While driving under the influence is illegal nationwide, each state sets its own terms for what qualifies as “under the influence.” Currently, all states have set the maximum legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level at 0.08 percent, but some states have “zero tolerance” legislation that reduces that level for those who are underage, and also laws that have weightier punishments for drivers with a particularly high BAC level.
The penalties may vary by state, but it’s always a serious offense to be pulled over for drunk driving. So here are five things you should know about DUI arrests or convictions, and what can expect to happen later.
1. Most states have implied consent laws for sobriety tests
This means that when an officer pulls you over for driving drunk, or for another reason but he or she has reason to think you’ve been drinking, you have to allow the test, otherwise you’re looking at fines and/or license suspension. There are currently three types of sobriety tests (blood, breath, or urine), and most of the time drivers get a choice. The urine and breath tests usually don’t provide the same level of accuracy as the blood test, and a breath test cannot check for drugs.
2. The terms aren’t necessarily interchangeable
“Driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “driving under the influence” (DUI), and “operating under the influence” (OUI) don’t always mean the same thing. In some states, DWI is the only term used. In others, a DWI refers to people driving under the influence of alcohol, while DUI is under the influence of drugs. Or sometimes, DWI is used if a driver’s BAC is over a certain level, but DUI is used if their BAC is below that level. Be familiar with the laws in your state.
3. Your insurance rates will probably go up
Since you will now bear the label “high-risk driver,” you can expect to start paying more for car insurance. In addition, it’s not unheard-of for an insurance company to drop a customer for a DUI conviction, so you might even find yourself on the hunt for a new company. A DUI conviction can impact what you pay for life insurance, too.
4. Prepare to lose your license
A DUI charge almost guarantees the loss or suspension of your driver’s license. In most cases, the arresting officer will give you a temporary license after taking yours away, with an expiration date the same as your scheduled DMV hearing. If you present a strong case at the hearing, they may return your license. Otherwise, your license suspension will probably last a bit longer. The length of the suspension depends on how high your BAC was, if you have any prior DUIs on your record, etc.
5. You’ll need to hire an attorney
The next step after being arrested for a DUI is usually to appear in court for your arraignment. This is where you’ll stand before a judge and be formally charged with a crime, and you have to respond with either guilty or not guilty. This is also where you can request a jury trial if you want to go that route. Usually, you don’t need an attorney to accompany you here (although it’s recommended), but if you intend to take things further then you should hire one. An experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney can help you decide whether you should plead guilty, fight your charges, or request a plea deal.