FAQ: Drunk Driving
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Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the bloodstream from drinking alcoholic beverages. BAC readings are used in court as evidence in drunk-driving cases. The most common method of measure is a breath test, although blood and/or urine testing is sometimes done. A result of 0.08 or higher may establish a presumption of intoxication. The details of the 0.08 BAC presumption laws vary among the states, but all 50 states have adopted 0.08 as their official intoxication level, in large part because of a federal threat of otherwise withholding highway funds.
Every state has its own version of an implied consent law providing that a driver impliedly consents to alcohol testing just by the act of driving. In many states, a refusal to take a breath test is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties. For example, refusing a breath test might result in automatic driver’s-license suspension or revocation. If you are ultimately found guilty of a drunk-driving offense, there may be additional penalties because of the test refusal, such as a stiffer sentence. Your test refusal may also be used as evidence against you in a drunk-driving case.
Some courts allow the defendant in a drunk-driving case to challenge the scientific accuracy of breath tests in general, whereas others may allow challenges based on the particular circumstances of a test, such as improperly calibrated equipment or inadequately trained officers. If the test results are inadmissible or can be challenged, the case will probably have to be proven based on other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony and field-sobriety test results.
If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to drunk driving chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences, including possible fines, imprisonment, forfeiture of his or her vehicle or extension of the license revocation/suspension. The more prudent course of action is to rely on friends and family for rides or use public transportation during a license revocation or suspension.
Although your rates will likely be higher, your insurer may continue to insure you even after a conviction. A subsequent clean-driving record may result in lower rates in the future. If your insurer drops you as a result of the conviction, another insurance company may be willing to accept the risk. In fact, some companies specialize in offering nonstandard insurance to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving, but the rates are much higher. Another possible source of insurance for high-risk drivers may be state insurance programs created for just these types of drivers.
Drunk-driving convictions carry serious penalties that vary some among the states. Although courts may go easier on first-time offenders, even in first-offense cases the possible sentences usually include stiff fines and jail time. If the circumstances warrant it, however, the court may have the discretion to choose less-restrictive options or a combination of options, including probation, diversion programs, community service, alcohol awareness education, abuse counseling, ignition interlock systems, home monitoring, suspension of vehicle registration, vehicle impoundment or in-house alcohol treatment. For subsequent offenses, the likelihood of imprisonment and the steepness of fines usually increase and in all cases the loss of driving privileges — at least temporarily — is almost guaranteed.
Many drunk-driving offenders are forced to rely on public transportation or rides from friends, family or co-workers for transportation to and from work during periods of license suspension or revocation. In some states, an offender may be granted a hardship license, sometimes called a limited license or probationary license, allowing him or her to drive in limited situations such as to and from work, school or medical appointments. Some states require an alcohol evaluation as part of the limited license application. If an offender with a hardship license is caught driving outside of its strict limitations, further penalties may be imposed.
The best way to avoid being convicted of drunk driving is to not drink and drive. Use a designated driver, call a taxi, call a friend or don’t drink alcohol if you are going to need to drive within a few hours. For some people, even one drink can impair their driving abilities. However, if you have been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced drunk-driving defense lawyer can work to improve the outcome of your case.
Even if you did unsafely drink and drive, experienced legal counsel may be able to help minimize your legal problems and maximize your opportunities to move ahead toward a brighter future. A criminal defense attorney helps to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and works to preserve the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all criminal defendants.