The legal acronym “DWI,” or driving while intoxicated, is a term that is used to refer to the criminal offense of drunk driving. In many states the term “driving under the influence” or “DUI” may be used interchangeably with DWI.
In other states, the DUIs and DWIs are actually separate criminal offenses where a DUI is the offense that is related to driving under the influence of drugs or substances, whereas a DWI is the criminal offense related to driving while intoxicated.
What Does the Term BAC Mean?
The level of intoxication, also known as a driver’s blood alcohol concentration, or “BAC,” is the amount of alcohol or drug that is present in an individual’s bloodstream. When an individual is pulled over, authorities often utilize breathalyzers to measure an individual’s BAC on scene or at a designated location.
Then, the charge given to the individual by the officer will be determined on the level of BAC present in their system. If a driver has a high BAC level, they will likely be charged with a DWI violation and may receive a harsher sentence than someone who has a lower BAC.
What Is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is what a police officer needs in order to make a legal stop of an individual. If a police officer suspects that a person may be operating a vehicle while intoxicated, that will give them probable cause to pull that person over.
Examples of evidence that would allow an officer to establish probable cause to pull someone over include observations of a person speeding or failing to stay within their lane. Further evidence would include the officer actually observing open alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.
After establishing the probable cause necessary to pull the driver over, the police officer will likely request that the operator of the vehicle step out of the vehicle and submit to a test in order to determine whether or not they are actually operating the motor vehicle while intoxicated.
Examples of the field tests that may be administered by an officer at the scene include:
- Breathalyzer Test: A breathalyzer is a handheld device that measures the concentration of alcohol present in a person’s system, by having the individual blow into the device;
- Blood or Urine Testing: Blood or urine testing often requires a medical professional to conduct the testing at a designated location and produce lab results.
- Blood or urine tests are typically administered at the booking facility rather than at the scene.
- Further, blood or urine testing may typically only happen after the police have obtained a search warrant signed by a judge to conduct the testing; and/or
- Field Sobriety Tests: Field sobriety tests are commonly administered by police officers at the scene.
- Field sobriety tests involve a variety of different tasks that are designed to test a person’s balance and soberness.
If a driver fails any of the above tests, a police officer will then have grounds to arrest them at the scene for driving while intoxicated. Additionally, if a person refuses to perform any of the tests that can be administered at the scene, the officer may still arrest the individual if they suspect that they are driving while intoxicated.
What Is a DWI Defense Attorney?
In short, a DWI defense attorney is an attorney that specializes in representing and defending individuals that have been charged with a DWI. Once again, the exact legal definition for what constitutes driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated will depend on the criminal statutes for that jurisdiction.
As such, DWI and DUI may be used interchangeably in many states, and the legal elements needed to be proven to convict an individual for a DWI charge will also vary by state. Thus, DWI attorneys will need to have a thorough knowledge of the different laws and rules in the local jurisdiction, or any other given area.
Criminal DWI cases often involve multiple legal issues, such as whether or not the police officer who made the stop had probable cause, whether or not the defendant was improperly detained, property damage, whether or not the defendant may lose their license, and criminal fines to name a few. DWI attorneys are attorneys that specialize in handling all of the complex issues involved in a DWI case.
How Can a DWI Defense Attorney Help A Person Charged With a DWI?
As mentioned above, a DWI defense attorney’s main role is to represent their client by ensuring that their legal rights are maintained throughout the entirety of the criminal process. This means that a DWI defense attorney must be able to perform some very specific tasks, including:
- Researching and gathering the facts surrounding the DWI arrest of their client, especially in cases where there was an accident or property damage involved;
- Obtaining all witness statements, admissions of their client or other parties involved, and the arrest report;
- Informing their client of potential penalties for their DUI/DWI charge;
- Researching and asserting possible legal defenses for the DWI charge;
- Handling all of the legal paperwork necessary to have evidence admitted or excluded from the criminal trial phase and preparing other necessary court documents;
- Representing their client during any necessary in person court hearings;
- Making legal arguments and asserting legal defenses during the criminal trial;
- Representing their client at the criminal sentencing phase, if necessary; and/or
- Assisting their client with an appeal, if necessary and available.
In addition to the above tasks, DWI defense attorneys frequently also act as mediators between their client and other parties, such as the police, insurance companies, state prosecutors, and other persons involved in the case. DWI defense attorneys will also be paramount in order to make sure that their client gets the charges brought against them dropped or reduced via a plea bargain.
What Are the Legal Penalties for a DWI?
The legal penalties for a DUI or DWI charge will often include the possibility of jail time and criminal fines. Such legal penalties are typical for first time DWI offenders and will often result in a misdemeanor charge in most states. Additionally, suspension or loss of licensure may be an additional penalty in some cases.
However, for instances in which a person is severely intoxicated, a repeat offender, or harms another individual while committing a DWI, the legal penalties for a DWI charge will be more severe and result in a felony charge. Although the exact legal penalties for a DWI felony charge will vary by state, typically an individual charged with a felony DWI may be imprisoned for two to ten years in a federal prison facility, criminal fines of up to $10,000, or a combination of both.
It is important to note that oftentimes DWI penalties may be reduced. This is especially true for first-time offenders where the exact fact scenario of their case was relatively light and resulted in no harm to other persons or property. However, the reduction of charges will often depend on the state criminal prosecutor or judge/jury if the case proceeds to the trial phase.
Do I Need an Attorney For Help With a DWI Charge?
If you are being accused of driving while intoxicated it is in your best interests to immediately consult with an experienced DUI/DWI lawyer as soon as possible.
Because state laws vary greatly in terms of driving while intoxicated, it is imperative that you work with an experienced and local DUI/DWI attorney. An experienced DWI defense attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws, and how they will affect your legal options moving forward.
Further, an attorney can determine whether any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case, and will protect your legal rights. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any necessary in person court appearances. Finally, an experienced attorney may be able to help you obtain a reduced sentence time, or have all criminal charges dismissed against you.