In an average year, over one million drivers will be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. After a motorist is arrested on suspicion of a DUI, it's up to the district attorney's office to file charges against the defendant. The exact nature of criminal charges related to drunk driving depends on a number of factors, including the defendant's prior convictions, the severity of the offense, the level of intoxication, and whether the offense caused injury or death. FindLaw’s DUI Charges section has information on the different levels of DUI, as well as some of the common defenses and likely penalties resulting from a conviction.
This section covers the basics of a DUI offense, how a felony DUI differs from a misdemeanor DUI charge, various types of drunk driving offenses, and the elements of a standard DUI offense. There are also resources for bicycling while drunk, driving while on drugs, and a special section on boating under the influence. Also, check out FindLaw's Guide to DUI Charges for a printer-friendly reference about these charges, so you know what to avoid.
Elements of a DUI Offense
While each state may have varying statutes covering DUI charges, the main elements that authorities must prove in order get a drunk driving conviction. First, states must classify what driving under the influence means under the law. Generally, this is understood as bad driving, such as swerving or an accident, combined with the presence of alcohol in the driver. Some states, however, have added “per se” DUI offenses, meaning that even if you didn’t drive poorly, you can still be convicted of a DUI if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is above a certain limit.
The next major elements of a DUI are the driving and the intoxication. While it may seem straightforward to prove someone was driving, there are some gray areas where police don’t arrive until a driver has exited a vehicle, or someone is asleep in a stationary vehicle or using it as a temporary shelter. Proving intoxication can be difficult as well, depending on the particular situation. Usually this comes down to officer testimony about the condition of the driver or the results of a blood or urine test.
Types of DUI Offenses
Not all DUI charges are the same. Depending on your circumstances, a normal drunk driving charge can quickly escalate if certain factors are present. For instance, a normal DUI charge could become an automatic felony if you were driving on a restricted, suspended, or revoked license, or if you have a prior DUI conviction. And charges (and penalties) could increase if there are aggravating factors, such as an extremely high BAC, children present in the vehicle, or if the drunk driving results in injury or death.
Hiring a DUI Attorney
Criminal charges, especially drunk driving charges, can carry serious penalties. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand and protect your rights as a criminal defendant, as well as assist you in negotiating an appropriate plea bargain or defend you at a possible trial.