When you are caught by a law enforcement officer for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, a chain reaction of legal steps ensues. Drunk driving is a serious offense. Every state requires blood alcohol content (BAC) of drivers to be .08% or less. Some states, including Rhode Island, have stricter requirements and penalties for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21. Additionally, several states have harsher punishments for drivers with extremely high BAC levels over .15%.
If a police officer stops you for driving after excessive alcohol consumption, you will generally be asked to perform field sobriety tests or an actual sobriety test to measure your level of intoxication. Various testing options exist, including blood, breath, and urine. Most states have implied consent laws about sobriety tests - if you get behind the wheel of a car, you are implying consent to take an alcohol test on the spot if requested. The driver usually has a choice of tests. Breath testing is easier to fault for accuracy than blood tests but breathalyzers do not scan for the presence of other drugs. If you refuse the test or have a BAC level over the state limit, the law enforcement officer will probably take you into custody at the local police station. Depending on previous charges, it is likely someone will have to pick you up or you will have to sleep overnight at the station to sober up.
Following a DUI charge, several types of punishment may be leveled against you. Common consequences include license suspension, car impoundment, fines, and court dates. Generally, a judge or jury decides your fate, unless the law specifically dictates a certain type of punishment. Prior DUI convictions worsen new offense punishments, with the third DUI in many states counting as a felony. Additional sentencing possibilities include drug or alcohol treatment, community service, parole time, rising insurance rates, and installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
After a conviction, some states will allow for a temporary license reinstatement, assuming good behavior and continued liability insurance. Provisional reinstatements vary greatly between states, judges, and individual circumstances. Hiring a lawyer can help alleviate some of the stress associated with the legal consequences of DUI charges.
Drunk driving is a serious offense in the United States. If you are interested in learning more, this website about DUI survival tips can be a useful resource in case you are ever caught behind the wheel after consuming one beer too many.