The term drunk driving refers to a very serious and illegal criminal offense. Importantly, drunk driving is illegal in every state in America. When a person drives drunk, they operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, which is known to impair a person’s motor skills. State laws vary in regards to what constitutes legally intoxicated. However, a person is generally considered legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol content level, or “BAC” level, reaches 0.8% or 0.10%.

Should a police officer suspect that a person is driving while drunk, the officer will have what’s known as probable cause to pull that driver over. Some examples of actions that could grant probable cause include speeding, swerving, or observing alcohol or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.

Once the driver has been pulled over, the officer will likely ask that they step out of their vehicle and take one of the following tests. These tests are administered in order to determine sobriety, and can include:

    • A breathalyzer test, in which the concentration of alcohol in a person’s breath is measured;
    • Blood or urine testing, which is not generally administered at the scene due to the fact that a medical professional is required to administer the test; and
  • Field sobriety tests, which are designed to test a person’s balance and agility.

Drunk driving is considered to be a serious crime and may be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

What are Some of the Penalties for Drunk Driving?

How drunk driving is penalized depends on if the crime is being treated as a misdemeanor, or a felony. At a minimum, most first time drunk driving convictions result in a suspended driver’s license, as well as a short jail sentence of a few days.

Most states will require that repeat offenders have a device installed in their vehicle that measures the driver’s breath for alcohol. For example, a repeat offender may have to install an ignition interlock device (“IID”), which is a small handheld car breathalyzer. That person would then have to undergo a breathalyzer test, prior to operating a motor vehicle. Thus, the intent of the device is to prevent the vehicle from starting if any alcohol is detected.

Additionally, there are some financial penalties for driving drunk. The costs typically associated with drunk driving include:

  • Criminal fines, not to exceed $1,000 in the case of a misdemeanor;
  • Bail costs;
  • Court costs;
  • Attorney’s fees;
  • Administrative fees for ordered treatment and diversionary programs; and
  • Increased automobile insurance premiums.

Criminal fines will likely vary from state to state. As of April 20202, the minimum fine in Colorado for a first time drunk driving offender is $300. In contrast, a first time drunk driving offense costs $1,2000 in Illinois. In most other states, a first time offender should expect to pay something around $1,000. One estimate is that all costs associated with a DUI combined average around $10,000.

Some additional, non financial penalties for drunk driving could include:

  • License suspension or restriction;
  • Loss of driver’s license;
  • Probation;
  • Mandatory community service; and
  • The inability to continue working jobs that require driving a vehicle, such as a cab or truck driver.

If other crimes are involved in connection with the drunk driving, this nearly always results in a more harsh punishment. An example of this would be if someone were seriously injured or killed due to the actions of a drunk driver. There is a high probability that the drunk driver would receive additional jail time, as well as other punishments, as they committed a serious crime in addition to driving drunk.

Are There Any Long Term Consequences for Drunk Driving? Are There Any Defenses?

The consequences for driving while impaired do not necessarily stop once the sentence has been served and the fines have been paid. There are many long term effects that could increase the overall cost of the DUI or DWI conviction. Many people do not consider these effects as they are not immediately identifiable. Some examples of this could include:

  • Missed income while serving a jail or prison sentence;
  • Job loss while serving a jail or prison sentence;
  • Paying for some other form of transportation to and from work; and
  • Loss of future job placement due to having a DUI on their criminal record.

There are a few defenses to drunk driving, although the availability of these defenses will vary depending on the specifics of the case. Some of the most common DUI or DWI defenses include:

  • Inadmissible or faulty test results;
  • No actual impairment, or mistake of fact;
  • The police had no probable cause;
  • The officer did not actually witness the defendant driving; and
  • Rising BAC, or that the defendant’s BAC rose between the time of driving and the actual test.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Have Been Charged with Drunk Driving?

If you are facing a DUI or DWI charge, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable DUI/DWI attorney. As applicable laws vary by state, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand what applies to your case and what your rights are. Additionally, the attorney can determine if any legal defenses are available to your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.