An impaired or drunk-driving offense is referred to (in some states) as either driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). However, in states where both acronyms are used, DWI means intoxication due to alcohol, while DUI means being under the influence either or alcohol or prohibited drugs.
In all U.S. states, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher is a crime. First offenders are usually charged with a misdemeanor, granted that no one was injured or killed while driving under the influence. In such case (killing or injuring someone), plus if the BAC level is higher than 0.08% or if the offense is the third or fourth violation, the charge would be raised to something more serious: DWI felony or DUI felony.
In alcohol-impaired driving cases, drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated are pulled over by police officers and asked to take a breath-screening test, also known as the Alco-Sensor test – the purpose of which is to simply determine the possible presence of alcohol in the driver’s breath. A positive result can lead to an arrest and once the driver has been taken to the precinct, he/she will be required to undergo a second test, which is a chemical test of the saliva, urine, blood and/or breath (using an instrument like the AlcoTest, Intoxilyzer, DataMaster or Breathalyzer) to determine his/her BAC level. Refusal or failure to submit to this second test can result to revocation or suspension of his/her license – this is based on administrative license suspension laws from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). (Submitting oneself to a chemical test, if suspected of driving while intoxicated, is one of the conditions of licensure as stipulated by the DMV. Thus, a license implies that a driver has implicitly consented to the chemical test required by DMV). Administrative license suspension laws are observed in the District of Columbia and in 41 other U.S. states.
If convicted of DWI or DUI, a driver may also be required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in his/her vehicle. The IID is wired to a vehicle’s ignition; it will require the driver’s breath sample and will only allow the engine to start if no alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath. The device also requires periodic breath tests (while the vehicle is being driven) to make sure that the driver is continuously free from the influence of alcohol.
Furthermore, the court may require DUI or DWI offenders to fill out an SR-22 or Certificate of Financial Responsibility (CFR) form (also known as FR-44 in some states) to enable them to enjoy their driving privileges again. This requirement usually lasts for three years and one effect of this is higher vehicle liability insurance premiums.
Any person charged with DWI will need strong legal representation that will help him/her avoid unwanted penalties and which will save him/her from the harsh effects of a criminal conviction.