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Getting a DUI charge can be a time of intense confusion and uncertainty. This guide breaks down what DUI means, what happens when you get a DUI charge and the type of penalties you could face.
What Is a DUI?
DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is most associated with drunk driving; however, some get behind the wheel when impaired by illicit drugs or prescription medication. Though DUI is the most widely used term, some states refer to DUII, DWI, OUI or OWI. Although the acronyms may change slightly, they all ultimately fall under the umbrella of attempting to drive a vehicle while impaired.
What Driving Under the Influence Means
It is important to note that a DUI involves the physical act of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you were publicly intoxicated but not attempting to drive, you might get held overnight for your safety or, if you were loud and troublesome, charged with disturbing the peace. A DUI involves several components.
Operating a Vehicle
When you turn the key to the ignition in a motor vehicle, press any of the buttons or activate gears, even if you are not driving, these actions can constitute the operation of a vehicle. You can be arrested for DUI if you do any of these things while illegally impaired.
You might think that as long as your car or truck is not running, you cannot get arrested for DUI, but this will ultimately depend on the state you are in and its laws. For example, you can be arrested for a DWI in Texas if you are found drunk in a parked car. It does not matter whether the vehicle is off and you are asleep; you could still be charged with a crime.
Alternately, you may not get into trouble in California if it is clear you had no intention of operating your vehicle. That state is more concerned with evidence that you attempted to move your car despite being impaired. If you left the keys in the ignition, it is evidence of a DUI offense, even if you parked and slept.
Sleeping in the back seat instead of in the driver’s seat might demonstrate that you lacked intent to commit a DUI and is a point to raise if charged.
Under the Influence
Impairment does not necessarily have to be from ingesting excessive alcohol or an illegal drug. For example, a sleep-deprived driver may exhibit symptoms similar to a drunk driver. What is important is the act of knowingly consuming a substance that would negatively impact your ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Field Sobriety Test
If you get pulled over and the officer suspects you are guilty of a DUI offense, you may be asked to submit to a field sobriety test. That includes actions such as walking along a straight line, balancing on one foot, or reciting the alphabet backward. These actions are often hard to do if you are severely impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
Your BAC can typically prove whether you are intoxicated beyond the legal limit. In most states, that limit is 0.08%, but Utah is the outlier with a maximum of 0.05%. Factors such as gender, age and weight can influence how quickly you reach the legal BAC limit. Increased alcohol tolerance can also lead to accidentally consuming more than what you meant to or not realizing you are impaired.
Refusing to Submit to a Breathalyzer
Some people think refusing to take a breathalyzer protects them from getting arrested for a DUI. That is simply not true. An officer might look at evidence such as obvious impairment to determine whether you are guilty of driving while intoxicated. In such an instance, refusing to submit to a breathalyzer can likely still cost you your license.
In Florida, not submitting to a breathalyzer test for your first DUI could mean losing your driver’s license for one year. The period varies from state to state, but ultimately, you can anticipate not being able to drive for a while if you refuse a breathalyzer.
Getting Arrested for DUI
A DUI arrest will have an immediate negative impact, as many states will automatically suspend your driver’s license. Some states will still allow you to drive despite this. Texas provides drivers arrested with a DUI with a temporary driving permit.
The severity of a DUI charge can increase the amount of bail you must pay to get out of jail. If you cannot make bail, you may find yourself incarcerated until your hearing.
Appearing in Court for DUI
You must show up on time and answer the DUI charge against you. Failure to appear could lead the judge to issue a bench warrant for your arrest. If you need the court date moved due to a conflict, you should file a motion for a continuance.
When it is time to appear in court, it is a good idea to be represented by a lawyer who is well versed in that state’s law regarding DUI charges. If you cannot afford your own legal representation, the court will appoint a lawyer to handle your case.
If your lawyer argues successfully, the charge or charges will be dismissed without a conviction and there will be no DUI on your record.
Administrative License Revocation (ALR) Hearing
While Texas provides those arrested for DWI with a temporary permit, you can attend an ALR hearing to contest the suspension of your regular driver’s license. You must request the hearing within 15 days of your arrest, but you may wait several months to get a hearing.
Long-Term Impact of What Happens When You Get a DUI
It is important to note that the penalties you will face if convicted of a DUI will depend on a variety of factors. In cases where it is your first offense and no one is harmed, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor. Multiple DUI offenses can bring heftier consequences and greater long-term impact.
If convicted, you will likely lose your license for a few months and also have to pay a fine ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. A DUI misdemeanor may mean serving up to a year in jail with multiple years of probation and participating in mandatory community service or driving or substance abuse courses. The court may also order that an ignition interlock device be installed on your vehicle for a period of time.
Other consequences are not strictly fines or jail time. A DUI can impact your ability to get back and forth to work. In career fields that require you to drive, it means lost wages and potentially losing your job. You may come to depend on friends and family to take you to work or pick your kids up from school. Additionally, you will also see an increase in car insurance costs once you can drive again.
In instances where you are convicted of a DUI involving severe bodily harm to someone else or a fatality, you may be sent to prison for an extended period and forced to pay restitution to the victim or their family.
Even one DUI charge and conviction can have a vast and unintended effect on your life, and the consequences only get more harrowing with every added conviction.
Getting Help to Prevent Future DUI Charges
Everyone makes mistakes and the punishment for a first-time DUI typically coincides with the hope that it is enough to encourage the convicted party to avoid a repeat offense. However, for those prone to excessive alcohol consumption, there is reasonable concern of multiple DUIs over time.
If this is a concern, there are some options to reduce the threat of getting a future DUI:
- Always have a designated driver when you go out if you know you will be drinking.
- Plan to take a taxi or Uber home after a night out.
- Contact a trusted friend or family member to pick you up rather than trying to drive if you drink.
- Check into a hotel room overnight.
- Drink at home rather than go out.
If you struggle with alcohol or drug abuse and want help or treatment, contact the SAMHSA’s National Helpline.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a DUI?
A DUI occurs when a person operates a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and is arrested by a law enforcement officer.
Is a DUI charge a felony or misdemeanor?
Often, a first-time DUI is treated as a misdemeanor. If there are exacerbating factors such as bodily harm, property damage or death, the charge could get elevated to a felony.
Will a DUI cause you to lose your driver’s license?
A DUI arrest often coincides with the immediate seizure of your driver’s license. In addition, a DUI conviction can cost you your license for an extended period.
How much is a DUI fine?
Depending on the state, you may pay a fine of between $150 or $6,250. It ultimately depends on the severity of the offense and if you have any prior convictions.