Overview of Drunk Driving
Many drivers in the US are arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs every day. The negative consequences of drunk driving have recently increased, largely in response to public outcry and the influence of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). If you find yourself arrested for illegal drunk driving, an attorney with experience defending drunk-driving cases can help protect your rights.
Each US state has its own set of drunk-driving laws, and in some states drunk driving is a crime, while in others, like New Jersey, it is classified as a traffic offense. While drunk-driving laws do differ among the states, there are certain concepts and features common to most states’ drunk-driving jurisprudence. Basically, as we all know, operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol and/or drugs to a degree that impairs a person’s judgment and ability to drive safely is a serious offense. Both criminal and civil penalties for drunk driving can be harsh and often include:
- Loss or suspension of license
- Large fines
- Substance-abuse treatment
- Jail or prison time
- Community service
- Criminal record
- Restrictive probationary license programs, including ignition interlock devices and Cinderella licenses
In addition, the social stigma and effect on your career may have lifelong negative consequences.
The Use of Ignition Interlock Devices in Drunk-Driving Cases
Most states have regulations that allow or mandate that judges order the installation of interlock devices as a penalty during sentencing in drunk-driving cases. An ignition interlock device is installed in a car that measures the blood alcohol content of the driver, who must blow into the device before starting the car. If the blood alcohol content (BAC) is above a certain level, the car will not start. Because the laws regarding the use of ignition interlock devices in drunk-driving cases vary from state to state, it is important to speak to an experienced DUI defense attorney in your state.
The Prosecutor’s Role in a Drunk-Driving Case
Prosecution refers to the government’s role in the criminal-justice system. When criminal activity is suspected, it is up to the government to investigate, arrest, charge and bring the alleged offender to trial. A prosecutor is a lawyer who works for the government and who is responsible for developing and presenting the government’s case against a criminal defendant. Prosecutors may be called county attorneys, city attorneys, district attorneys or states’ attorneys. Some jurisdictions may even have experienced police officers act as prosecutors in drunk-driving cases. The prosecutor is the opponent or “adversary” of the criminal defendant and his or her attorney; the two sides go head-to-head against each other in court.
Reliability of Breath-Test Results in a Drunk-Driving Case
In every state in the US, a driver with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher is presumed to be legally intoxicated for drunk-driving purposes. Each state has also enacted an implied-consent law. Implied-consent laws provide that every licensed driver within the state is considered to have given his or her consent to chemical testing to determine his or her BAC whenever a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion of intoxication. In most states, refusal to submit to such a test results in license suspension or revocation.
The Impact of a Drunk-Driving Conviction on Your Auto Insurance
An alcohol-related car accident and subsequent drunk-driving conviction can bring many negative consequences into your life, possibly including jail or prison time, a criminal record, car repair or replacement, restitution, guilt and grief over harm to others, higher insurance premiums, a civil lawsuit, fines, court and administrative fees, community service, alcohol education, substance-abuse treatment, social stigma, restrictions on or revocation of your drivers license, attorneys fees, restrictive probation and others. If you are arrested for or charged with drunk driving, a lawyer can advise you about your legal rights and help you fight the charges.
Drunk Driving/DUI Resource Links
About.com: Alcoholism and Substance Abuse
Links to articles and resources about drunk driving.
Impaired Driving Division – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
NHTSA’s Impaired Driving Division provides information and resources on drunk driving from a legal and social viewpoint and with a goal of prevention.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Link to informational chart about the drunk-driving laws of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) – Impaired Driving
Facts, data, publications and other helpful information involving impaired drivers.
The Century Council
A not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.
Frequently Asked Questions about Drunk Driving
Q: What is “blood-alcohol concentration” or “blood-alcohol level”?
A: Blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the bloodstream from drinking alcoholic beverages. BAC readings are used in court as evidence in drunk-driving cases. The most common method of measure is a breath test, although blood and/or urine testing is sometimes done. A result of .08 or higher may establish a presumption of intoxication. The details of the .08 BAC presumption laws vary among the states, but all 50 states have adopted .08 as their official intoxication level, in large part because of a federal threat of otherwise withholding highway funds.
Q: Can I refuse a Breathalyzer® test?
A: Every state has its own version of an implied consent law providing that a driver impliedly consents to alcohol testing just by the act of driving. In many states, a refusal to take a breath test is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties. For example, refusing a breath test might result in automatic drivers-license suspension or revocation. If you are ultimately found guilty of a drunk-driving offense, there may be additional penalties because of the test refusal, such as a stiffer sentence. Your test refusal may also be used as evidence against you in a drunk-driving case.