Bottle in a hand while drivingFor many years, a DUI/DWI was handled much like any routine traffic violation. Attitudes have changed, however, and so have the laws in most states. Driving under the influence or while intoxicated is now usually treated as a serious criminal offense.

In most states, you can be convicted if your blood alcohol content is.08 percent or greater, or if you fail a field sobriety test. The blood alcohol content limit is even lower for commercial drivers and drivers under the age of 21.

The Difference Between DUI and DWI

The terms DUI and DWI both refer to the act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other substances. DUI means “driving under the influence.” DWI is an acronym for “driving while intoxicated.” In many states, the two terms are used interchangeably. In certain states, however, the terms are given different weight.

In these states, DWI is the more serious offense in which the driver was intoxicated, while DUI is regarded as a lesser offense. A higher blood alcohol level may result in the driver being charged with DWI instead of a DUI.

DUI/DWI Penalties Are Serious

A first-time DUI/DWI conviction typically results in severe penalties. Depending on the state, you may be subject to some or all of the following penalties for a first offense:

  • Temporary impounding of your vehicle
  • A fine of up to several thousand dollars
  • Installation of an ignition lock that prevents your car from starting if you’ve been drinking
  • Probation
  • Possible jail time
  • Revocation of your driver’s license
  • Community service
  • Completion of substance abuse classes at your own expense

These penalties increase substantially if you are involved in an accident or you are a repeat offender. You will also be saddled with a criminal record that may haunt you for years or even decades.

You Could Be Charged With a Felony

If you have multiple prior convictions, you can be prosecuted in any state for felony DUI/DWI – even if no accident occurred. In Florida, you can be prosecuted for felony DUI on your third offense within 10 years, and you can be charged with a felony for even a first offense if you caused an accident – particularly if someone was injured. If the accident resulted in a death, you can be charged with manslaughter or vehicular homicide, both of which can lead to imprisonment for years or even decades.

Common Defenses Against a Charge of Drunk Driving

DUI/DWI lawyers use a variety of defense strategies that may lead to a “not guilty” verdict or reduce the penalties you face. Your lawyer may challenge the reason for the original traffic stop, the results of a field sobriety test or the results of a breathalyzer test.

You May Be Able to Have Your Criminal Record Erased

In some states, you can file a request with the court asking to have your criminal record “expunged” – which generally means that it will be erased from public records. Some states expunge DUI arrests and charges but not convictions, while other states expunge first-time DUI convictions. States often place strict conditions on expungements.

For example, if you’ve had no previous criminal convictions, your request for expungement can be granted. In most states, the police and courts will still have access to your criminal record even after an expungement.

A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding DUI/DWI arrests and convictions is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.