DUI – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


What is a DUI?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, and is also referred to as DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). It refers to a range of charges against a driver operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The technical definition varies by state, but in most cases it is based on a person’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). This is determined either through a breath, blood, or urine test. Most states have set the legal BAC limit at .08 for drivers over age twenty-one, based on a national standard of 0.08 that links highway funds with compliance.


What happens when I am arrested for DUI? 

For a first-time DUI charge, punishment options vary greatly depending on the state and county laws where you were arrested. Some of the penalties you could face include: Jail time, heavy fines, court costs and suspension or revocation of your driver’s license. Your punishment is given at your sentencing hearing.


How much can I have to drink and still drive legally? 

In many states, the legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) is .08. Remember that one drink may affect you at a certain body weight and height differently than it affects someone else. Use of prescription and even nonprescription drugs while driving is the same as drinking and driving if you were informed that you would be impaired to operate a vehicle or machinery.


You may be pulled over for a number of reasons such as weaving, driving slowly or speeding, or even because you are not wearing seat belts or have a tail light out on your car. The officer may ask you to perform field sobriety tests or take a breath, blood, or urine test to determine intoxication, and the officer has a legal right to ask you to cooperate. You may be arrested if you refuse to do so, and, even if the courts determine that you were not intoxicated beyond the legal limit, your driver’s license may be suspended for four months to one year for refusal to perform field sobriety tests. Cooperation with the police is one of the criteria you agree to for the privilege of holding a driver’s license.


When can I call my attorney?

You cannot contact an attorney until you go to the police station.


What are field sobriety tests?

If a driver is pulled over and the law enforcement officer suspects intoxication, the driver may be asked to cooperate with standardized field sobriety tests. These are simple physical or cognitive tests to determine the driver’s level of intoxication. The tests are:


  • the one-leg stand
  • walk-and-turn, and
  • horizontal gaze nystagmus test.

Officers may also administer non-standardized tests, which might include:


  • stand with feet together and tip the head backwards
  • count the number of fingers that the officer raises
  • recite the alphabet or a portion of it
  • count backwards
  • Rhomberg stationary balance test: the driver stands, feet together, and leans the head back to look up at the sky while holding their arms out to the side
  • finger-to-nose: this requires the driver might to close his or her eyes and bring the finger around to touch the nose
  • hand-pat test: the driver is asked to extend a hand in front, palm upwards. The other hand is then placed on top of the first hand, palm downwards. The driver then ‘pats’ the lower hand with the upper hand by rotating it, so that first the lower hand is patted with the palm of the upper hand and then with the back of the upper hand.

What are chemical tests?

These tests determine a driver’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) through testing of the breath, blood, or urine. While these tests are technically voluntary, refusal carries a possible penalty such as suspension of driving privileges.


What are ‘zero tolerance laws’?

Drivers under age twenty-one are not allowed to have any alcohol in their systems. They could face having their license removed for six months or more. A minor driver found with a BAC over the legal adult limit of .08 can be sentenced as adults.


What are ‘vehicle sanctions’ and ‘mandatory sanctions’?

Vehicle sanctions include a range of punishments such as impoundment, registration revocation, or having an ignition interlock device attached.
Mandatory sanctions required minimum punishments set by state or county laws that may include jail time, fines, license suspension, or another minimum mandatory penalty linked to the specific DUI offense.

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