DUI or Driving under the Influence is a serious offense. Depending on your location, the infraction might also be called driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI), or operating while intoxicated/impaired (OWI).
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What Constitutes a DUI?
In most states, a DUI involves the operation of a vehicle at a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. This usually accounts for four standard drinks in a 180-pound man.
For Utah, the BAC level required for a DUI offense is 0.05, which roughly amounts to 2 drinks.
The threshold is even lower, however, for drivers aged 21 years old and below. This is due to the zero-tolerance law. At a BAC of 0.01, a young driver can lose his license. For a BAC more than 0.01 but less than 0.05, an alcohol conviction will be given. A BAC of 0.05 or higher, on the other hand, ensures prosecution in court.
What Happens During a DUI Arrest?
Since alcohol can affect your vision, slow your response time, and cloud your judgment, these are easily seen in the way you drive. You might find yourself swerving uncontrollably – or driving beyond the speed limit.
The Flag Down
When a police officer notices an erratic driving behavior, the first thing he would do is to flag you down. He may observe you for signs of impairment, which may include a slurred speech and jitteriness, to name a few. You may find yourself fumbling around for necessary documents, and this may further raise the officer’s suspicion.
He may ask you if you drank alcohol– and if you answer just 2 beers – there’s a steep chance that he wouldn’t believe your answer. The officer, of course, has heard this excuse time and time again. He may ask you more questions, although you may refuse the answer. After all, you do have the right to remain silent.
If you reek of alcohol, then the police officer has a probable cause – or a valid reason to search your car – even without a warrant. However, he still needs your explicit consent before he can start his search. Once given permission, the officer may check your glove box, your trunk, even the bag that you have in the car.
To prove your sobriety, you might need to accomplish some field sobriety tests. This includes the one-leg stand, the walk and turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. This is usually recorded through the police officer’s car camera.
The officer might ask you to take a breathalyzer test as well. This will be used to check your BAC level. If it is 0.08 or higher (0.05 in Utah), then it means that you have committed a DUI infraction.
Note: Having a driver’s license means that you give your implied consent for the above-mentioned tests. Although this is the case, you still have the right to refuse to do such tests. Outright refusal, however, comes with an on-the-spot suspension of your license.
Once the officer has confirmed that you have committed a DUI, he will start with the arrest. He will place you in the police car to be hauled to the nearest station. Here, your mug shot and fingerprints would be taken.
As with any other arrests, you will be allowed to make a phone call – this is the best time for you to call your family member or lawyer.
In most states, if someone can pay your bail and drive you home, you will be released from custody immediately. However, there are some areas where you need to ‘sober up’ first before you can walk out of the police station.
Even if you have managed to place bail, you will need to appear in court to answer to your DUI charge. The when and where of this will be given to you through a summon. Should you plead not guilty, the judge will watch a recording of your field sobriety test. This will help him determine your fate accurately.
Should the judge perceive you to be guilty, you stand to lose your license – even if it’s your first time to commit such infraction. The suspension can be as short as 30 days (Kansas, North Carolina) – to up to 1 year (Tennessee, Georgia).
Depending on where you committed the DUI, you may be able to apply for a hardship license. This gives you limited driving rights – so you can go to work/school and accomplish other necessary tasks even without a regular license.
As with other felonies, you will need to pay a fine, which can range from $100 to $800+. The fees may even be higher if you have endangered a child, damaged certain properties, or injured someone else.
In some states, jail time is appropriated even to first-time offenders. This usually lasts 1-2 days, and thus can be done over the weekend. Repeat offenders, of course, have to endure a longer jail time.
Should you be lucky enough to escape a jail sentence, you will most likely be put under probation. Not only will this limit certain freedoms, but it comes with additional fees as well. That’s because you need to pay a certain amount for the cost of your probation.
What Happens After a DUI Conviction?
To get your license back – and to prevent another probable DUI – you may be asked to attend a Drunk Driving School. This program – which you need to pay for additionally – will include an assessment of your habits. It focuses on proper education so that you may no longer commit another DUI.
Many states also require convicted drivers to have an Ignition Interlock installed. This costly equipment will require you to undergo a breathalyzer test. The result has to be normal before you can start your car.
Another financial blow that comes with a DUI conviction is the Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate, otherwise known as SR-22. An individual convicted with a DUI charge is considered a high-risk driver, and as such he/she needs to have an active SR-22 for a minimum of 3 years. This document is an add-on to your existing policy if ever you have one.