Every state in the U.S. has outlawed Driving Under the Influence of alcohol. This offense can carry with it substantial legal and monetary punishments and have long-lasting consequences on the rest of your life. Rather than risk getting a DUI on your criminal and driving record, you can avoid this crime altogether by learning what it is and how a DUI is punished in most states.
What is a DUI?
DUI is an acronym that stands for Driving Under the Influence. In most of the states that use DUI as a legal term, it refers to the act of driving a vehicle, which can include not only a car but also a truck, boat, and in states like Ohio even a bicycle, after consuming too much alcohol.
When it comes to determining the limit of too much alcohol, most states use a uniform blood alcohol content, or BAC, of 0.08 percent. This means that if you are pulled over by law enforcement and found to have 0.08 percent or more of alcohol in your bloodstream you can legally be arrested for Driving Under the Influence.
What makes this percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream so dangerous? To start, Driving Under the Influence with a BAC of 0.08 or higher means that you do not have the reflexes to respond to challenges on the roadway. You may not be able to brake in time to avoid hitting someone or something. You also may not realize to slow down and stop at a traffic signal or stop light.
Further, a BAC of 0.08 or higher manifests itself in driving behaviors that alert law enforcement to motorists who are Driving Under the Influence. Some of the tell-tale signs of inebriated driving that will result in you being pulled over include:
- weaving in and out of traffic
- drifting over the center line or shoulder
- braking suddenly without due cause in the lane of traffic
- following other cars too closely
- erratic turning or signaling that does not match your driving
If a police officer sees you driving in such a manner, he or she is obligated to stop you and determine if you are at or over the legal DUI limit. You could be subject to a variety of field sobriety tests. You also may be asked to take a breathalyzer test that will give the police officer an accurate reading of your BAC level.
DUI Field Testing and Arrest
When you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, you will be asked to undergo any number of field sobriety tests as well as a breathalyzer test. Most states use implied consent laws to allow police officer to compel drivers to undergo these tests. Implied consent laws mean that you give permission for a police officer to test you for DUI and to search your car in exchange for the privilege of having a driver’s license.
With that, you may not have the legal right to refuse a breathalyzer test and in some instances even the field sobriety testing. The police officer will ask you to blow into a handheld breathalyzer device, which will give an accurate reading of your BAC in a matter of seconds. If it reads at or above 0.08 percent, you could be arrested and charged with a DUI.
The officer may also have you perform a number of different field sobriety tests to determine if you are Driving Under the Influence. One of the most common DUI tests involves standing and balancing on one leg. If you cannot maintain your balance or immediately topple over, you could be arrested for DUI.
Another DUI test involves following the officer’s finger with your eyes. The officer watches your eye movements and reflexes to determine if you are responding correctly or showing signs of impairment. If you fail this test, you could be arrested for Driving Under the Influence.
While a breathalyzer and field sobriety test can give fairly accurate readings of your BAC level, they are not as accurate as a blood or urine sample test. If you are placed under arrest for DUI, you will be taken to the police station or local jail to be processed and booked on a charge of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol.
While you are there, you will have to give either a blood or urine sample that will then be sent to a lab to be tested for your accurate blood alcohol content level. With implied consent laws, you may be unable to legally refuse to give these samples.
Arrest and Arraignment for DUI
Once you are taken to the local jail or law enforcement center, you will be booked, processed, and arraigned for DUI. This entire process can be somewhat frightening and demeaning. You will have to give a sample of either your blood or urine to be tested for your accurate BAC level. You also will have to surrender your cell phone, wallet or purse, and other personal belongings while you are in jail.
The police officer in charge of your booking will compile your criminal record, which begins with you having your fingerprints and mugshot taken. The mugshot is accessible to the public in most states, allowing anyone in the area to know that you were arrested for Driving Under the Influence.
After you are fingerprinted and had your photo taken, you will be allowed to make a phone call to a lawyer or to family members to ask for help. You will then be taken to a holding cell until your arraignment hearing.
The arraignment hearing can take place the same day as your arrest or within the next few days if you were arrested on a weekend or on a holiday break. During the hearing, you must appear before the judge who will formally charge you with DUI. If you were able to retain a lawyer prior to the arraignment hearing, you can have your attorney appear with you in court.
The judge will determine whether or not you are eligible for bail and if so, how much bond you will need to pay before you can be released. The bond amount is typically 10 percent of your bail. If you are a repeat DUI offender, you may not be granted bail. You may have to wait in jail until your DUI trial begins or until you can take a DUI plea and be formally sentenced.
The Legal, Financial, and Personal Ramifications of a DUI
Driving Under the Influence even one time can have long-lasting ramifications on your finances, personal life, and legal future. A first-time misdemeanor charge of DUI alone can bring with it legal and monetary punishments like up to 30 days in jail, $1000 in civil fines, and a suspended driver’s license. These punishments take you away from your family, school or job.
They also impact your finances especially if you do not have an extra $1000 in your bank account. You may have to make payments to the court until your fines are paid off in full. If you miss a payment, you could have a bench warrant put out for your arrest.
If you are a repeat DUI offender, the consequences can be more severe. You could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and have to pay thousands of dollars in civil fines. Your driver’s license could be suspended for up to six months to a year, and you also may have to attend mandatory rehabilitation or alcohol counseling courses that you must pay for out of your own pocket.
Additionally, if you caused harm to property or human life during the commission of your DUI, you could be sentenced to mandatory prison time. You will not go to the county or city jail but instead serve out your sentence in a state or federal prison. If someone died as the result of your DUI, you could spend upwards of 20 to 25 years in prison.
Even after you serve out your sentence and pay your fines for DUI, you still may not be able to escape the ramifications of this crime on your life. You may find it difficult to find a new job. Many employers perform criminal background checks on applicants. The presence of a DUI on your record could disqualify you for many employment opportunities.
You also may be disqualified from receiving federal financial aid to go to school. A DUI can take away many of the entitlements and luxuries that you take for granted in your everyday life.
With the negative manner that a DUI can impact your life, it makes sense that you would want to avoid this charge in the first place. The best way to avoid getting a DUI is simply to avoid drinking alcohol before driving a vehicle. If you do not drink alcohol, you cannot reach the legal 0.08 BAC limit that would put you in danger of Driving Under the Influence.
However, if you do drink alcohol, you should limit yourself and know when to stop. You can use a portable breathalyzer test that can clip onto your key chain or attach to your smartphone. This device lets you know when you have had enough to drink.
Additionally, you should eat food or drink lots of water if you decide to consume alcohol. Water and food help slow the absorption of alcohol in your system. It also helps flush it out of your body faster so you do not become as inebriated as you would if drank on an empty stomach.
If you ignore these tips and find yourself pulled over and charged with a DUI, it is important that you know what steps to take immediately to protect your legal future. To start, you need to retain an experienced attorney who practices DUI law. You should be able to call a lawyer from the jail or police station after your arrest.
Your attorney can first make sure that the police had just cause for pulling you over and subjecting you to a field sobriety and breathalyzer test. He or she may be able to review dash cam footage, your blood or urine samples, and other evidence used to charge you. If the attorney believes you were wrongfully detained, he or she could ask the judge to lower or dismiss the charges against you.
If you were lawfully arrested, your attorney still may be able to argue down the charges and help you avoid the worst legal punishments. You may be given a diversion sentence in which you check into and complete a rehabilitation program in exchange for the charge being dropped from your record after a year.
Driving Under the Influence is a serious crime that brings with it serious legal consequences. You can avoid this charge or effectively deal with it in the courtroom by learning how states define and punish this offense.