What Does a DUI Charge Mean?

In today's world, everyone knows that a DUI charge is serious business. Evidence continues to demonstrate how driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs means that you just can't operate your vehicle as safely as you can when you're clean and sober. While, 30 or 40 years ago, having a few drinks and getting behind the wheel was a common occurrence and socially acceptable, it is happening less and less often as the calendar rolls forward.

Drunk driving laws and penalties are getting more and more severe every year, and lawmakers are making a conscious effort to deter people from dangerous drunk driving. Roadside checkpoints, random stops, and other techniques are making a difference in enforcing the laws effectively. If there are fewer impaired drivers on the road, it will result in a much greater level of public safety, whether that means for children, pedestrians, or other drivers.

All that said, there is still a lot to know about DUI charges, the terminology, and what a charge like this will mean for you.

DUI vs. DWI Terminology

There are two terms which are often used interchangeably, but which can carry some different meanings, depending on the state or jurisdiction that you find yourself in. DUI stands for driving under the influence, while DWI can mean either driving while intoxicated, or driving while impaired. The bottom line is that you don't want to be charged with any of these, and they are crimes in every state, but it's worth knowing more about each of them.

A DUI charge essentially means that the driver was found to have been operating their vehicle as the driver while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It needs to be proven that the person was driving, and didn't switch seats with a passenger, as well as the fact that they were under the influence of some type of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes there is some wiggle room with DUI charges, and some areas that drivers can try to argue about, but these charges are becoming more scientific and objective, and less observational or subjective.

A DWI (when referring to driving while intoxicated) charge often means that the charge is a bit more scientific and refers specifically to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit set by the state or jurisdiction. In every state in the U.S., having a BAC of over 0.08 percent is the legal limit, while some are even lower than this.

Now, this is where it gets a bit confusing, because, in some areas, a DWI charge can mean driving while impaired (as opposed to driving while intoxicated), so that you can be charged as the driver if it's been proven that you were impaired by the arresting officer, even if you don't have a BAC above 0.08 percent. There are roadside sobriety tests and physical tests that can help the officer make this determination.

The bottom line is that even a misdemeanor DUI or DWI charge is not a good thing, and you should be extremely familiar with the rules, laws, and intricacies of your specific state or jurisdiction.

While DUI and DWI charges are serious, the one you really want to avoid is the felony DUI charge, because that's the one that's going to land you in prison. Typically this happens if you have injured or killed someone while you're driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are also other factors which can make your charges and penalties more severe, such as having children in the vehicle with you, or if your BAC was particularly high. In some states, however, you can get a felony DUI simply by having multiple previous DUI or DWI charges (think of it as a three strikes type of rule), whether someone was killed or injured or not, and even if your previous charges were just misdemeanors.

A felony DUI charge can also be the result of driving on a restricted, suspended, or revoked license. Whatever the case, if you have a felony DUI charge, you're going to want a good lawyer. You never want to handle a felony DUI case on your own. DUI and DWI lawyers have specific experience with all aspects of these charges, and they'll be able to help you more than any other type of lawyer.

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid a DUI or DWI charge is just to avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs when you're going to be driving, because laws and penalties are not getting any more relaxed.

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