Drunk Driving FAQs

How can I defend myself against a DUI charge?

A DUI charge requires a prosecutor to prove that you were pulled over for driving while drunk. Two ways to defend against this charge are to show that you were improperly pulled over and arrested or that the prosecution's evidence that you were drunk was insufficient.

The law requires that police have probable cause to stop a vehicle and test its driver for drunk driving. This means that there must be a reason why you were pulled over. If the police did not observe you driving erratically or find any other indicators of possible drunken driving, but they merely decided to pull you over because of your race or appearance, this could be a violation of proper legal procedures and might result in evidence of your stop being thrown out at trial. The law also requires police officers to provide you with proper Miranda warnings if you are arrested for drunk driving. These include your right to an attorney and to remain silent. If these warnings were not provided, evidence of your DUI that was obtained after your arrest may also be inadmissible at trial.

Alternatively, even if all proper procedures were followed, you may still argue that you were not drunk and that the police officer improperly determined that you were drunk. For instance, you may call witnesses who observed your stop or were with you in the car and found you to be sober and driving without difficulty. They may refute characterizations made by the police officer and suggest that the police officer's observations were incorrect. Similarly, you may use these witnesses and your own testimony to explain why you performed poorly on any field sobriety tests you received. For instance, if you have medically documented difficulties with balance or physical impairments that hindered your performance on a field sobriety test, this could be used in your defense.

Read more about DUIs.

Can I refuse to take a field sobriety test?

In many states, if you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, law enforcement officers may ask you to complete field sobriety tests in order to help ascertain whether you might be drunk. These tests are typically given by police when they have a strong reason to believe that a driver is intoxicated and want to confirm that this is the case. In most states, they are voluntary, and you have a right to refuse to participate. Indeed, since the evidence obtained from these tests will likely only be used against you in DUI proceedings, many criminal defense lawyers advise against completing them.

Read more about field sobriety tests.

What happens if I am convicted of multiple DUIs?

Individuals convicted of multiple DUIs are often known as habitual motor vehicle offenders (HMVO). In recent years, many states have adopted HMVO laws that impose very serious consequences for multiple DUI offenders. While the exact punishment will depend on the state in which the DUIs occur, in most states, if you have been convicted of multiple DUIs, you will face extended jail time and hefty fines. You may also find that your driver's license is revoked for several years, or even permanently. Even after your driver's license is reinstated, you may be required to use an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car before driving. Finally, you may also be required to participate in court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation programs. Because of the severe consequences that can be imposed, it is highly recommended that multiple DUI offenders seek attorney representation for their criminal proceedings.

Read more about repeat DUI offenses.

Are sobriety checkpoints legal?

Sobriety checkpoints are legal. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, individuals have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In order to be reasonable, a seizure must be the result of probable cause, which means that police must have a good reason to stop an individual or a vehicle. Since sobriety checkpoints are randomized stops of individuals in their cars, some have argued that they stop people without probable cause to do so and constitute an unreasonable seizure.

In an important U.S. Supreme Court case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the Supreme Court held otherwise, finding that sobriety checkpoints are not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court rationalized that in the context of sobriety checkpoints a balancing test must be applied to determine if the seizure is reasonable, and the public interest in preventing drunk drivers from being on the road outweighs the inconvenience and offensiveness of the seizure of random drivers. Thus, states may use sobriety checkpoints as a way to protect against drunk driving.

Read more about sobriety checkpoints.

Can I get in trouble for selling alcohol to minors?

In order to discourage minors in possession of alcohol and underage DUIs, many states criminalize the act of selling or supplying alcohol to a minor. By doing so, states hope to limit minors access to alcoholic beverages and encourage adults and commercial establishments to be careful about who their customers are.

Read more about selling alcohol to minors.

Are minors subject to different BAC limits than adults who are charged with DUI?

Most states have more stringent requirements for minors in the context of blood alcohol content (BAC) and drunk driving. While the legal limit for adults is generally .08% BAC, for minors it is .01% or .02% in many jurisdictions. This is because several states have "zero tolerance" policies in place with regard to alcohol consumption by minors, who statistics show are particularly dangerous when driving while intoxicated.

Read more about underage DUI.

Can I take my boat out on the water after consuming alcohol?

People who are operating boats are generally subject to the same kinds of laws as motorists on the roads with regard to alcohol. The offense of boating under the influence (BUI), like a DUI, will often be charged if a boat driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) level is .08%. Some states raise this legal limit to .10% for boaters. However, as is the case for on-road motorists, many states have implemented zero tolerance policies with regard to alcohol consumption by minors who are operating watercraft.

Read more about BUI offenses.

What is implied consent?

Implied consent is a concept employed by virtually all states to impose penalties when a driver refuses to participate in a field sobriety test. Under state "implied consent" laws, when an individual applies for and receives a driver's license, he or she consents to being stopped on public roads on suspicion of drunk driving and consents to any field sobriety tests that might be employed by police to determine whether an individual is intoxicated. If a driver then refuses to complete a field sobriety test, he or she violates the implied consent agreement and can be subjected to fines or penalties, such as the suspension of a driver's license.

Read more about refusal to complete field sobriety tests.