violated;
- Short-term jail sentence;
- Long-term jail sentence, particularly if the DUI resulted in serious injury or death; or
- Installation of an ignition interlock device.
How are Appropriate Sentences Determined?
In determining the appropriate sentence for a DUI conviction, a judge will weigh several factors, including those mentioned earlier.
Additional factors that may be considered include:
- The defendant’s previous DUI record and overall criminal history
- The impact of the DUI on any victims;
- The defendant’s personal, economic, and social circumstances. A positive work record, strong family connections, and contributions to the community may lead to a more lenient sentence;
- The expression of regret or remorse by the defendant. If the defendant’s personal statement before sentencing impresses the judge, their punishment may be reduced.
Important Information About DUI Charges
Upon being arrested for a DUI, the accused will be assigned a court date. It is highly advisable to consult with an attorney when facing a DUI charge, as they can help determine the best defense strategies.
Some common defenses to DUI charges include:
- The accused was not the actual driver of the vehicle;
- There was no probable cause for law enforcement to stop the vehicle in the first place; or
- The administered tests were unreliable or inaccurate.
Will My License Be Suspended?
The driver’s license is suspended immediately in many states, pending the court date.
If convicted of a DUI, the driver may face a longer suspension or complete revocation of their license, especially if it is a repeat offense.
Additional restrictions that may be placed on the driver’s license include:
- Limiting driving to specific purposes, such as school or work;
- Prohibiting the consumption of alcohol or other substances while driving, even if within legal limits;
- Restricting the transportation of children or other passengers;
- Banning driving for pay, such as working for a taxi service; or
- Revoking secondary licenses, such as a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Do You Need an Attorney for a DUI Charge?
Consult with a skilled and knowledgeable DUI attorney if you are facing a DUI charge. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case, identify available defenses, explain your rights, and represent you in court as necessary.
Use LegalMatch to find a DUI attorney who can help you assert the strongest legal defenses against the charges and negotiate the best possible outcome based on the specifics of your case.