All States in the US have made driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol a crime, although the crime itself is known by various terms in the different States and depending on the circumstances. DUI or DWI (Driving Under the Influence or Driving While Intoxicated), OUI (Operating Under the Influence), Drunk Driving, Impaired Driving, are all commonly used terms to describe this type of criminal charge, but for purposes of this article we will refer to it as DUI.
While laws and consequences vary from state to state and by situation, virtually every State has established a statutory “per se” blood alcohol content (BAC) level at, and even under, .08%. Where a “per se” alcohol level is established, this means the State presumes you are guilty of DUI if your test results are at or above a .08% level. Most States have also established varying levels of “per se” DUI charges at higher BAC results, for instance in Arizona the State has established a presumptive .08% BAC level (28 ARS 1381.A.2, DUI), .15% BAC level (28 ARS 1382.A.1, Extreme DUI), and .20% BAC level (28 ARS 1382.A.2, Super Extreme DUI). In New York State .18% is an Aggravated DWI with higher penalties. The higher levels of DUI carry higher amounts of jail time and other more serious consequences. Many States also have established criminal charges for BAC levels lower than the .08% limit, for instance for CDL drivers or drivers under the legal age of consumption.
In the past, criminal DUI charges were almost exclusively cases where the person was charged with consuming alcohol and testing consisted of machines which sampled and analyzed the breath of the suspected individual, only and specifically for alcohol. Perhaps with the rise of the common use of behavior-altering prescription medications, in the early 2000’s a strong trend started to develop of testing the suspect’s blood for impairment. Today, when more than half of the States have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, the majority of law enforcement agencies use blood testing as the primary means of establishing impairment in DUI cases. In most States, Implied Consent laws assume drivers have given their consent to testing for impairment and establish enhanced punishment for refusal to comply.
While defending a DUI case is made more difficult with a test result at or above the “per se” BAC legal limit(s), the BAC is hardly the end of the story, as attorney Gordon Thompson explains. The average unrepresented defendant simply does not have the ability to recognize legal defenses and issues, or to adequately defend themselves in a criminal DUI case and most especially at trial. Only an experienced DUI attorney can fully explore all of the options available for your specific BAC level, case and circumstances and can ensure all of your rights and privileges are preserved. Many DUI lawyers will provide a free consultation to discuss your case and may be able to provide a sense of the best and worst case scenarios in terms of resolving the criminal charges. Before your consultation make notes as to the facts surrounding the incident, write down any questions you may have for the attorney or any particular concerns, and be ready to talk about what type of fee agreement will be used and what specifically the agreement will or will not include (for instance, many attorneys charge a separate trial fee for cases that cannot be resolved by plea agreement or other means). And while price is certainly a significant factor when choosing a criminal DUI attorney, it is crucial to choose a lawyer with experience, both in handling DUI cases as well as familiarity in dealing with the local courts, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. If you cannot afford an attorney, depending on your financial status you can request the court appoint a public defender to act as your lawyer.