DUI Frequently Asked Questions

1.What is a DUI?
Driving Under the Influence (of alcohol or drugs), also known as a DUI, is an illegal activity that can result in fines, a suspension of the intoxicated driver's license or even jail time. If a police officer suspects that a driver is operating a vehicle while intoxicated, he or she may force the driver to take a field sobriety test. If the driver does not pass the test, or his or her blood alcohol content is above a certain limit, he or she will be taken into custody.

2.What is a field sobriety test?
Law enforcement officials use three different types of coordination and balance tests to ensure that drivers on the road are not under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus follows the jerking reflexes of the eyes, as the driver is forced to follow a flashlight with his or her eyes. Drivers can also be asked to walk and turn, to walk in a straight line or to stand upright on one leg.

3.What other tests can be required of suspected drunk drivers?
If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a driver has been drinking, he or she can ask the driver to take a breath or chemical test. The breath test can be administered in the field or back at the police station. A device that is blown into will show the Blood Alcohol Content level (BAC) of the driver. A chemical test uses samples of the driver's blood or urine to determine the BAC.

4.Do I have to submit to these tests?
Drivers are expected to take these tests when asked by law officials. However, they have the right to refuse and deal with the consequences. Drivers also have the right to take their own test after they complete the police-administered test, to compare the results. Contrary to popular belief, however, drivers do not have a right to legal representation before they submit to a test. This is why it is very important to understand drivers' rights in advance.

5.Is the breath test accurate?
In most cases, yes. However, some instances have been recorded where the driver's pre-existing medical condition or the interference from nearby radio waves can cause the device to give an inaccurate reading. Drivers who have diabetes, gastric reflux, hernias or who have been exposed to acetone may have a higher BAC. Also, radio waves from surrounding devices, including police walkie-talkies can give false readings. If working properly the device should be able to detect this problem.

6.What exactly is a BAC?
A driver's blood alcohol content level is the percentage of alcohol that can be found in his or her blood. Most states determine a certain percentage that they deem illegal. However, many people have said that this method is unfair, because it targets drivers who have a higher tolerance for alcohol. A driver who is legally under the limit may be more intoxicated than a larger driver with a higher tolerance, who is above the legal limit.

7.What is an Implied Consent warning?
A police officer, taking a driver into custody for DUI is required, by law, to give the Implied Consent warnings. He or she must ask the driver to a State-administered chemical test, inform the driver that he or she has the right to refuse the test and also the right to request an independent test. These rights function a bit like Miranda Rights, and if the court finds that the officer failed to give these warnings, the DUI case can be thrown out.

8.What happens if I refuse to submit to a chemical test?
If the driver chooses his or her right to not take the test, the license of said driver will be suspended for up to one year from the incident, without any work permit. The driver may then take his or her DUI case to court and win or have the crime reduced to a non-DUI offense to get his or her license back. Refusal can be at the time of arrest, or can be communicated via letter.

9.What punishments can occur if I am convicted of a DUI?
More often than not, first time offenders spend a night in the "drunk tank," a holding cell where they are required to sober up before going home, and are given a fine. However, repeat offenders can pay heavier fines, have their licenses suspended, have a court-ordered breathalyzer device installed in their car or even spend time in jail. The punishment also varies, depending on the amount of damage the driver did while driving intoxicated.

10.What will happen to me if I injure or kill another person while driving under the influence?
If an accident occurs, while a driver is operating his or her vehicle impaired, much more severe punishments may ensue and the driver may find him or herself facing criminal charges. A driver can be convicted of reckless endangerment, criminal negligence or even involuntary manslaughter if anyone is injured or killed. These crimes come with much stiffer punishments, including lengthy periods of jail time.

11.What happens if I am court-ordered to install a breathalyzer device in my vehicle?
In an effort to cut down on the number of people who continue to drive with suspended licenses, many states are moving to required breathalyzer devices. These small machines, which measure the driver's BAC are wired to the ignition of the driver's vehicle. The car or truck will not start if the driver does not blow the legal limit into the device. This will prevent him or her from driving while intoxicated.

12.Why do the BAC limit and punishments vary from state to state?
To date, not many laws relating to drunk driving are left in the hands of federal authorities. Most state governments create their own legislature to constitute an illegal BAC and to determine the appropriate punishments for each DUI offense. If you are convicted of a DUI in a state in which you do not live, you will be subject to that state's jurisdiction. You will attend a trial and serve any punishments in the state where you committed the offense.

13.What happens if I get a DUI and I am under 21?
Minors charged with DUIs face even stricter punishments, because they are not supposed to be drinking anyway. They may be forced to attend an alcohol awareness and education program, pay heavier fines or have their licenses suspended for a longer period of time. The driver may not be eligible for a work permit, as well. They also may be charged with underage drinking, which comes with its own set of legal penalties.

14.How long will a DUI remain on my record?

In most states, if a driver is convicted of a DUI and serves his or her punishments, the DUI will remain on a permanent record, which can be checked by future employers and family members who request the records, for life. If the driver commits a second or third DUI offense, the punishments will become increasingly more severe and he or she may serve extended jail time. The record allows the courts to assign appropriate penalties.

15.What should I do if I am pulled over for a DUI?
It is important to remain polite and do not argue with the police officer. He or she is in charge of the situation, and you may be convicted of resisting arrest if you become belligerent. It is also important that you not reveal the number of drinks that you consumed before you were pulled over. This information can be used against you, even if you are found to be under the legal limit.

16.Should I take a field sobriety test, if the officer asks me to submit?
It is generally recommended that the driver politely refuse to take any field sobriety tests when being pulled over. These tests can be done hastily and carelessly and often the results are often skewed. Agree to take a chemical test back at the station, and have an independent test done at a local hospital. If you are forced to take a breathalyzer test, ask for the right to take one at another police station.

17.What happens if I am convicted of multiple offenses in a short period of time?
If a driver is arrested for DUI three or more times in five years, he or she is labeled a habitual offender. The driver will have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, spend up to a year in prison, be forced to do community service hours, and have his or her license suspended for up to five years, with a mandatory breathalyzer device installed in his or her vehicle for the two years following the five year suspension.

18.What is vehicular homicide?
This fancy term just means that a driver killed someone while operating a vehicle. There are two degrees of vehicular homicide, one is a felony and the other is a misdemeanor. This means that the punishments between the two offenses vary. Vehicular homicide is much like regular homicide in its classifications, and varies only slightly in its penalties.

19.What is first-degree vehicular homicide?
If the driver was operating his or her vehicle recklessly or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and he or she killed another driver or pedestrian, he or she will be charged with first-degree vehicular homicide. This comes with a very stiff jail sentence, depending on the record of the criminal. He or she will be recognized as a felon after such an offense.

20.What is second-degree vehicular homicide?
This crime is reduced to a misdemeanor, because it was committed without any intention to harm. If a defendant can prove that he or she was not driving recklessly, but merely broke the speed limit or was driving too slow, the judge may dramatically reduce the sentence. Punishments for this crime may include fines of up to $1,000 or up to a year of jail time, depending upon the laws of the state and the previous record of the offender.

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