Chances are that you've heard of the term "DUI" before but most people don't actually understand what it means from a legal perspective. To many, this can mean the loss of your driver's license for a significant period of time, alongside the requirement to pay huge civil fines, or even spend some jail time. However, it is important to note that the official meaning of the term "DUI" is driving under the influence.
Depending on the jurisdiction that you are in at the time of the DUI allegedly occurred, you might find that the crime is referred to as driving while intoxicated, or DWI, or driving while impaired. On the other hand, some states call the crime "OWI" or operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
Typically, the extent and success of a DUI charge will depend on a person's specific blood alcohol level during the time of the arrest. Most of the time, officers who arrest an individual on suspicion of driving under the influence will administer a breath test, followed by a blood or urine test if drugs may be suspected.
In Massachusetts, DUI laws are covered by Section 24 of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Examples of DUI Cases
Crucially, in all fifty states, it is seen as a crime to drive or operate a vehicle when you are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both substances. Usually, this crime is known as driving under the influence, regardless of what the influential substance might be.
In order for a case of DUI to be successfully brought to court and moved towards a conviction, the prosecution must be able to prove two very important things. Not only do they need to prove that the person who is being charged in the DUI case was actually driving or operating a vehicle, but also they will need to prove at that exact time, the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicating substance. In other words, they must be able to show that the person in question had consumed a substance that limited his or her ability to drive safely.
In cases that involve driving under the influence, the influence can be drugs and/or alcohol, and a defense can be anything that either proves that the defendant was not actually driving at the time of the arrest, or that the defendant was not under the influence of anything. A defense might also prevent the prosecution from actually presenting evidence in a trial, which will reduce the prosecution's ability to prove the case that they are trying to make.
Crucially, it's worth noting that not every DWI or DUI case or law is created equally. In fact, each state will determine what they consider the severity level of the crime to be, as well as the potential punishments that can be given for that crime. While most states will automatically consider the DUI charge to be a serious offense, other states will actually regard a first-time offense to be a civil infraction. In most states, the judge presiding over the case will possess the power and discretion to decide how he or she will enforce punishment, while other states impose mandatory sentences.
Most of the time, the penalty you receive will depend on who hears your case, and sometimes, you will be able to reduce the ban on your license by taking a rehabilitation program that allows you to get back on the road more quickly. The definition of your DUI crime might influence the penalty imposed on you. For instance, being in charge of a vehicle while over the legal limit for alcohol can lead to a fine and up to three months in prison, while driving a vehicle above the legal limit of alcohol leads to double the amount of imprisonment time, and a potentially unlimited fine. Importantly, if you refuse to provide a blood, urine or breath test when asked and are still found to be guilty of driving under the influence, then the penalty you receive might be higher, as you can often get some leeway if you comply with the law enforcement officials who deal with your arrest. Similarly, if you plead guilty to a charge of DUI, then you may also receive a smaller sentence or fine.
In Massachusetts, the punishment for DUI are as follows:
- First offense - jail time of up to 30 months, fine of $500 to $5000, suspension of license for 1 year
- Second offense - jail time of 30 days to 30 months, fine of $600 to $10000, suspension of license for 2 years, requirement of ignition interlock device (IID)
- Third offense - jail time of 150 days to 5 years, fine of $1000 to $15000, suspension of license for 8 years, requirement of ignition interlock device (IID)
- Fourth offense - jail time of 1 to 5 years, fine of $1500 to $25000, suspension of license for 10 years, requirement of ignition interlock device (IID)
- Fiftth offense - jail time of 2 to 5 years, fine of $2000 to $50000, permanent suspension of license
- Of course, as with any crime or offense in the United States, it is possible to launch defenses against the accusation of driving under the influence, given the right circumstances. For example, if you were not actually driving the vehicle in question during the time when the alleged DUI or DWI offense took place, then it is not possible for you to be convicted of DUI. However, because most DUI cases begin with drivers being pulled over by police officers, there is rarely much argument available in whether or not the defendant was actually driving. Of course, if a police officer never actually saw you driving, and approached you when you were in a car at a parking lot, the issue could be debatable.
- Another potential defense against an accusation of driving under the influence, is that the police officer in question did not have the legal justification required to stop your vehicle and arrest you in the first place. If the officer failed to follow the correct legal procedures during the arrest, any evidence that was gleaned from the traffic stop could be considered as inadmissible, and kept out of the court case that is launched against you. In many circumstances, this might actually leave the prosecution without a valid case against you.
- You may even find that it is possible to offer a valid explanation for your behavior and appearance that leads to the charges against you being lowered or dropped. For example, if you can counter the officer's conclusion that you were drunk by offering a reason for why you acted and looked a certain way, this could be good for your case. For instance, you might argue that you didn't perform as you should have during a sobriety test because of a physical impairment, or you might suggest that your eyes were bloodshot because you were wearing contact lenses, suffering from allergies, or experiencing tiredness after lack of sleep.
- Sometimes, defendants may also be able to introduce crucial witnesses in their case who saw the occurrence differently. For instance, if other people saw your behavior or actions at the time at the arrest, you can introduce them as witnesses, and allow them to argue on your behalf that you did not drink anything before entering the car, that you appeared to be sober, or that you ran a red light because of an understandable reason rather than because you were drunk.