The Process Of A DUI Arrest


Driving while under the influence is a major offense. It is punished by both misdemeanors and felonies, and those guilty drivers are often affected for years to come. Punishments for such an offense can range from fines, limited driving privileges, and jail time, and it is one of the few crimes that can change from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the severity of the offense. Yet while all municipalities and counties observe that driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any type of inebriate is a punishable offense, the way in which this crime is treated varies on a number of state, county, and municipal criteria. But most share one thing in common, and that is the name DUI, or Driving Under the Influence.

Candace Lightner and Senator Michael Barnes

Candace Lightner and Senator D- MD Michael Barnes. Candace Lightner worked with Michael Barnes and other legislators to change drunk driving laws countrywide. Lightner lost her daughter, Cari, to a drunk driver that had just been released from his 4th offense, and hit Cari as she was walking to a church event.


Driving under the influence defines the act of operating any piece of motorized heavy machinery while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any substance that can impair judgement, motor skills, or reaction time. Initially there was no concrete way of determining someone’s alcohol level, and the judgement was left to the officer making the traffic stop. If an officer detected someone driving erratically or suspiciously, and performed a stop, using their best judgement, they would determine whether a person was too inebriated to operate the vehicle. Over time, this subjective method was replaced with handheld devices that could quickly determine the actual blood alcohol level of a person. First this was done with a drunkometer, which was subsequently replaced with a breathalyzer. Breathalyzers work by estimating the amount of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream - or blood alcohol content (BAC) - via a breath sample. It does this via a technique known as infrared spectroscopy.

When initially stopped, police are on the lookout for several factors to identify a drunk driver. Initial stops often occur for unrelated driving errors, like speeding, broken lights, strange driving behavior, or swerving. Many DUI offenders are initially suspicious due to the smell of alcohol coming off of their breath. Before administering a breathalyzer, police will perform a series of checks called field sobriety tests. These tests are made up of simple tasks such as walking in a straight line, shining a flashlight in the driver’s eyes, and reciting the alphabet. Police use these tests to check for reaction time, dilated pupils, lack of coordination, and other indicators of an inebriated person. If there is reasonable suspicion, an officer will attempt to confirm their suspicion with a breathalyzer. If the breathalyzer reads unsafe alcohol levels, they are legally obligated to apprehend the driver.

After determining that a person is under the influence of alcohol, a police officer will typically place the driver under arrest, and impound their vehicle. The offender is taken to a nearby police or sheriff’s station, where further, more conclusive tests are performed. This includes urine and blood tests. Following this, the offender is given a cell, colloquially called a “drunk tank,” to wait until the effect of the alcohol wears off.


When stopped, a person who’s blood makeup is at least .08 alcohol is considered inebriated to a level at which they can no longer safely operate a vehicle. Typically, states have further specifications that denote anyone with. 015 BAC or higher is categorized as recklessly inebriated, heavily inebriated, or otherwise considered to be have high blood alcohol content. While driving in a state of high BAC, additional penalties can apply when caught for DUI. Conversely, driving with less than .08 BAC can also yield penalties, though they are often not as severe. The only case in which punishment is equally or more severe is when the person caught with a BAC of .01 to .07 is 20 years old or younger. This age is younger than the legal age of drinking in the United States.

Drivers are able to refuse a breath test at a stop, and doing so can avoid a breathalyzer test at the time of a traffic stop. However, in most cases, refusing to take part in a breath test qualifies as automatic guilt, and stricter punishments.


Penalties for driving under the influence vary from state to state, but most have their most entry level punishments begin with a “first time DUI.” Typically, if a driver is caught with between .08 and .14 BAC, and did not cause any harm or damage whilst driving, they will receive a first time DUI conviction. These first time convictions have substantial, but relatively low fines associated with them. Drivers in this category will usually face community service time, drug and alcohol rehabilitation courses, and a period of restricted driving privileges. Some states will require a first time offender serve jail time, though this is rare, and is typically dropped, even if the law specifies it as a minimum mandatory sentence.

It is worth noting that Canada, one of the most visited neighbors of the United States, bans driver’s with a recent DUI from their country for a period of up to 10 years. There are methods for getting around this ban, but this is ultimately determined by Canadian Authorities. Certain reasons for entering the county, such as attending to a work function or a familial reason, require an application for entry.

Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson launch a drunk driving campaign in 1984


Second time convictions are typically much worse, with sometime double the amount in fines, rehab time, community service time, and time under a restricted driver’s license. Second time offenders will usually face some time in prison. Third time offenders face even worse punishments, and every subsequent punishment will continue to worsen. The biggest difference between early DUIs and later instances is that repeat DUIs eventually move from being misdemeanors to being felonies. Felonies are typically much worse in terms of punishments, and can warrant fines of up to $10,000 and jail time of multiple years in some cases.


Continuing to commit DUIs will result in a permanent ban from operating motor vehicles, and repeat, large fines that in some cases can reach $100,000 per offense. Jail time is also mandatory in all cases. There is a limit to how many DUIs a person may commit before reaching the top level of DUI punishment, at which point further repeat offenses are punished in the same way. However, this limit changes wildly from state to state. In some, there are different punishments for up to 10 offenses before punishments become standardized. Penalties of this variety often result in the confiscation of the perpetrator’s vehicle, decades in prison, and repeated, large fines.

President Ronald Reagan signs legislation to change the national drinking age from 18 to 21

President Ronald Reagan signs legislation to change the national drinking age from 18 to 21.


In addition to repeat offenses, other factors can increase punishment for DUIs. The most common circumstance is when someone operates a vehicle with at least a .08 BAC and is accompanied by an underage person. Typically, laws define these underage people as someone 16 or 17 years of age or younger. If a person of these ages or younger if found in the car during a DUI incident, punishments are increased to about that of a second level driving offense, but in some cases can go higher.

Another common factor to consider is if any bodily harm or property damage happened as a result of driving under the influence. Typically this is grounds for increasing the punishment to a felony, and jail time is mandatory in most cases. In some states, this can even additional charges, such as manslaughter. Having a double charge comes with most or all of the penalties of both crimes.

Certain states have unique punishments for DUIs. For example, Ohio requires repeat DUI offenders to put a “scarlet letter” license plate on their vehicle. The plate is of a unique color, and is intended to shame the offender publicly. Georgia and Minnesota also require an alternate license plate after a DUI conviction.

Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson launch a drunk driving campaign in 1984


From 1981 to 1986, under pressure from such advocacy groups as the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the United States Federal Government and then-President Ronald Reagan enacted laws to punish those caught drinking and driving. Besides raising the minimum drinking age to 21 from 18 in 1981, the two biggest changes that were enacted were that now OVI offenders would be prosecuted with the intent to convict, and that blood alcohol content (BAC) tests would determine if a driver was intoxicated, rather than the loose definition that had existed up to the point.

Besides raising the minimum drinking age to 21, the two biggest changes that were enacted were that now DWI offenders would be prosecuted with the intent to convict, and that alcohol concentration level (ACL) tests would determine if a driver was intoxicated, rather than the loose definition that had existed up to the point. Yet even determining a driver’s ACL was difficult initially. The first portal device to see field use was called the “drunkometer” and consisted of a rubber balloon filled with reactive chemicals that would change when coming into contact a drunk driver’s breath. This would finally be replaced by the more standard Breathalyzer in 1954.