A charge for driving under the influence* (DUI) can occur in a number of 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 to their alcoholic state or how their ability to function could harm themselves and others.

When it comes to a DUI charge, however, 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 and 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 vary from state to 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 across the country, the blood alcohol content (BAC) level that indicates driving under the influence is 0.08 percent. 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 percent BAC or higher will result in a court date.

Additionally, some states will have stricter penalties for people who are caught driving with a significantly high BAC (e.g., 0.15 percent to 0.20 percent), and others will also institute a zero-tolerance policy for people under the age of 21 who are 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 percent will result in arrest. In some states, however, zero tolerance actually means any BAC level over 0.01 percent or 0.02 percent. It all depends on the state.

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

Even if someone isn’t “wasted,” they can be severely and negatively impacted in their ability to drive safely. All it takes is a somewhat slowed reaction time, a little bit of distraction, or feeling a little 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, the actual BAC level, the age of the person, and whether or not they have a history of DUI charges will determine the order the judge hands down.

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 in the meantime for another similar offense.

If convicted, the person’s driver’s license will be suspended for a length of time that will be determined by the number of offenses and state law – anywhere from three months to one year for a first offense, 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 stay in alcohol treatment program

The fine amount, length of time spent in jail, length of time that 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.

The DUI Process: What to Expect

Just as every state will vary in the penalties that are assessed for drunk driving, so too will every state vary in how they determine the best way to levy those penalties on a case-by-case basis. In general, there are some issues that may impact the final determination of the judge, so the judge will hear testimony and see evidence both from the person facing DUI charges and the officer who made the arrest. 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 are initiated by a police officer are valid.
  • Legality of initial stop and search: The officer will explain how or why she pulled over the person in the first place – usually the erratic driving behavior caused by high levels of alcohol in the system.
  • Testing: In order to determine the BAC of the driver, usually a breath or blood test is administered. 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 will be placed into evidence as well.
  • Observation of behavior: The officer may also testify as to the behavior of the driver when pulled over, especially any behaviors that indicate significant intoxication or self-reports of how much alcohol the person drank and when. If the officer recorded the actions of the driver at this time, it may be shown to the court.
  • Search and arrest: The officer may also attest to the events surrounding the search of the vehicle as well as the arrest of the individual including Mirandization.
  • Offender’s response: The offender, or his or her lawyer, may ask questions of the officer or attempt to prove that any of the evidence is invalid. The judge will take all of the testimony and evidence into consideration, may ask a few questions, and then make a determination as to how to proceed.

DUIs Are Expensive

Those who are charged with DUI and find themselves in front of a judge as a result should expect to pay a huge financial cost – in addition to the emotional costs associated with any harm caused to others by their choices. These charges may include:

  • Tens of thousands of dollars in increased car insurance over the next decade or longer
  • Hundreds to attend a mandatory DUI class in most states
  • Hundreds for the towing and storage of their car from the site of arrest
  • Thousands to pay an attorney
  • Hundreds or thousands for court fees and fines that increase with late payment or repeat offenses
  • Hundreds for the DMV reinstatement fee of the driver’s license

Follow Up

Just as the events leading up to arrest and the court date and penalties will be determined by the individual’s state laws, so too will the months following arrest be significantly impacted both by the state and the judge who made the ruling in that particular case. Most offenders will be required to maintain sobriety or to check back in with the court prior to getting back their suspended license. If they violate the law again in the time that their license is suspended, they may serve jail time in addition to losing their license for an even longer period.

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 restitutions to the community or those who may have been harmed as the court directed. 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.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Healing

In many cases, alcohol addiction treatment services may be recommended – especially if the offender reports that they have a problem with alcohol, if the DUI charge is a repeat offense, if the person is underage, or if the person’s BAC is exceptionally high. Depending upon 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 order that the offender undergo assessment to determine whether not an acute or outpatient alcohol detox and addiction treatment program is necessary.

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

Gaining a better understanding of why they drink heavily and how alcohol affects their brain and body can improve their ability to make healthier, more positive choices around alcohol in the future. Additionally, attending treatment without a court order demonstrates remorse for the behavior to the judge and may help to show that the offender is working hard to ensure her own safety and the safety of others in the future.

If the judge does order alcohol detox and treatment, it is imperative that the offender enroll immediately and stick with treatment. Follow-up court dates will be used to check in with the offender to ensure that he is attending treatment as ordered and to determine whether or not progress is being made.

According to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), three people in the United States die every two hours in an alcohol-related car accident. The USDOT additionally reports that in 2010, an estimated 4 million Americans said that they drove while under the influence of alcohol at least one time – adding up to about 112 million alcohol-impaired driving sessions. As a result, more than 13,000 people died that year and more than $37 billion in associated costs were paid for by the American public.

The problem of 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. If alcoholic behaviors including drunk driving are causing harm to you or someone you love, reach out for the 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.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.