Criminal Law

Driving While Intoxicated

Driving While Intoxicated ("DWI") is a serious crime in every state. DWI and Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") refer to the same crime. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs may affect your ability to operate cars, boats or industrial equipment in a safe manner. It's against the law in every state to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs if you can't safely operate your vehicle.

If the police see you driving erratically or violating traffic laws, they're permitted to stop and question you for a DWI violation. If they suspect you're intoxicated, they can ask you to submit to various tests, including a blood alcohol test.

Blood Alcohol Content

When you consume alcoholic drinks, alcohol is absorbed into your blood stream. The level of alcohol in your blood, called the Blood Alcohol Content ("BAC"), can be measured by different tests. Driving with a BAC level of .08 or above is illegal in all states. This measurement means that your blood contains eight one-hundredths percent of alcohol. All states have laws with even lower prohibited BAC levels for commercial drivers, as well as zero tolerance laws for drivers under age 21.

If the police think you're drunk, they can require you to take a breathalyzer test or give a blood sample to measure your BAC. Refusal to take a test usually causes an automatic suspension of your license for a long period of time. This can last as much as six months or a year, depending upon the state.

You also can be convicted of drunk driving without the results of a blood alcohol test or if your blood alcohol test result is lower than the statutory amount. A jury may convict you based on evidence that your breath, conduct, language and motor movements showed you were drunk and unable to drive safely.This evidence comes in part from a field sobriety test police make you take when you're stopped. The test may include a nystagmus gaze test to track erratic eye movements indicating intoxication.


The penalties for drunk driving are serious.

  • Punishment for first time offenders includes suspension of driving privileges, points on your driver's license and fines.
  • Punishment for second and subsequent offenses increases significantly and usually means jail time.

A drunk driving conviction also generally causes your automobile insurance premiums to increase dramatically.

Many people charged with drunk driving request a trial to fight the charge. Legal defenses may be raised to defeat the drunk driving charge or reduce the penalties. You'll need a lawyer to adequately defend yourself at trial.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does it matter whether I take a breathalyzer or blood test? Is one kind of test more reliable?
  • Can I present a successful defense if I want to go to trial on drunk driving charges? What are my chances?
  • Do the police have to do field sobriety tests, such as balance or eye gaze tests, before doing a breathalyzer or blood test?
  • My medical condition resulted in motor skill difficulty, but I have a valid driver's license. Should I be concerned that my condition could be misinterpreted and strengthen the DUI/DWI case against me?
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