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Criminal Law FAQs

What Happens if I am Pulled Over for Drunk Driving?

Once you are pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving, an officer will usually ask you to perform a field sobriety test. This usually consists of tasks that will allow the officer to observe your level of physical or cognitive impairment, like walking heel to toe in a straight line or reciting the alphabet backwards. Refusing to participate in a field sobriety test is generally fruitless, as the officer will request that you submit to chemical testing. This may include a breathalyzer test, which an officer can do on the scene, and blood and urine tests, which must be performed at a medical facility. You are required to submit to such testing should an officer ask, and refusal to participate in chemical testing can result in an immediate suspension of your driver’s license for six months to a year. Depending on the circumstances, refusal to submit to the testing can yield a higher penalty than the drunk driving conviction itself. These “implied consent” laws rest on the assumption that if you have undertaken the responsibility of driving a car, then you have given consent to be tested for your ability to drive that vehicle safely.

The minimum blood alcohol level necessary to be considered “driving under the influence” or “driving while intoxicated” is .08. At that level you are “per se” intoxicated, even if you show no outward signs of impairment. All states also have a “zero tolerance” policy for underage drinking — a person under the legal drinking age found driving a car with any trace of alcohol in his system will be penalized, regardless of evidence of physical impairment.

Sentencing for DUI/DWI is largely dependent on an offender’s history of drunk driving and whether or not the offense resulted in an injury to any other person or property. Those convicted of drunk driving may face fines, jail time, license suspension and mandatory participation in an alcohol treatment program. Recently, courts have been increasingly using “certified ignition interlock devices,” which detect whether alcohol is present in the driver’s system each time he or she wants to start the car. The device prevents the car from starting if any alcohol is detected.

If you are charged with a DUI/DWI, an experienced attorney that specializes in this type of case can help you navigate the system and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.

Copyright © 2008 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

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