This area of law deals with the criminal charges associated with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and driving while impaired and/or intoxicated, commonly referred to as “drunk driving”. It is a subset of and overlaps with Criminal Defense law.
A driver may be charged with some form of drunk driving if he is caught driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the legal limit set by state law, which all states have now set no higher than .08. This is a criminal violation throughout all of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as in most countries worldwide. Although most people associate DUI/DWI solely with drinking and driving, if a driver uses a combination of any controlled substance or chemical with alcohol, the consumption of which results in impaired mental faculties, this too can lead to DUI/DWI charges.
The penalties for a DUI/DWI conviction may vary greatly not only from state to state but from occurrence to occurrence. However, they are generally all very severe, and steadily increasing. These penalties can range from extensive fines to serving time in jail and loss of one’s vehicle and driving privileges. Additionally, first time offenders are often ordered to attend special alcohol education classes and/or AA meetings.
Many states are now adopting the use of ignition interlock devices, which test for alcohol on a driver’s breath and prohibit the car from starting if the driver’s BAC is above a very low preset amount (.02 to .04 usually). Individuals who already have one or more DUI/DWI convictions or with very high BAC levels are faced with even more severe penalties and legal consequences, sometimes double that of a simple first offense. These convictions can be very costly and have long range effects. Retaining a qualified DUI/DWI attorney is most often a good idea, if not essential.
DUI and DWI are arguably the most well known legal acronyms for drunk driving, but there exist many others which vary by state and degree of offense; they include the following: DUBAL, DUII, DUIL, DWAI, DWUI, OMVI, OUI, OUIL, OUIN, OWI, OWVI, AND UBAL.