Being convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) is not something to be taken lightly, trust us. With the recent crackdowns on DUIs and DWIs in many states across the U.S., involving harsher penalties for drivers who are convicted of these crimes, lawmakers are sending a clear message of “zero tolerance” towards such offenses. While it would be easy to think “I’m a responsible adult, this won’t happen to me”, the reality is that it does happen to us, and it is essential to have the necessary background knowledge to be able to deal with a DUI charge. One bad decision after a party does not have to be a life-altering moment.
The First DUI Consequences
While punishments may vary according to state legislation, and sometimes even county legislation, there are states where even a first-time DUI offence can result in jail time and a suspended driver’s license. Judges have recently been mandated by law to hand out harsher penalties and fines. In addition, the ruling will consider if there are any aggravating circumstances (such as having any open alcohol recipients in the car or travelling with a minor) and the defendant’s degree of cooperation with the authorities.
A DUI is a criminal charge. In all 50 states, fist-offense DUIs or DWIs are classified as misdemeanors. If you are convicted of it for the first time, there are several legal consequences which will take their toll on your everyday life, but whose effects can be controlled with proper legal counselling. You need to take into account fines, a possible jail sentence (up to six months for first offenders, with many states requiring a minimum jail sentence of at least several days on a first offense), a suspended license, community service and/or mandatory attendance at a DUI school (alcohol and drug education classes). These latter measures (community service and DUI school) can be recommended by a judge instead of jail time or paying fines, most likely in the case of a first offender.
The jail time varies and may be increased under certain circumstances. For instance, some states mandate more severe punishments for DUI or DWI offenders whose blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the time of arrest was particularly high – around 0.15% or 0.20%, compared to the legal limit of 0.08%.
With regards to license suspension, a DUI or DWI offender stands a good chance of having his or her license suspended for a long period of time (either by court order or mandate of the state DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles). For example, many states suspend a first offender’s license for 90 days, a second offender’s license for one year, and a third offender’s license for three years.
An aggravated circumstance in this regard would be the refusal to take a blood, breath, or urine test. This reckless move can result in a license suspension even if the court ruling finds you not guilty, in addition to other penalties in many states.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that first offenders are underage. A minor who is arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will not get easily off the hook – in fact, being young is likely to make matters even worse. The legal drinking age is 21 in most states, therefore drinking before that age constitutes a separate offense.
As if that was not enough, some states penalize underage drivers based on lower blood alcohol levels (BACs) than the standard 0.08% for adults, typically 0.02%. The state may impose adult sentences on minors, and underage DUI offenders are likely to have their licenses suspended for one year. But it is equally true that, in the case of underage offenders, the judge is more likely to be lenient and make use of alternative forms of punishment such as the ones mentioned above, i.e. community service and alcohol and drug education classes. In Texas, for example, minors convicted of a DUI must perform community service, in addition to any other penalties.
However, the legal consequences are not the only repercussions of a DUI conviction. There are also social consequences. For instance, some employers demand a clean driving and criminal record from their employees, and if a DUI conviction comes up on a routine background check, it might damage your employment prospects or it might lead to you being dismissed from your current job. Moreover, your insurance company is likely to cancel your policy, or at least increase the rates on your premium, not to mention the fact that you might be confronted with an additional civil lawsuit if the victims of the accident you caused while DUI decide to sue for damages or injuries.
All of the above, of course, depend on the legislation of each state. We are now going to take a look at the DUI legislation of two US states (Florida and California) in order to clarify some legal points. You are, however, strongly advised to seek additional legal counselling if you are charged with a DUI. Laws are subject to change more often than we would like to, and even with the existing ones, there may be different interpretations according to jurisdiction. We urge you not to take any chances.
DUI Florida – the consequences of first and repeat offenses
First of all, and perhaps on a slightly off-topic note, we should mention that if you’re wondering which is the correct form of spelling in the offense vs. offence debate, you can rest assured that “offense” is the correct form when we’re talking about legal matters.
In the case of Florida, community service and probation only apply to convicted first offenders.
- First Conviction: Not less than $500, or more than $1,000. With Blood/Breath Alcohol Level (BAL) of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $1,000, or more than $2,000.
- Second Conviction: Not less than $1,000, or more than $2,000. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $2,000, or more than $4,000.
- Third Conviction More than 10 years from second: Not less than $2,000, or more than $5,000. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $4,000.
- Fourth or Subsequent Conviction: Not less than $2,000.
First Conviction: Mandatory 50 hours of community service or additional fine of $10 for each hour of community service required.
Probation: First conviction, total period of probation and incarceration may not exceed 1 year.
At the court’s discretion, sentencing terms may be served in a residential alcoholism or drug abuse treatment program, credited toward term of imprisonment.
- First Conviction: Not more than 6 months. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not more than 9 months.
- Second Conviction: Not more than 9 months. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not more than 12 months. If second conviction within 5 years, mandatory imprisonment of at least 10 days. At least 48 hours of confinement must be consecutive.
- Third Conviction: If third conviction within 10 years, mandatory imprisonment of at least 30 days. At least 48 hours of confinement must be consecutive. If third conviction more than 10 years, imprisonment for not more than 12 months.
- Fourth or Subsequent Conviction: Not more than 5 years or as provided in s.775.084, Florida Statutes, as habitual/violent offender.
Impoundment of Immobilization of Vehicle
Unless the family of the defendant has no other transportation: First conviction = 10 days; second conviction within 5 years = 30 days; third conviction within 10 years = 90 days. Impoundment or immobilization must not occur concurrently with incarceration. The court may dismiss the order of impoundment of any vehicles that are owned by the defendant if they are operated solely by the employees of the defendant or any business owned by the defendant.
Conditions for the Release of Persons Arrested for DUI-s
- The person is no longer under the influence and;
- The person’s normal faculties are no longer impaired
- The person’s blood/breath alcohol level is lower than 0.05; or
- Eight hours have elapsed from the time the person was arrested.
A.First Conviction: Minimum 180 days revocation, maximum 1 year.
B. Second Conviction Within 5 Years: Minimum 5 years revocation. May be eligible for hardship reinstatement after 1 year. Other 2nd offenders same as “A” above.
C. Third Conviction Within 10 Years of the second conviction: minimum 10 years revocation. May also be eligible for a hardship reinstatement after two years.
D. Fourth Conviction, Regardless of When Prior Convictions Occurred) and Murder with Motor Vehicle: Mandatory permanent revocation. No hardship reinstatement.
E. DUI Manslaughter: Mandatory permanent revocation. If no prior DUI related convictions, may be eligible for hardship reinstatement after 5 years.
F. Manslaughter, DUI Serious Bodily Injury, or Vehicular Homicide Convictions: Minimum 3-year revocation. DUI Serious Bodily Injury having prior DUI conviction is same as “B-D” above.
In the aggravating circumstance of refusing to submit to a breath urine or blood test, the penalties are as follows:
- Refusal: Refusal to submit to a breath, urine, or blood test is admissible as evidence in DUI criminal proceedings. Second or subsequent refusal is a misdemeanor of the first degree.
- Driver License Suspension Periods: First refusal, suspended for 1 year. Second or subsequent refusals, suspended for 18 months.
- Commercial Driver License Disqualification Periods: First refusal in a commercial motor vehicle, disqualified for 1 year. Second or subsequent refusals in a commercial motor vehicle, disqualified permanently. No hardship reinstatement permitted.
In the case of underage offenders, the Florida statutes say the following:
Section 322.2616, Florida Statutes, authorizes law enforcement officers having probable cause to believe that a motor vehicle is being driven by or is in the actual physical control of a person who is under the age of 21 while under the influence of alcoholic beverages or who has any alcohol level may lawfully detain this person and may request them to submit to a test to determine the alcohol level. This violation is neither a traffic infraction nor a criminal offense, nor does being detained under this statute constitute an arrest.
- First Suspension for Persons under the Age of 21 with an Alcohol Level .02 or above: 6 months.
- Second or Subsequent Suspensions 1 year.
- First Suspension for Refusal to Submit to Breath Test: 1 year.
- Second or Subsequent Suspensions for Refusal: 18 months.
- The suspension is effective immediately. If the breath or blood alcohol level is .05 or higher the suspension shall remain in effect until completion of a substance abuse evaluation and course. The officer will issue the driver a temporary permit effective 12 hours after issuance which is valid for 10 days, provided the driver is otherwise eligible.
DUI California – the consequences of first and repeat offences
The specifics of the state of California in what concerns drunk driving legislation pertain to the strictness of laws governing the driving behavior of those under the age of 21. California has a “no tolerance” law for drivers under the age of 18. In addition,
- Drivers under 21 may not carry unsealed beer, wine or liquor in their vehicle while they are driving alone. (There are exceptions for work related driving)
- Drivers under 21 may not drive with a blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) of .01 or higher.
- Drivers under 21 may not consume alcohol in any form, including cough syrup, and prescription drugs.
- Any driver may not drive with a BAC of .08 or higher.
- The drive of any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license may not drive with with a BAC of .04 percent or higher
- A driver under 18, may not drive with ANY measurable blood alcohol concentration.
- Repeat offenders may not drive with a BAC of .01 or Greater
On your first DUI conviction in California you are likely to receive some jail time, for between 96 hours and 6 months. The fine will be an amount between $390 and $1,000 (plus any penalties you may receive for various reasons). Your driver’s license (DL) will also be suspended for six months, though you may be entitled to get a temporary permit from the court, solely for work purposes and such. Also, you won’t be eligible to get your DL back until you provide proof that you have completed a “driving under the influence” program approved by the state. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, if you’re first time DUI offender, you may also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device on your car, and that will be at your own expense as well. Such a mechanism will detect if you are sober to drive every time you attempt to start your car.
For a second DUI conviction in California, you will get jail for a number of 90 days to a 1 year. You will also get a fine, valued at between $390 and $1,000 (plus any eventual penalties). Your driver’s license will be suspended for 1 year henceforth, and it will not be reinstated until proof of financial responsibility and proof that you have completed a state-approved “driving under the influence” program. You may also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device on your car, at your own expense.
For a third DUI conviction in California, you will go to jail for 120 days to a 1 year, depending on the severity of the case. The fine you will have to pay will be between $390 and $1,000 (plus penalties). You will also be officially registered as a “habitual traffic offender” for 3 years following your conviction, and your DL will be suspended for 2 years. In order to get it back, you will also need to provide proof of financial responsibility and of completing a state-approved safety program. You may apply for a restricted driver’s license (for work or healthcare purposes) under special circumstances, but the court isn’t likely to give you one. In the case that you do receive such a temporary permit, you will also need to install an Ignition Interlock Device as well.
For a fourth DUI conviction in California you will get jail time of between 180 days and 1 year. You will also pay a fine of no less than $390 and no more than $1,000 (to which you can add the likely penalties). Also, you’ll be registered as a “habitual traffic offender” for 3 years from your arrest, and your DL will be revoked for the 3 year period as well. Your license can’t be reinstated until you provide the court with proof of financial responsibility and of completing an approved safety course (specifically targeting DUI behavior). You may apply for a restricted license, but the chances of the court grating you one are pretty slim.
As a California-specific action, in some circumstances, a plea bargain of “wet reckless” might be accepted by the prosecution in California. A “wet reckless,” or a conviction of reckless driving involving alcohol, is usually made as a result of a plea bargain in which a charge of drunk driving is reduced to a case of reckless driving. A plea bargain of wet reckless might be accepted when the amount of alcohol is borderline illegal, there was no accident, and the defendant has no prior record. But you are convicted for drunk driving again within 10 years, the “wet reckless” is usually considered a prior drunk driving conviction for sentencing purposes. In other words, the resulting sentence may be what’s required for a second DUI/DWI conviction. If you are interested in trying to make a plea for a wet reckless, you’ll need the help of a lawyer.
DWI in Texas
As for DWI (driving under the influence) in TX, rumors are that it happens more often than in other states, which makes the judges more inclined towards leniency, unless it is a particularly dangerous and irresponsible case of teenage drunk driving and so on. To clear out some facts, we should state that Texas has the following BAC limits:
- For 21 years and older: 0.08%
- For commercial drivers: 0.04%
- For drivers younger than 21 years old (teen drivers): any detectable amount.
We hope our guide to the consequences of DUI helped you get a more accurate map of the legal system on the matter, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us.