Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Know your limit - and the law's - before you get behind the wheel.

Getting any kind of ticket is frustrating, but getting arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is just about as bad as it gets, short of being charged with vehicular homicide. Each year, nearly 1.5 million Americans are charged with driving while intoxicated. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Some experts estimate that in any given time and place, one in 50 drivers on the road is legally intoxicated. In one recent year, more than 25,000 Americans died and more than a million were injured in accidents involving drunk drivers.

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In some states, a blood alcohol content of .10 percent is the threshold for finding a driver legally intoxicated. Statistics show that drivers who equal or exceed the .10 percent figure are more than six times more likely than sober drivers to be involved in an automobile accident. As a result, several states have lowered the threshold requirement to .08 percent or less.

For most people, it doesn't take a great deal of alcohol to reach these blood alcohol levels. For a person who weighs 180 pounds, three or more drinks of hard liquor in a one hour period can cause a blood alcohol concentration in excess of .10 percent. And while some people believe that drinking beer or wine poses less danger of intoxication, the amount of alcohol in a 12 ounce bottle of beer or a 6 ounce glass of wine is equal to that in a 1-1/2 ounce drink of hard liquor.

Because of the ongoing danger presented by drunk drivers, many states have set up road block programs that allow police officers to briefly stop drivers to determine if they are driving while intoxicated. If a police officer suspects that a driver stopped at one of these "sobriety checkpoints" is driving under the influence of alcohol, he or she may be required to submit to a roadside sobriety test, and to provide a breath or blood sample to measure blood alcohol concentrations.

Although the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such roadblocks do not violate a driver's federal constitutional rights, state courts have arrived at varying conclusions when they have been challenged for violating rights granted under state constitutions. Some state courts have held that sobriety checkpoints do violate a driver's right not to be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, while others have taken the opposite view.

In most states, under a legal doctrine known as "implied consent" the law considers you to have agreed to submit to blood alcohol testing when you obtained your driver's license. Refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test can lead to an automatic suspension or revocation of your driver's license. And in most states, you do not have a right to consult with an attorney before taking such a test.

Penalties for driving while intoxicated are severe, and are becoming more so all the time. In some states, a first offender who is found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol can be sentenced to as much as 90 days in the county jail, fined up to $500, and have his driver's license suspended for up to two years. A second offense can lead to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Third and subsequent offenses can bring as much as a five-year prison term.

If you are ever charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while intoxicated, it is important that you get help from an attorney as soon as possible. This is one time when you don't want to try to do-it-yourself. You can obtain the name of an attorney experienced in this area of the law from your state bar association's referral service.

Copyright 1999 ProSe Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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