Punishment and Penalties for DUI DWI Convictions

This article will help you understand what you might face in the event you are convicted of a DUI or DWI driving offense and what you may have to do in order to get your driver’s license back. In addition to covering habitual violators laws, driver’s assessment tests and vehicle forfeiture, it also features a chart to help you understand your state law.

The consequences and penalties for a DUI or DWI conviction

The penalties for a conviction of DUI/DWI can be large fines, jail time, probation, community service and the suspension of the operator’s driver’s license. States typically have lesser penalties for first-time DUI/DWI offenders than those with repeat convictions. The courts will take the circumstances as a whole under consideration before sentencing, such as any of the following:

  • The actual BAC /BAL of the driver
  • Any previous DUI convictions
  • Whether a minor was a passenger in the vehicle at the time of arrest
  • Whether the motor vehicle being operated while DUI was a commercial or private vehicle
  • Other moving violations that may have occurred while DUI
  • Whether an accident resulted while DUI
  • Whether there was any property damage as a result of DUI
  • Whether a death occurred as a result of DUI
  • The legal drinking age and the age of the driver

Penalties have increased for those convicted of DUI/DWI, especially for repeat offenders. Many states have passed laws requiring mandatory jail time for repeat DUI convictions. The efforts of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and high casualty rate as a result of DUI-DWI related accidents, the amount of fines have increased, the length of license suspension has become longer and obtaining a “hardship” license for limited driving back and forth to work has become much more difficult.

Over 40 states have Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws which allow arresting officer to immediately seize the driver’s license of those who fail or refuse to take a breath/chemical or “field tests.” Automatic suspension of the arrested person’s driver’s license may occur even if the driver is not ultimately convicted of DUI / DWI,  in addition to enhancing penalties in the event of a DUI / DWI conviction.

Habitual Violators

An increasing number of states have passed “Habitual Violator” laws which provide felony penalties for three DUI convictions. Habitual offenders lose many of their civil rights, such as being able to own a weapon, vote, as well as permanent loss of a driver’s license or for a significant duration. Most states require a DUI or DWI offender to complete educational classes at a “DUI school” which has become much more comprehensive than merely sitting in class for several hours and then passing a written test. Most offenders must also pass a driver’s assessment interview with a professional DUI DWI counselor who will help in assessing what steps must be completed before the offender’s driver’s license will be reinstated. Frequently the discussion will center around the offender’s drinking patterns, frequency and amount, and how to deal with the problem.

Ignition Interlock Systems

Over 35 states have employed “ignition interlock” systems as alternatives to full suspensions of one’s driver’s license for a DUI / DWI conviction. Ignition interlocks are small devices which require the driver to blow into the device in order to start the car. The ignition will not fire if the device measures a level of alcohol on the driver’s breath of at least .02-.04. It also requires testing at some interval after the car has been started to ensure that a friend of the driver isn’t starting the motor vehicle for the driver and leaving immediately afterward.

Ignition interlock systems are being increasingly favored by lawmakers and those convicted of DUI / DWI since it allows eligible offenders to be able to continue to have valuable transport to and from work. It also doesn’t cost the taxpayers to monitor since the $60-100 monthly costs are borne by the offender. Note that only certain DUI / DWI offenders are eligible for this kind of monitoring and it is not a privilege – those with serious DWI convictions may not be granted the ability to drive with an ignition interlock system. In many states, the defendant must show that a severe hardship exists so that driving a car is a necessity, e.g. their job is miles away from home with no convenient public transportation.

Repeat offenders who commit multiple substance abuse-related offenses or who continue to drive while their driver’s license is suspended, revoked or denied, may be subject to vehicle forfeiture. A court may order that the vehicle be sold if a DUI / DWI offender owns a vehicle, including where a an offender leases the vehicle. Money generated from the sale of the vehicle will usually be distributed first to pay secured interests and then to others.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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