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DUI/DWI Legal Help

Almost everyone knows someone who has been arrested or convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). The laws that determine whether a driver is under the influence, the procedures law enforcement is permitted to use to test for it, and the associated criminal penalties vary from state to state.

Here is some information that may help with questions you may have if you or someone you know has been arrested for or convicted of drunk driving.

What is the first thing a driver should do upon a DUI/DWI arrest?

Assuming the driver was able to bond out of jail, the most important thing to do is stop drinking and driving immediately. Most states have incremental penalties for the second and subsequent offenses, and habitual offenders can wind up losing their driver’s license, being convicted of a felony and possibly going to prison. If a driver is not capable of stopping drinking, going to

If a driver is not capable of stopping drinking, going to a treatment of some sort is a good idea before he or she drives again.

It is best to hire an attorney as soon as possible. A private attorney with experience in the law regarding DUI or DWI offenses can be invaluable in resolving a case to the driver’s benefit in a time frame that the client prefers. If the driver is indigent or otherwise unable to hire an attorney, the state will appoint one to represent him. A call or visit to the public defender’s office in the county where the offense occurred might expedite that process or at least provide the driver with advice.

What is a field sobriety test?

A field sobriety test is a test in which a law enforcement officer observes a driver for signs of intoxication. To administer a field sobriety test, the officer has the driver step out of the vehicle. Some common elements of a field sobriety test are having a driver follow a light with his or her eyes, walk in a straight line, or say the ABCs.

What is a breathalyzer?

A breathalyzer is an electronic device that determines a driver’s blood alcohol content. The officer asks the driver to blow into the device to determine this. Portable breathalyzers used by law enforcement must be approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What is the legal blood alcohol content limit? How many drinks before a driver reaches it?

Federal law now requires a blood alcohol limit of 0.08 to be enforced in all 50 states. The number of drinks before a driver reaches the limit depends on weight and a few other factors. The safest way to go about drinking and driving is not to do it at all.

Does a driver have to take a field sobriety, breathalyzer, blood or urine test?

The rules on this differ from state to state. In some states, the driver is permitted to speak with an attorney before taking a test. Refusing a test typically comes with consequences such as up to a year license suspension, on top of prosecution for the offense.

What are the penalties for a DUI or DWI conviction?

The penalties vary by state and vary widely based on whether it is your first, second or subsequent offense. In most cases, these offenses are misdemeanors on the first or second offense. Penalties can include, but are not limited to:

  • Fines, larger for second and additional offenses
  • Suspended or revoked license
  • Points on the driver’s driving record
  • Probation and substance abuse testing
  • Court-ordered counseling or substance abuse treatment
  • Community service
  • Court-ordered installation of a breathalyzer in the driver’s vehicle
  • Felony conviction with possible prison time for the third or subsequent offense

If a driver’s license is suspended, how can he or she get it back?

After the period of time ordered by the court expires, the driver is eligible to get it reinstated. This usually requires filing paperwork with the court and possibly an additional fee. In some cases, a driver who demonstrates an essential need can qualify or a restricted or occupational license, which permits him or her to drive only to work to school and back.

What is a zero tolerance law?

Zero tolerance laws exist in some states and are designed to prevent underage drivers younger than 21 from driving impaired. The blood alcohol limit required for an arrest under these laws may be lower than the federally required 0.08 limit. Some of these laws require a license suspension of up to 6 months for an offender.

Can a driver get a DUI or DWI for driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs?

Yes. If an officer has reasonable suspicion to give a driver a field sobriety test and the driver fails the test, the officer can arrest the driver for DUI or DWI even if he or she has not been drinking and whether or not they find drugs in the vehicle.

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