Things to Know about Drunk Driving (DUI, DWI, OWI)

It is illegal to drive in the United States with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. If you are arrested for drunk driving, a conviction can result in severe consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life. Drunk driving is a criminal offense and a conviction may result in jail time, loss of license, increased auto insurance rates, employment consequences and even the inability to enter some foreign countries. For these reasons, it is important to take a drunk driving charge seriously and seek legal counsel. A criminal defense attorney with experience handling DUI cases should know the intricacies of drunk driving laws and be able to help you fight the charges that you face.

Depending on the state that you live in, a drunk driving offense may be called Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) to name a few. Just like each state calls the crime of drunk driving something different, there are different procedures, expectations and even consequences for a drunk driving arrest. With that in mind, the following article addresses general information you should know about drunk driving arrests. It is usually a good idea to consult a criminal defense attorney in your state to receive specific information regarding your drunk driving arrest.

If you have been pulled over for a traffic violation, a police officer may ask you take a field sobriety test. Field sobriety tests generally consist of three tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand. These tests are designed to determine if a person is sober or intoxicated. It is generally assumed that if a person passes these roadside tests, they are sober—although field sobriety tests have not always been accurate indicators of sobriety.

In most states, field sobriety tests are voluntary and you may refuse to take the test without being penalized. It is important to be aware that a police officer may not arrest you unless you commit a crime in their presence or they have probable cause. Failing a field sobriety test provides an officer with probable cause to arrest you for DUI. For this reason, you may want to respectfully decline a voluntary field sobriety test to avoid giving an officer probable cause to arrest you for DUI.

Unlike field sobriety tests, roadside alcohol-screening tests—such as breathalyzers—are generally not considered voluntary tests (see What You Need to Know about Blood-Alcohol Tests). While the Fifth Amendment will not allow you to refuse a Blood Alcohol Test, it will allow you to remain silent if asked whether you have been drinking (see What is the Fifth Amendment). While you, generally, must comply to an officer’s request for a breathalyzer test, for many states, a voluntary Breathalyzer test is not considered admissible evidence in a DUI trail (see What You Need to Know about Breathalyzers). Rather it is evidence used in a pretrial to determine that an officer had probable cause to arrest you for DUI. A roadside alcohol-screening test may not be administered unless an officer has reason to believe that your driving has been impaired by alcohol.

Remember, an officer must have probable cause to arrest you for a DUI. Officers may have probable cause to arrest you if you fail a field sobriety test, if they see alcohol containers in your vehicle or if they smell alcohol on your breath. Of course, the best way to be sure you are not arrested for DUI is to not drink and drive, but many people find themselves in the unenviable position of facing criminal charges for their drunk driving mistake.

If you find yourself facing charges for DUI, it is important that you seek legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney. A DUI conviction will change your life forever and, therefore, demands rigorous defense and competent legal representation (see How to Hire a Good Criminal Defense Attorney). A criminal defense attorney should be able to help you obtain a temporary license if yours has been revoked, know how field sobriety tests should be administered and determine if yours was administered correctly, and make sure that your rights are protected. Consult with a criminal defense attorney shortly after a DUI arrest to make sure valuable time is not lost in defending your case.

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