All state have laws prohibiting driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. Whether the offense is labeled “DUI,” “DWI” (driving while intoxicated), or “OUI” (operating under the influence), the consequences are generally severe. Though the specifics differ by state, penalties often include license suspension, fines and fees, ignition interlock device (IID) installation, and jail time.
(This article gives an overview of DUI penalties. For a good starting point on state-specific information, see this chart on DUI laws by state.)
If you get a DUI, chances are your license will be suspended. Even if you aren’t ultimately convicted of a DUI in criminal court, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) (or equivalent state agency) will normally suspend your license if a chemical test shows that you drove with a BAC of .08% or more. If you’re convicted of a DUI, the court might impose a suspension on top of the DMV suspension. But in most states, if two suspensions are imposed, they’re allowed to overlap, meaning you won’t necessarily have to complete the two full suspensions.
Suspension lengths vary by state. For a first-offense DUI, some states will suspend your license for only 30 days, while others might take away your driving privilege for a year or more.
In most states, you’ll typically face increased license suspension if you have prior DUIs, had a high BAC, or refused to take a chemical test when appropriately asked to do so by an officer. Some states will even revoke a driver’s license permanently for a third or fourth DUI.
About half of the states have mandatory jail time for a first DUI conviction. These mandatory sentences are typically between one day and a week. In Texas, for example, a first-offense DUI carries a minimum 72-hour jail sentence. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 49.04(b).)
For second and subsequent offenses, mandatory minimums are much more common. For instance, New Jersey doesn’t require jail time for a first DUI, but for a second offense within ten years, the driver will have to serve at least 48 hours. And New Jersey third offenders face a minimum 90-day sentence. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:4-50.)
Fines and Fees
DUI convictions generally carry fines and fees. In most states, even a first-offense DUI will cost the driver at least $500 in fines. In addition to fines, there are typically fees the offender has to pay. For example, many states require drivers to pay license-reinstatement and court fees. These fees can be several hundred dollars or more. (For more on costs, see our discussion of real-world driver experiences in first-offense DUI cases.)
Ignition Interlock Devices
Many states require drivers convicted of drinking and driving to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) on their vehicles. An IID is an alcohol-detecting machine (like a breathalyzer) that’s attached to the car’s ignition system. Once an IID is installed, the car won’t start unless someone blows into a tube with an alcohol-free breath.
After the driver starts the car, an IID will ask for breath samples at random intervals—these are often called “rolling samples.” If an IID detects alcohol on a rolling sample, it generally won’t disable the car, but it will record the positive test and likely notify the court or probation department.
Some states—including Arkansas and Hawaii—require all drivers convicted of a DUI to install IIDs, including first offenders. Colorado, on the other hand, requires IIDs for first-offense DUIs only when the driver’s BAC was .15% or more. (Ark. Code Ann. § 5-65-118; Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 291E-61; Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42-2-132.5 (1)(a)(I).)
Other states require IIDs only for repeat offenders. For instance, in Georgia and Florida, IIDs aren’t mandatory for first DUIs but are generally required for at least one year for motorists with a second DUI within five years. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-63(a)(2); Fla. Stat. Ann. § 316.193 (2)(a)(3).)
In most situations, the defendant will have to pay the costs of installing and maintaining the IID.
Motorists who are convicted of DUIs involving accidents where someone was injured or property was damaged often face enhanced penalties. Other circumstances that might lead to increased penalties include prior DUI convictions, high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and having an underage passenger.
Get in Touch With a DUI Attorney
The DUI laws of every state are different. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with DUI, you should talk to a DUI attorney right away. An attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and help you decide what do next.