All You Need To Know About Driving While Intoxicated And DWI Lawyers
Being a US citizen, you must have heard the terms like DWI, OWI, and DUI, once or twice in your life. When you hear any one of these words, your mind directly goes towards a policeman stopping your car. For people who have been in a situation involving DWI or DUI, their first thought is about the DWI lawyers, to protect them from the sentence. Although the regulations about driving and drinking are more or less the same in the US, there are slight variations in the DWI laws of each state.
What Does DWI Mean?
DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or in some states it is also known as driving while impaired. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a legal offense in the US, where a person is driving or operating any vehicle such as a car, truck, motorbike, or scooter, with the consumption of some drugs or alcohol. In each state, the DWI laws are slightly different and the police follow a list of assessment processes to charge the driver with a DWI penalty.
The nature and the severity of the DWI cases vary from state to state, for example in Wisconsin, if you’re caught with the DWI offense, your driver’s license would be put off for about nine months. But if the same happens to you in Georgia, your license would be confiscated for one year. There is nothing you can do about those penalties except for hiring DWI lawyers who help you in reducing your sentence and getting your driver’s license back sooner.
Is DWI the Same As DUI?
The answer to this question depends upon which state you belong from because some states see no difference between these two terms while others have distinct penalties and proceedings for DWI and DUI felonies. DUI means driving under influence of drugs, alcohol, or prescribed medications, whereas, DWI means driving while impaired or intoxicated.
The common difference in a few states for both of these terms is that DWI is for someone driving with a higher than the legal limit of blood alcohol level, regardless of the drivers’ state. And the DUI is for situations where the driver is visibly in no state to drive due to the influence of any alcoholic substance such as beer, vodka, and others.
Moving from state to state, you will also see police considering the intake of recreational or prescribed drugs before driving as a DWI offense, and driving after alcohol consumption as a DUI crime. But in some states, the DWI lawyers will take the cases for both DWI and DUI convicted because their legal system considers both of these expressions the same.
DWI Tests and Screening Processes
If the police suspect a driver to be intoxicated or impaired to be driving, he has a legal right to stop the vehicle and examine the driver for any traces of alcohol and drugs. If the driver is proved to be impaired for driving, he/she faces the predetermined penalties for DWI by the state. For the inquiry of the DWI, the police officers use some screening processes such as checking the blood alcohol level and the cognitive ability of the driver.
Field Sobriety Test
The foremost method of screening used by the police officers is the field sobriety test, which is a set of multiple small tests. This test battery is designed to measure coordination, eye movement, cognition, balance, and the perception of the driver, all of which are needed in safe driving. The suspect has a right to refuse participation in those tests without facing any legal charges. These are some of the trials used normally by the police officers for the Field Sobriety Test:
- To examine the balance and cognitive ability, the police officer asks the suspects to stand on one leg while putting their hands to their sides. The suspects are then required to count numbers in different orders. If there is confusion in the counting, the suspect sways, or falls, it is considered as a sign of intoxication. Another way of measuring balance includes asking the drivers to close their eyes while standing with both their feet close together. After which they are asked to spread their arms in front of them and touch their nose using a finger. If they fail to do so or their arms shake, it means they lack balance and are considered impaired.
- In another test, the police officer uses his finger or a pencil in front of the driver (inches away from the nose) and asks that person to follow the pencil/finger. The intoxication is detected if the person cannot move his eyes with the object.
- To test the perception and sobriety, the officer asks the driver to walk a few paces, and then turn left or right, and go forward or backward. A fully sober person would be able to perform these steps without hesitation and losing balance.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
The more legit screening process than the field sobriety test is measuring blood alcohol content. It provides numerical evidence for the DWI lawyers and police officers. And unlike the field sobriety test, the suspect can face serious legal actions for refusing the BAC tests.
The legal limit of BAC in all states of the US is a minimum of 0.08%. This limit applies to all states except for the state of Utah, where the legal limit of BAC is at least 0.05%. The DWI lawyers fight those cases based on the BAC limit under different scenarios such as aggravated driving. There are three main types of tests run by police officers to examine DWI suspects.
- Breathing Test: to measure the blood alcohol content in the blood by breathing, the police use a device known as a breathalyzer. It is the most efficient and quick tool for examining a DWI suspect. The person under question is asked to breathe on the device which then estimates the BAC by the alcohol content in the breath of that person. it is fairly accurate and gives instant results.
- Blood Test: for a detailed investigation of the DWI convict, blood tests are also used. The person accused of DWI felony can face severe legal penalties for refusing the BAC blood tests. The DWI lawyers can help the suspects regarding the BAC test administration. Although blood tests give the most accurate data, they do not provide immediate and on-spot results, which is why they are not preferred by the police officers on the road.
- Urine Test: urine tests are not as reliable as breathing or blood tests, which is why they are used rarely, and only in situations where the other two tests are impossible. The biggest disadvantage of BAC urine tests is that they give either too high or too low readings of alcohol in the blood.
Consequences of Being Charged with a DWI Felony
Being arrested for a DWI felony always results in some serious legal actions taken against you, as the DWI and DUI as classified as criminal offenses. After the arrest and the initial sentence, you can decide if you want to hire DWI lawyers or a public attorney, to fight your case. People face different consequences according to the frequency and the severity of their DWI offense, ranging from removal of the driving license to years of jail time.
For someone who has been accused of driving while intoxicated, the suspension of the driving license almost inevitable. It can be ordered by the court if the person got arrested and convicted or by the orders of the state traffic police department. The duration of the license suspension can be different for everyone depending on which state you live in and the nature of your conviction.
For instance, a person who is being convicted for the first time with a DWI offense may face license removal for five to six months only, such as in California. On the other hand, someone who has been arrested before for the same crime can face license suspension for as long as two years. The suspension of the driving license is also a penalty for refusal to cooperate in BAC testing by the police officers.
One thing common in almost every state for DWI convicts is the fines, although the amount is not the same. The easiest and the most preferred form of punishment for any DWI reprobate is paying the fines because they are not very high, especially for the first-time offender. The typical range of fines for a DWI offense is as low as $200 to as high as $2000. Complications in the DWI cases can result in a subsequent increase in the fine amount along with other penalties such as jail time.
Spending time behind the bars for a DWI offense is less typical than other forms of charges convicts face. In most states, the minimum jail time for the first DWI felony is no more than a few days or weeks, but as the number of offenses increases, the jail time is likely to turn into months and even years. Most DWI cases hardly reach the point where the court orders jail time for the convict.
There are even some states where the first-time DWI offense bears no jail time at all, such as the state of Pennsylvania. In Colorado, the jail time is as little as 5 days and as vast as a year for the first offense, depending on the nature of the case and the credibility of the DWI lawyers. Usually, the DWI criminals involved in the death or injury of someone, are most likely to end up with a jail sentence, that can extent to years.
The court can also order the cancellation of the driving license altogether and confiscate the vehicle of the convicted person, but only after several offenses. In such cases, the DWI lawyers can help reduce the confiscation period of the car and appeal to the court to make the cancellation of the license temporary. It should be kept in mind that these laws are not followed in all states of the US, every state handles the penalties for DWI offenders differently.
For instance, in Alabama, Hawaii, and Colorado, the use of ignition interlock devices attached to the convict’s car is mandatory. Apart from the legal penalties, someone who has committed a DWI offense loses future job opportunities involving any form of transportation and driving.
Punishment for Juveniles
The consequences for the DWI felonies committed by the juveniles are not the same as the penalties for the adults driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The legal age for alcohol consumption in the US is 21, which means that anyone under 21 will not face any jail time for drinking and driving but they might have to pay fines. Some states just suspend the license of the juvenile convicts of DWI. For example, if you are underage and driving while intoxicated in the state of California, your license will be suspended for a year and you will have to pay a $100 fine. This punishment is for someone who has committed the DWI offense for the first time, the charges will be different and much more severe if arrested twice.
What Do DWI Lawyers Do?
The foremost duty of the DWI lawyers is to represent the driver who has been arrested and charged with any kind of DWI offense, in court. In the US, with a high rate of annual alcohol consumption, millions of people each year are arrested for committing a DWI felony. Out of which many seek DWI lawyers to defend themselves in the court and to reduce their sentence. After the arrest for a DWI offense, different legal procedures are followed. For some people, fines and license restrictions are enough and the case is closed, whereas, for the complicated and repeated cases, the need for DWI lawyers arises.
The job of DWI lawyers
Once your case reaches the premises of the court, there are so many charges the prosecutor can accuse you of. Under such situations, the DWI lawyers have your back and make sure that you are not charged unjustly. Once the court has finalized your charges, the DWI lawyers work on gathering the relevant information to make your case stronger. They analyze, review and organize all the documentation for your case and represent you in front of the jury.
The experienced DWI lawyers are determined to reduce your sentence, be it jail time, fines, or license cancellation, or suspension. Their job is to defend the DWI convicts, regardless of the number of times the offense has been committed. DWI lawyers also provide legal guidance without having to fight the case for you. The legal practice of the DWI lawyers can vary from state to state due to the relative variations in the state laws, but their main duty remains the same; to convince the court to reduce or dismiss the charges against their client.
The DWI lawyers can represent their clients after getting the basic J.D degree from any law school, along with the bar exam, legal practice, and certification from the state. The average salary of DWI lawyers as well as DUI lawyers in most states of the US is between $110k to $171k, depending on the state and the experience. The salary of the private firm DWI lawyers might be a bit higher than those working for the state legal departments. The private law firms have a reputation of winning most cases, therefore they tend to charge higher.
A DWI lawyer must have strong communication abilities to interact efficiently with both the clients and the jury. Along with the communication skills, they should be able to comprehend and analyze the legal terms in the case where necessary. A good DWI lawyer is never hesitant in defending his/her client in court no matter how low the chances of winning are. DWI lawyers need to have influential interpersonal skills so that they can represent their clients professionally. The ability to write, read and analyze the information effectually is crucial for DWI lawyers. The DWI lawyers must have an influential personality that radiates trust and calmness so that the client feels confident sharing his/her information with them.
Getting DWI Lawyers After Being Convicted
The first thing after getting arrested for a DWI offense is to test the ground for the need for a DWI lawyer. If the situation requires a DWI lawyer, here is everything you need to know for that:
Where Can You Get DWI Lawyers?
The first thing you might want to do is to make a list of all the credible DWI lawyers in your area. Now that list can be completed only after you know where to find DWI lawyers. Several law directories provide discrete information for reputable lawyers. You can shortlist and select a lawyer from there after meeting them.
Personal recommendations from people who have been in a similar situation can also help find a DWI lawyer. If your case is difficult or you can not afford to lose, then getting a DWI lawyer from a famous private law firm is the right choice. Private firms have lawyers in every field of the law, you can get a DWI lawyer from there easily. A huge number of DWI lawyers work in State Bar Association and other governmental legal departments, you can hire a good attorney from there as well.
Selecting the Best DWI Lawyers
Getting the right DWI lawyer for your case is a crucial step, which is why you have to be extremely careful when choosing an attorney. Here are some vital points that will aid you in hiring the best DWI lawyer:
- Do a comprehensive background check for the lawyer: Before you hire a DWI lawyer, always ensure that he/she is a certified lawyer. You can do that by asking them about their qualification, license, and affiliation with the state bar association. Ask them about their previous cases and the winning rate, to make sure that the person has some credibility and experience.
- Be careful during the first meeting: Since you are meeting the lawyer for the first time, you don’t want to go to the meeting alone. It is better to bring a colleague, friend, or acquaintance with you during the first meeting. They can notice the body language and the personality of the lawyer upon which you can decide to hire that lawyer later on.
- Ask as many questions as possible: When you meet the lawyer for the first time, do not hesitate to ask questions. Inquiring about their experience, qualification, training, legal practice and expertise helps the client make an informed decision. So you should not be afraid to ask such questions before finalizing your lawyer since he/she is going to represent you in a legal setting.
- Focus more on the DWI expertise than the cost: Finding a good DWI lawyer at an affordable price is outstanding but making the price your only criterion for the selection of the lawyer is unwise. You should focus more on the specialization of the attorney than how much he/she is charging. Those lawyers have to represent you in the court, so don’t hire someone who lacks experience but serves at a cheap rate.
How Much DWI Lawyers Charge?
The DWI lawyers cost around $5,000 to $10,000, in many states. There are different rates and additional charges when we move from state to state. The minimum charge in some states of the US for a DWI lawyer is $1,900. So, there is no right answer for how much do the DWI lawyers charge, unless you specify which state you come from.
Public Defenders Vs. Private DWI Lawyers
Like most countries, the US legal system provides the facility of public defenders for the convicted person, if he/she cannot afford a private lawyer. A large population of people goes with the public defenders for their DWI cases. They have the same level of qualifications and experience which makes them capable of fighting your case, but since their workload is substantial, they cannot provide enough time and attention to your case. Whereas the private DWI lawyers cost you a lot of money but they are dedicated to your case. They have an obligation to provide as much time and attention to your case as possible, which in return, increases your chances of winning the case.
Degrees of DWI Offenses in The US Law
In every state, the types or the degrees of DWI felonies have different charges. But since Halt Law Directory is based in Minnesota, here we have listed the various levels of DWI offenses in the state of Minnesota:
1st Degree DWI offense
In Minnesota, the first-degree DWI offense is not the same as the first DWI in New York, in fact, they are opposite to each other. In Minnesota, if a person has been charged with a first-degree DWI, it means that he/she has been arrested for the same crime three times before that, during the last ten years. whereas in New York it means that the offense was committed for the first time. It is also considered a DWI felony if the convict has been charged with a first-degree DWI or any other criminal act before. The penalties include confiscation of the vehicle, a maximum fine of $15,000, and jail time for nearly six to seven years.
2nd Degree DWI offense
If a person has been charged with a DWI offense two times during the past ten years, and this was his/her third time being arrested for the same crime, it is said to be a second-degree DWI. The refusal to participate in the BAC testing of any form can also result in a second-degree DWI offense. Apart from that, aggressive behavior with the police upon arrest is another reason for you being charged with a second-degree offense of DWI. The accused can lose his/her vehicle on the spot, along with a fine of up to $3000. The convicted also faces jail time of a one-year maximum for a DWI offense at such a level.
3rd Degree DWI offense
A person is convicted with a third-degree DWI charge if he/she has a record of a single driving while intoxicated incident in the past 10 years. The second and third degrees of DWI offenses are not very different from each other. Like the second-degree DWI, the police officer can charge you with a third-degree DWI offense, upon refusal of alcohol testing. Even the penalties are nearly the same; the person under the third-degree DWI offense spends a must jail time. But the fine and the maximum jail time of one year is not for everyone and can easily be challenged in court.
4th Degree DWI offense
In Minnesota, a person who has been arrested by the police for the first time, for impaired driving faces a fourth-degree DWI. The process for the fourth-degree charge is the simplest; the police carry out field sobriety tests and a breathing BAC test. If the convict cooperates, he/she hardly faces any long-term penalties. The maximum fine for the fourth-degree DWI is up to $1,000, whereas the time spent behind the bars is only 90 days. And that too if any aggressive behavior is shown while the arrest is being made, or if there is an accident involved due to such driving.
Unraveling Myths from Facts – DWI Edition
When it comes to following the drugged driving regulations, the movies and TV shows have obscured the overall idea of how these things work. There are numerous misconceptions and myths about driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while impaired. Here are the common myths about DWI that people, especially youngsters, have that need to be corrected.
- Myth: The blood alcohol level in the body reliably indicates the inability of a person to drive.
Although police use this method to charge people with DWI felonies, it is not the most effective way. People who drink more frequently have less impairment than those who have a drink occasionally. So, measuring the BAC alone is not very reliable.
- Myth: Having three to five drinks within an hour will not exceed the BAC legal limit.
The blood alcohol content in your blood at the time of consumption is not the same as the blood alcohol content after a couple of hours. The BAC keeps on elevating especially after you eat. So, if you drive some hours after the drinking, your BAC will exceed the legal limit and you will be charged with DWI.
- Myth: Licking and sucking on some metallic stuff like coins can reduce the BAC level of a person.
Copper pennies are considered a valuable asset for young drivers who are under the influence of alcohol because they think that sucking on them will lower their blood alcohol level. In reality, copper or any other metal or nonmetal has no impact on the blood alcohol content in our body.
- Myth: The field sobriety tests are valid and reliable measures to test the intoxication or impairment of a driver.
The field sobriety tests can not accurately detect the impairment of a person due to alcohol or any drugs. A person can fail any one or all the tests in FST and still have less than 0.08% BAC, which means those tests are not the most reliable sources of information for intoxication. In many cases, people fail field sobriety tests due to some genetic disorder, illness, psychological stress, or the fear of being arrested. This is the reason; citizens are given the right to deny the field sobriety tests without any consequences.
- Myth: People who never drink cannot be arrested for DWI.
Although that is the common understanding in terms of the law, it can be wrong in a few cases. The human body is capable of producing ethanol which is the component of the alcohol we consume. So basically, without drinking, our body can exceed the legal BAC limit and we can get arrested.