What Happens After a DUI: Everything You Need To Know

Last Updated: September 22, 2023

A charge for driving under the influence (DUI) can occur in different ways — each person’s story is different.

Some report drinking heavily all evening and having no memory of getting behind the wheel to go home or move on to another venue. Others say they shared a bottle of wine over dinner and didn’t realize that their blood alcohol content (BAC) was high enough to impact their driving ability, much less result in a DUI charge — or that they had a single drink but were taking medication and didn’t realize that the two together would so significantly impair their ability to drive. Still, others routinely drink heavily and get behind the wheel with little consideration of their alcoholic state or how their ability to function could harm themselves and others.

However, when it comes to a DUI charge, the details of what led up to the arrest charge usually mean very little to the judge. Certain factors are important when determining what will happen to the person in a court of law:

  • Their BAC
  • Their age
  • How their level of BAC was determined
  • How the evidence was handled
  • The number of times they have been arrested for DUI
  • Laws concerning driving under the influence in the state of arrest

The Definition of Drinking and Driving

The definition of driving under the influence will differ by state; however, in every state, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle of any kind (e.g., car, truck, motorcycle, moped, dirt bike, and in some cases, even a bicycle) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In every state nationwide, the blood alcohol content (BAC) level that indicates driving under the influence is 0.08%. Whether the state calls the charge a DUI, DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), OUI (Operating While Under the Influence) or OWI (Operating While Intoxicated), driving with a 0.08% BAC or higher will result in a court date.

Additionally, some states will have stricter penalties for people caught driving with a significantly high BAC (e.g., 0.15–0.20%). Others will also institute a zero-tolerance policy for people under 21 caught driving with any amount of alcohol in their system because it is illegal for them to drink alcohol for any reason. In these cases, zero tolerance may actually translate into zero tolerance — that is, any BAC levels over 0% will result in arrest. In some states, however, zero tolerance actually means any BAC level over 0.01% or 0.02%. It all depends on the state.

It is interesting to note that though the law states that 0.08% is the legal limit, many studies show a driver’s ability to drive effectively is impaired when BAC levels are just barely above zero and that by 0.05%, there is great impairment. For this reason, many states have lobby groups working to lower the BAC limit to drive legally.

Even if someone isn’t “wasted,” their ability to drive safely can be severely and negatively impacted. All it takes is a somewhat slowed reaction time, a little distraction or feeling too relaxed or tired behind the wheel to end up in a fatal accident, striking another car or hitting a pedestrian. Not only does drinking impair the person’s ability to drive, but it also impairs their ability to accurately assess whether or not they should get behind the wheel. Buzzed driving is not safe driving — and it, too, can lead to a DUI charge and/or a deadly accident.

Every state is different in how they deal with a DUI offense. When standing in front of the judge, certain factors will determine the order the judge hands down, including: 

  • The actual BAC level
  • The person’s age
  • Whether or not they have a history of DUI charges

In most states, the driver’s license will be suspended when they are arrested. Most will be issued a temporary license to drive that will last until the hearing, allowing the person to drive as long as they are not pulled over for another similar offense in the meantime.

If convicted, the person’s driver’s license will be suspended for a length of time determined by the number of violations and state laws — anywhere from three months to one year for a first offense and up to five years for a third offense. Additionally, penalties may include:

  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Installation of ignition interlock device when driver’s license is returned
  • Required assessment for the need for alcohol abuse or addiction treatment
  • Required to stay in an alcohol treatment program

The fine amount, time spent in jail, how long the driver’s license is suspended and whether or not someone is remanded to alcohol treatment and for how long may be higher or longer if the person is a repeat offender or harmed or killed someone while under the influence.

Legal Process After a DUI

Just as every state will differ in the penalties for drunk driving, they will also differ in determining the best way to levy those penalties on a case-by-case basis. In general, some issues may impact the judge’s final decision, so the judge will hear testimony and see evidence from the person facing DUI charges and the officer who made the arrest. Typically the legal process of getting a DUI includes: 

Hiring a DUI Lawyer

The limit for blood/breath alcohol content is .08% in every state, and violating this limit can result in a DUI charge. However, factors like having a BAC higher than .15%, driving with a minor or causing an accident can influence the severity of your charge. Hiring a DUI lawyer who can advocate for you, challenge penalties and ensure a positive outcome is important. The state will appoint you a lawyer if you can not afford one. 

Preliminary Hearings

First-time DUI offenders are subject to a fine, jail, probation, community service, the completion of a drug and alcohol program and a driver’s license suspension. After being charged, you will have up to two weeks to request a preliminary hearing, although this time frame differs by state. A preliminary hearing allows you to hear the state’s evidence against you, challenge your license suspension and better prepare for your trial. 

Court Appearances

You must make a court appearance for your DUI charge, and the judge may issue you an arrest warrant if you fail to do so. With a successful defense, your charges will be dropped, and you will not have a DUI record.

Sentencing and Penalties

If convicted of a DUI charge, your sentence and penalties can differ. First-time offenses will likely result in misdemeanor charges if no one is injured, while multiple offenses can result in harsher penalties. First-time and multiple offenders are subject to: 

  • A fine
  • Community service
  • License suspension
  • Up to a year in jail

License Suspension

A DUI will result in the immediate suspension of your license in most states. If this happens,  you can contest the suspension at your preliminary hearing. Some states may also grant offenders a temporary permit for work purposes only. 

Ignition Interlock Devices

If convicted of a DUI, an ignition interlock device may be installed in your vehicle. This is a handheld breathalyzer that stops users from driving under the influence. You must use and pass the breathalyzer test to start the engine. 

Some topics that may be discussed in court will include:

  • The original report: The officer will tell the court whether or not a citizen report aided in him initially pulling over the driver. In some states, an anonymous report that results in a DUI arrest may be invalidated. Non-anonymous reports and reports that a police officer initiates are valid.
  • Legality of initial stop and search: The officer will explain how or why they pulled over the person in the first place — usually the erratic driving behavior caused by high levels of alcohol in the system.
  • Testing: A breath or blood test is usually administered to determine the driver’s BAC. The results of this will be shown in court, and the officer will testify as to how the test was administered and the results determined. The officer may also need to testify as to whether or not he is licensed to operate the breathalyzer if that was the method of BAC determination. If a blood test was administered at a hospital, this would also be placed into evidence.
  • Observation of behavior: The officer may also testify to the driver’s behavior when pulled over, especially any behaviors that indicated significant intoxication or self-reports of how much alcohol the person drank and when. If the officer recorded the driver’s actions, the recording may be shown to the court.
  • Search and arrest: The officer may also attest to the events surrounding the search of the vehicle and the arrest of the individual, including Mirandization.
  • Offender’s response: The offender, or their lawyer, may ask questions of the officer or attempt to prove that any of the evidence is invalid. The judge will consider all the testimony and evidence, ask a few questions and then decide how to proceed.

Financial Impact After a DUI

Those charged with DUI that find themselves in front of a judge should expect to pay a substantial financial cost — in addition to the emotional costs associated with any harm caused to others by their choices. These charges may include:

Fines and Fees

Most offenders are subject to up to thousands of dollars of fines and court fees issued by the state. Failure to pay these fees may result in additional fines and penalties. 

Increased Insurance Rates

Car insurance companies view drivers convicted of a DUI as a higher financial liability than other drivers. Due to this, you can expect tens of thousands of dollars in increased car insurance over the next decade or longer. 

Alternate Transportation:

If your license is suspended, you will have to rely on alternate modes of transportation, including public transit and rideshares. This can strain your time and financial resources and make keeping up with work and personal obligations challenging.  

Employment With DUI on Your Record

A DUI conviction will appear on your record. This can make finding employment difficult as many jobs require you to pass a background check. 

Other DUI-related expenses can include:

  • Hundreds to attend a mandatory DUI class in most states
  • Hundreds for the towing and storage of their car from the site of the arrest
  • Thousands to pay an attorney
  • Hundreds for the DMV reinstatement fee of the driver’s license

Follow Up

Just as the events leading up to the arrest, court date and penalties will be determined by the individual’s state laws, the months following the arrest will be greatly impacted by the state and the judge who made the ruling. Most offenders must maintain sobriety or check back in with the court before getting their suspended license back. If they violate the law again while their license is suspended, they may serve jail time and lose their license even longer.

Some offenders may have a court date to check in and demonstrate that they have followed all the court’s orders — paying fines, attending treatment and making other restitution to the community or those who may have been harmed. If the person continues to drink, does not show up to court or has not followed through on the orders at that time, stiffer penalties may be imposed.

Personal Recovery After a DUI

In many cases, alcohol addiction treatment services may be recommended — especially if the offender reports they have a problem with alcohol, the DUI charge is a repeat offense, the person is underage or the person’s BAC is exceptionally high. 

Depending on the circumstances, the judge may simply order the person to attend a certain number of 12-step meetings before the next court date, or he may require that the offender undergo an assessment to determine whether not an acute or outpatient medical alcohol detox and addiction treatment program is necessary.

Whether or not alcohol treatment is ordered, many offenders benefit significantly from enrolling in treatment services.

Assessing Your Alcohol Consumption

Gaining a better understanding of why you drink heavily and how alcohol affects your brain and body can improve your ability to make healthier, more positive choices around alcohol in the future. An alcohol treatment program gives you the space and resources to do this important work. 

Seeking Counseling and Support

Facing a DUI charge due to your drinking can be an isolating experience. Attending an alcohol treatment program can help you connect with others going through similar experiences and learn from them. 

Getting Your Life Back on Track

An alcohol treatment program can help you understand your triggers for drinking and learn healthy coping skills. These tools can help you make responsible decisions in the future, repair relationships and get your life back on track.  

Avoiding Future DUI Charges

Attending treatment, especially without a court order, demonstrates remorse for your behavior to the judge and may help show that you are working hard to ensure the safety of yourself and others in the future. Learning about the dangers of excessive drinking and drinking behind the wheel can also prevent future DUI charges. 

Getting behind the wheel is a serious and deadly issue — there’s a reason why the courts take it so seriously, and the penalties can be so stiff. According to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), one person in the U.S. dies from an alcohol-related car accident every 39 minutes.

If alcoholic behaviors, including drunk driving, are causing harm to you or someone you love, reach out for treatment that can begin the healing process today. At Orlando Recovery Center, there is hope for a future without alcohol and other substances or the court dates, fines, jail time and devastation that come with their use. Call now to learn more.


US Department of Transportation. “Drunk Driving.” Accessed July 4, 2023.

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