DWI – Driving While Intoxicated.
DUI – Driving Under the Influence (of alcohol or drugs).
BAC – Blood Alcohol Concentration (or Content).
These three acronyms form a deadly combination. The main links between the three are alcohol and driving. It is well documented that drinking alcohol impairs judgment, slows reaction time, and decreases coordination. When a person is DWI or DUI, he or she is piloting a one-ton time bomb with little control over it. Is it speeding towards you?
These three acronyms have legal ramifications too. DUI and DWI are criminal offenses. To determine if a DWI or DUI offense has been committed, it is necessary to measure how much alcohol was consumed by the suspect driver (the BAC).
In the field, police officers utilize tests to determine the amount of a driver’s impairment due to alcohol. Such tests include, but are not limited to, breath alcohol tests and field sobriety tests. The breath test is further discussed in this article.
A person’s reaction to alcohol varies widely. Some factors that affect alcohol impairment include gender, body weight, time of last meal, time of day, alcohol tolerance, medications, genetics, rate of alcohol consumption, and many more.
A police officer stopping a suspected drunk driver has visual, olfactory (smell), and breath tests to judge a person’s impairment from alcohol. The officer must make some kind of quantitative determination of the amount of alcohol impairment at the time of the stop. All the factors mentioned above do not matter to the officer. All he or she wants to do is to create a “snapshot” of the degree of impairment.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in the blood, expressed as a percentage by volume. This can be measured precisely by taking a sample of the driver’s blood for analysis. In the U.S., a BAC level of 0.08% (commonly written as.08) or more is considered illegal. However, the officer on patrol certainly doesn’t have a medical lab in the car, and must rely on a breath testing device.
The brand name Breathalyzer is often used generically to describe devices that measure blood alcohol concentration. This type of breathalyzer does not actually measure the concentration of alcohol in the blood. Instead, the reading on the breath analyzer is only an estimate of the alcohol in the blood.
Correlations between the amount of alcohol in the blood and the resulting amount of alcohol in the breath have been made. The tests show the ratio to be approximately 2100 (in the blood) to about 1 (in the breath), or 2100:1. Based on factors listed above, a person’s blood: breath alcohol ratio can vary from 1700:1 to 2400:1.
In simpler terms, if an average person has 2100 drops of alcohol in the blood, the breath tester will show a reading of 1 drop. Doctors have measured the blood and breath alcohol contents of test subjects simultaneously, allowing them to calculate the relationship between alcohol in the blood and alcohol in the breath.
When a drunk driving suspect blows into the breath alcohol tester, the machine measures the alcohol in the breath. The machine then calculates the amount of alcohol in the blood by using a blood: breath alcohol ratio. This calculation of BAC is only an estimate. However, that estimate is what goes on the police report and is what the judge will see.
The next time you have consumed alcohol and feel like you are not impaired to drive, remember these points. First, your confidence may be simply alcohol-induced euphoria. Second, your life and the lives of those you drive near may all depend on what the little breath machine thinks is normal. Are you willing to bet your freedom on the opinion of some fancy calculator? Me neither. Be safe!
Who Will Help You After a Georgia DUI?
Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") is a unique crime in American society because, quite literally, it is the one crime that almost any adult citizen can find himself or herself charged with. Alcohol is served at virtually every restaurant or evening social event. Every day thousands of otherwise-law-abiding citizens leave such events and drive away even though they are technically "under the influence" of alcohol.
The fact is that most adult Americans drink alcohol on at least occasional situations. And, most adult Americans live in non-urban areas where taxicabs and public transportation are not easy options, particularly in the evening hours. Everyone knows that it is preferable to have a "designated driver" who is not drinking and can drive you home. Everyone also knows that driving under the influence is illegal and can have severe ramifications. The reality, however, is that every day good and honest people find themselves charged with DUI.
It is important for all drivers to have a basic understanding of DUI law, how police officers conduct DUI investigations and the rights and options available to DUI defendants.
I. DUI Law -- The Basics
For many people charged with DUI, the arrest process is truly terrifying and dehumanizing. Many (or most) DUI defendants pride themselves on being productive and positive citizens, so being handcuffed and treated like a criminal can be a life-altering experience. A DUI arrest is less overwhelming and intimidating, however, when people have a basic understanding of DUI law.
A person may be charged with DUI if he or she drives a motor vehicle on a roadway under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police may stop a car for suspicion of DUI only if they have "probable cause" to believe that the driver has committed a crime or violation. Police may not randomly stop a car for no reason (although in the case of properly established "sobriety checkpoints, the police are permitted to stop every car that passes the checkpoint).
The type of "crime" which can justify a police vehicle stop includes potential violations of the vehicle code (traffic violations) such as speeding, straddling a lane, turning with a wide radius, following another car too closely, braking erratically or driving at night with the headlights off. The police may also stop a vehicle if the registration or inspection is out-of-date (based on dated stickers on the car) or if they input the license plate into their computer system (which they are allowed to do) and there is some problem with the vehicle registration.
Georgia DUI law has a three-tiered punishment system depending on a person's blood-alcohol level. Penalties for DUI convictions increase with each tier. The least severe penalty applies for those who drive with a blood alcohol content of.08 to.099 percent. More severe penalties apply for those who drive with a blood alcohol content from.10 to.159 percent, and the harshest punishment applies to those with a blood alcohol content of.16 percent or greater. A person's blood alcohol level must be determined from blood drawn within two hours after the individual was in actual control of the vehicle (although exceptions exist for this two-hour "requirement").
People who "refuse" or decline to take a blood-alcohol test upon request of the police are deemed to be in the highest blood-alcohol content tier.
Georgia is one of the few states that has a "per se" law with respect to driving under the influence of various drugs. This means that if a person charged with DUI has any measurable amount of drugs in their system (even if the drug was ingested days or weeks prior to the arrest), they are punished as if they were in the highest alcohol level. Despite this "per se" law, some District Attorneys offices do have minimum levels for certain controlled substances and will not prosecute someone who drives with an amount in their system below these levels.
II. DUI Investigations After Police Are On The Scene
Police officers are taught that once they encounter a person who they suspect has been driving under the influence (which is typically after a traffic stop or arriving at the scene of an accident), they should conduct an appropriate investigation to confirm whether the person was driving under the influence. District Attorney's offices want such investigations to be thorough and legally appropriate so that they can prove the case if it proceeds to trial.
The first stop in conducting such an investigation is typically to engage the driver in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests were developed as the result of research conducted in the mid 1970s for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"). The purpose of this research was to develop standardized tests which would provide a reliable method of determining whether a person is intoxicated based on field sobriety tests.
The NHTSA has concluded that three tests, if systematically conducted according to strict guidelines, can predict whether a person may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The only three field sobriety tests approved by the NHTSA are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus ("HGN") test, the Walk-and-Turn test the One-Leg Stand test.
Police officers should be trained to look for established "scoring factors" or "clues" which must be evaluated in determining whether or not intoxication exists. A finding of intoxication should only arise once a certain number of clues are identified. If less then the certain level of clues are identified, the officer should conclude that there a high degree of probability of non-intoxication.
Was the person actually driving? To prove a DUI case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was physically in control of a motor vehicle on a roadway. If the police cannot prove the person was actually driving (such as in the case of an accident where no one witnessed who was driving or if someone is asleep in a parked car) or that the person was driving on a roadway (such as when a person is stopped in certain parking areas or driveways), the person may have a legitimate defense to the charge of DUI.
Did the police have probable cause to stop the vehicle and question the defendant? The police need to have probable cause to stop a person's vehicle, question that person and conduct a subsequent investigation unless a Constitutionally-recognized exception applies. Generally speaking, evidence will be suppressed in a DUI case if the officer did not have probable cause to (a) stop the vehicle, (b) detain the person, and (c) arrest that person. Sobriety roadblocks can present an exception to the "probably cause" standard and present a different set of legal and factual issues.
Was the person read his rights / Miranda warnings? Incriminating statements may be suppressed if the proper Miranda warnings were not given at the appropriate time if a person was subjected to custodial interrogation. Miranda warnings are usually not an issue in DUI prosecutions because prosecutors rarely seek to use a person's words against them at a DUI trial. However, if the prosecutor does seek to use the person's words at trial, the Miranda warnings can become an issue.
Was a person appropriately informed of the Implied Consent warnings? If the officer did not advise a person of the consequences of refusing to take a chemical test as part of a DUI investigation, or provides inadequate or incorrect information, then any GADOT suspension for failing to take such a test can be avoided.
Did the person truly appear to be "under the influence"? At a DUI trial, a police officer is generally allowed to offer his or her opinion regarding whether a driver was intoxicated. Naturally, an officer's observations and opinions in this regard can be cross-examined. Appropriate questioning can include (1) the nature and circumstances surrounding any field sobriety tests (was the weather a factor? did the defendant have any pre-existing medical issues? was the defendant wearing shoes or clothing that affected field sobriety testing) (2) the subjective (and perhaps predisposed) nature of what an officer considers as "failing" a field sobriety test, (3) whether the officer complied with standardized field sobriety guidelines, and (4) whether the field sobriety tests were witnessed by any third party or videotaped by the police.
Was the person's blood-alcohol concentration tested accurately and appropriately? There are a wide range of potential issues with blood, breath and urine testing for blood-alcohol content. Blood testing involves a recognized margin of error and variance which must be considered in evaluating test results. Many toxicologists contend that the margin of error of blood testing at state-accredited labs should be presumed to be no less than 9 percent. With respect to breath tests, some toxicologists maintain that the margin of error ought to be considered at 10 percent. Most toxicologists agree that it is also important to understand the physiological makeup of the person charged (male or female, height and weight) before offering a final opinion on the appropriate margin of error or variance with respect to blood alcohol testing.
Driving Under the Influence is a charge that can affect almost anyone. Most people drink alcohol at least occasionally and live in areas where taxicabs and public transportation are not always a realistic option. The result is that many people find themselves, at some point in their lives, driving an automobile after consuming alcohol.
A DUI charge is almost always a traumatic and upsetting experience to the person charged. Many DUI defendants are good and law-abiding persons who are not used to being charged with a crime or being required to appear in court.
Fortunately, our law recognizes that people charged with a first-offense DUI frequently deserve a second chance at a clean criminal record. With the availability of first-time offender's programs such as ARD, many people in our society have been charged with DUI, navigated through the system, and emerged from the process to live productive and fulfilling lives.
It is important for anyone charged with a DUI to have a basic understand of the law and the available rights and options. Armed with this information, and appropriate legal representation, persons charged with DUI can address the charges in a responsible way and ultimately put the entire experience behind them.
Eight Frequently Asked DUI Questions and Answers
A driving under the influence charge is considered to be a criminal charge in most, of not all, jurisdictions around the world. It is a dangerous criminal offence that can lead to various outcomes, which are all negative such as property damage to your own car, property damage to other cars on the road, public and private property damage, injuring other people other than yourself and it can also lead to fatalities. A lot of road accidents occur simply because of this reason which is why DUI Laws impose heavy penalties on this charge if convicted. Of course, if you face this you would want to at least decrease the penalties you will incur, and the first step to do that is to know your rights.
DUI Laws differ from state to state and may have different rights depending on where you are. Of course, you have the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Also, you have the right to an attorney, which you should take advantage of. Having an attorney will let you understand your situation better and he or she can explain all your rights as given by the law. This should be the first thing that you should do so that you don't end up being pushed around by the state or end up with more penalties than you should.
But before getting into the process of dealing with the charge in court, you should know your rights when dealing with it while on the road. When you are pulled over by a police officer, you have the right to remain silent. You can refuse to answer any and all questions from the officer. Also if you are asked to take a sobriety test or a breath test, you can refuse that as well until you have spoken to your attorney about the situation. If you don't know what to say or how to proceed with talking to the officer, ask for your attorney. You can also opt to take an independent test from any emergency room if you feel that this would better suit your rights.
If you know your rights when you are faced with the problem of Dui, then you can turn this problem into a simple memory of the past. It is true that DUI Laws were created to insure safety of other drivers and pedestrians and penalties are harsh to discourage it as much as possible, but that doesn't mean that once you get pulled over for it, then you're dead. You can still get out of this problem in court if not on the road. Just remember that you have your rights under DUI Laws wherever you are. Learn them, ask about them and know how to use your rights when faced with this situation. If you still don't know what to do, then this is where your attorney comes in. Having a good attorney by your side will always be very helpful as he or she knows what to do when faced with such charges.