Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal in the United States and most other jurisdictions, too. However, each state has rules regarding what constitutes a DUI and what makes it an arrestable offense.
The DUI (and related) charges remain a major problem in the US. The National High Traffic Safety Administration report that about 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes, being one person every 45 mintues. In 2020, 11,654 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths — a 14% increase from 2019.
A conviction in any state for a DUI will show up on your criminal record as a felony or a misdemeanor but the criminal court process will differ across the different states. So too will any viable defense that can be mounted to defend these cases.
In any state, a DUI conviction can have a serious affect on you seriously, ranging from jail to community service, fines, the suspension of licence and possibly the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) to your motor vehicle.
Furthermore, if you also have a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC), then the minimum penalties that you are liable for can be increased and this will differ among different states.
A criminal defense attorney who has experience in dui offenses will also be up-to-date with legal changes and the best option for a legal defense to these cases. For instance, driving laws in California changed in 2022 so that anyone convicted of a second DUI offense within three years of a first offense is liable for a range of penalties ranging from fines and other penalties, a jail period and other penalties.
A DUI lawyer is often employed to help people with their DUI defense in the hopes of having their charges reduced or dropped altogether and the success of handling the DUI defense and any DUI penalties will depend upon a range of factors relating to the law, its enforcement, the procedures adopted and any additional relevant factors.
DUI lawyers are well versed in defense and can make a substantial difference in most cases and secure the best possible outcome.
When it comes to New York, the rules change a bit. In New York City, DUI charges aren’t used like they are in most states for intoxicated individuals. However, people can be convicted of a DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated).
To add to the confusion, there is also DUID offenses, which is driving while under the influence of drugs and even in states where drug use is legal, such as Colorado, the offense is still one that is a misdemeanor and can or will result in license suspension, as with a DUI offense.
The penalties for DUI and other related charges will differ in different states. In California, or Orange County to be specific for instance, you might expect a substantial period of summary probation and penalties of around $2000 and the attendance at a first offender drug and alcohol program for three months, which might typically cost around $500.
Both charges are different yet similar to a DUI, and a DUI defense strategy will focus on similar aspects as a DWAI or DWI. However a DWAI is generally regarded as a less serious charge than a DWI offense, unless there is a combination of both alcohol and drugs related to the alleged offending.
Most people that face such charges were either:
- Driving a vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) over .08%
- An individual was driving under the influence of drugs that impaired their ability to operate the vehicle properly
- The person was driving while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two
DWI & DWAI Penalties
A DWAI is generally viewed as a “lesser” crime, at least in comparison to a DWI, in New York at least. It is issued when drivers have a BAC level of between 0.5 and 0.7, which can impair their driving ability.
Connecticut drivers are an exception to this charge. They are exempt from it because they are part of a neighboring state that does not have such a violation. If you are charged with a DWAI, penalties might range from fines, probation, and possible jail time.
For a first DWAI conviction, you might have to:
- Pay fines up to $500
- Receive a maximum of 15 days in jail
- Deal with a 3-month driver’s license suspension
If you are convicted again within ten years of your first DWAI conviction, you might pay up to $1,500 in fines, spend six months in jail, or have a one-year license suspension.
For those who have been convicted previously with a DUI then a subsequent offense will generally be a felony, although for some states the actual enhancement of any sentence will be dependent upon the time-frame when the prior conviction occurred. But in other states the repeat offense of DUI will remain a felony.
In New York, a DUI is a general term that will include a variety of ‘impaired driving’ offenses and a DUI offense in New York may involve a variety of drugs such as heroin, marijuana and can even include prescription drugs such as oxycodone.
There is also complications that can also see a successful DUI defense mounted, such as where gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can create a high DUI reading when a breathalyzer is used. This medical condition is caused by acid reflux syndrome and traces of alcohol can remain in the blood for a longer period and creating the problem regarding the blood alcohol concentration.
When it comes to DWI convictions in New York City, penalties are harsher as convicts are required to complete the penalties that come with the conviction. Some penalties for a DWI conviction in New York include:
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Possible jail time of up to one year
- A license suspension of at least six months
Each subsequent conviction will increase these penalties further. If someone is charged with three DWI offenses within five years of each other, they will face costly fines, a permanent driving ban, prolonged jail time, and more.
Defense Strategies That Your Lawyer Might Use
Now that you understand the differences between a DUI, DWAI, and DWI in New York City, here are some DUI defense strategies that your DUI attorney might use in your case, regardless of the jurisdiction you find yourself facing a drunk driving case or under dui arrest.
Plea for a DWAI Instead of a DWI
Sometimes, lawyers will try to help their clients by pursuing a plea for a lesser conviction if other options aren’t favorable. In this situation, a good defense strategy for a dui defense attorney is to accept a DWAI plea instead of a DWI, as it won’t affect your life as badly as a DWI would.
If your lawyer is skilled, they can work with the prosecution and any law enforcement officer directly to identify other possible arrangements.
Miranda Rights Violations
Across the U.S., police are required under the Fifth Amendment to recite your Miranda Rights if an arrest occurs.
A defense strategy commonly used in defense cases is proving that the arresting officer did not read the Miranda rights or altered them in some way. This way, your case might be dismissed since the arrest wasn’t legal.
This is one of the most important of your legal rights, indeed your constitutional rights, when arrested during any criminal investigation. It is particularly important in DUI cases because the timing of events in a DUI case are critical as to the determination regarding ‘exculpatory evidence’ and other factors that might otherwise deny you a successful defense.
Other Rights Violations
In all states, the police cannot pull you over without reason or probable cause, as stated in the Fourth Amendment. The officer needs to have a warrant to arrest you or a good reason to pull you over.
The police officer or law enforcement office needs to have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or has created a violation of the law which will be based upon their experience and the appropriate training. An experienced DUI attorney will have a very good idea of what those requirements and appropriate measures should be when mounting a defense.
The probable cause must be documented in the police report if present. Your arrest becomes illegal when the traffic stop, search, and seizure is conducted for no reason and there is a lack of probably cause or where the administration of the breath test has been improperly handled.
Since blood alcohol tests are intrusive, in most cases, they can be performed only with a warrant if the driver refuses to accept them. A proper analysis is needed for the BAC results to be considered valid.
A good criminal defense lawyer or lawyer with good DUI law experience can focus on proving that your rights were violated to have your charges reduced or dropped.
The Arrest Process Was Improperly Conducted
Field sobriety tests aren’t always administered correctly; your defense lawyer can focus on this defense strategy. A blood sample may show a false positive where there has been no alcohol consumed but acid in the mouth increases through heartburn, acid reflux (as outlined) and other causes.
In New York there is no legal requirement to take on a field sobriety test, although this can differ in other states.
Similarly they are not compulsory in California although the police may not advise you of this.
However, regardless of whether they are compulsory or not they may not be performed properly and a variety of different factors can lead to a ‘fail’ on the field sobriety test, such as some illness, stress or anxiety from the police activity, poor footwear and so forth.
An experienced DUI defense attorney explaining these factors to a jury can be a powerful tool to instill a sense of reasonable doubt. After all, a reasonable alternative explanation means that the jury should vote not guilty on the charge.
Sometimes medications can also affect the blood sample analysis. The test results need to be carefully examined with the very best legal advice, given the serious consequences that can follow.
Your DUI defense lawyer can use any arrest procedure conducted improperly by the officers to successfully defend a DUI charge and ensure that you receive the very best DUI defense possible.
Source: The Law Offices of Jason Steinberger, New York