You will be charged with DWI if you are caught driving or operating a vehicle when your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or more. This blood alcohol concentration limit is uniform throughout the United States. You need not be driving the vehicle. Merely operating the vehicle is sufficient for a DWI offense.
The police officer will observe signs of intoxicated driving before stopping a motorist on the suspicion of DWI. These signs include speeding, continuous lane change, abrupt stopping or anything that would make the motorist stand out from rest of the traffic. Once the motorist stops, the police officer will ask him for his driver’s license and registration. At this time the officer will look for signs of intoxication on the driver such as reddish eyes, slurred speech, uneven body movements, etc. If the driver exhibits such signs, the police officer will ask the driver to come out of the vehicle and take a field sobriety test.
Field sobriety tests
Field sobriety tests are a series of tests which the police administer to DWI suspects to determine if the suspects show signs of intoxication. If the suspect fails the field sobriety test, the police officer will have probable cause to subject the suspect to a breath analyzer test.
Refusing a Field Sobriety Test
If you have been pulled for on the suspicion of DWI, the police officer will ask you to undergo the field sobriety test. He will take to you in a manner so as to give you the impression that you are bound by law to undergo the field sobriety test. You have the right to refuse the field sobriety test. A refusal will not result in any administrative or criminal penalties. You can politely inform the officer that you do not intend to take the field sobriety test. However, it will give the officer probable cause to subject you to a breath analyzer test. Again you have the right to refuse taking a breath analyzer test.
Breath Analyzer Test
In a breath analyzer test, you will be asked to blow into a hand held device. The device will give an estimate of your blood alcohol concentration.
If you refuse the breath analyzer test, the officer will have sufficient cause to ask you to take a chemical test. You cannot refuse the chemical test. Refusal to take the chemical test will result in the suspension of your driver’s license. All states have an implied consent law. Under this law, every person who applies for a driver’s license implicitly agrees to submit to a chemical test when stopped by the police on suspicion of DWI. Your driver’s license will be suspended if you refuse the chemical test. This is an administrative action by the Department of Motor Vehicles and is separate and independent from the DWI case against you. You can request a hearing against the suspension of your driver’s license. The suspension will be held valid if there were reasonable grounds for a DWI arrest and you refused the chemical test despite the officer informing you of the consequences of the refusal.
There are two types of refusals – express and implied. An express refusal in one where you clearly inform the officer that you do not intend to take the chemical test. An implied refusal is one where your response or non-response to the officer’s request can be termed as a refusal – for example, when the officer requested that you take a chemical test, you inform him that you would like to talk to your attorney before taking a decision, then it can be considered as an implied refusal.
All states have severe penalties for DWI. Even 1st time DWI offenders have to face severe penalties. 1st time DWI offenders can be sentenced to probation and hefty fines. You may be ordered to undergo alcohol counseling. In some cases you can even be sent to jail. Many factors will influence the penalty – the speed at which you were traveling, you BAC, the place where you were stopped, property damage and injuries to others on the road. A 1st time DWI offense will result in a criminal record which can cause problems for you when you apply for a job. The penalties are enhanced for each subsequent offense.
Almost all states require a person convicted of a DWI to get a SR 22 form from his or her auto insurance company certifying that he or she has auto insurance. So your auto insurance company will come to know that you have a DWI conviction. Even if your state does not have a SR 22 form requirement, your DWI conviction will appear when the insurance company does a background check on you. A 1st time DWI can cause insurance problems for you. In fact some insurance companies will cancel your policy immediately upon a DWI offense. If your insurance company does not cancel your policy, it will increase your insurance premium. The increase can be drastic. The rates will vary from state to state and also from one insurance company to another. If it is your 1st DWI and you have an otherwise good driving record, the increase will be marginal. But if your driving record is not good, the increase can be substantial. Even if you change your insurance company, the new company will also charge you more. Insurance business is based on risk. A DWI increases the risk you pose for the company. An increase in risk translates into higher premiums. You will be categorized as high risk. You will have to pay higher premiums for as long as the DWI remains on your driving record which can vary from 3 years to life depending on your state laws.
In some states, a DWI arrest will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license. This is independent of the criminal case against you for DWI. Depending on your state law, you may be allowed to request a hearing before the suspension. If you convince the Department of Motor Vehicles officer that your license should not be suspended, you may retain your driving privileges. However, if your license is suspended, in some states you can apply for and get a temporary driving permit to enable you to drive to work.
Fighting a DWI charge
You can fight the DWI charge against you. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have one or more defenses. Remember the police have to prove their case. If they fail to prove their case, the case against you will be dismissed. An experienced DWI attorney can review your case and advice you of your options. It is important that you fight the charges against you. If you plead guilty, you will be convicted. Similarly a no contest plea will also result in a conviction.