Drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs often wonder what the difference is between driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI). For all intents and purposes, there is no difference between the two except for when law enforcement makes the traffic stop and conducts the investigation as to whether the traffic offense is being committed. Both alcohol and drugs are substances that can have a substantial influence on the driver’s reactions and judgment. Therefore, both are very dangerous infractions.
DWI/DUI Traffic Stops
Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs might exhibit the same driving behavior that will spur a law enforcement officer to make a traffic stop. Swerving, driving recklessly, speeding, disobeying traffic signals and otherwise illegal actions will lead an officer to stop the vehicle. It is then that they will search for telltale signs of intoxication. With alcohol, it might be slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or the smell of alcohol. With drugs – prescription or illicit – the behavior might be paranoid with darting eyes, nervousness and talking very fast. With some drugs, the driver might appear to have trouble staying awake. There could be an open container of alcohol visible. There might be an open pill bottle or items used for heroin or cocaine use.
If an officer suspects that the driver is under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, there might be different methods to determine what the driver has used. With alcohol, the officer will ask the driver to submit to field sobriety tests such as the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand test or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. These can indicate that the driver is under the influence of something, it might still not be clear as to what the driver took. The officer will then have the driver take a breathalyzer test. If there is alcohol in the system, the breathalyzer will determine what the blood alcohol content (BAC) is. With drugs, the breathalyzer test won’t tell the officer what the driver has used, but it will give a signal that alcohol is not the reason that the driver appears intoxicated and was driving erratically. A blood or urine test will be necessary to determine what drugs the person took. If these are found in the system via the test, the driver will be arrested for DUI.
With a DWI, a person 21 and over will need to register a BAC of 0.08% or over to be charged. A person under age 21 will be charged by registering 0.01%. A driver with a commercial license will be arrested for registering 0.04% or above.
Penalties for DUI/DWI
Drivers who are arrested and charged with DWI for alcohol will face the same charges as people who are arrested and charged with DUI for drugs. They will also face the same basic penalties.
For a DWI in which the driver registers between 0.08% and less than 0.10%, the penalties will be the following: a three months driver’s license suspension; a fine of between $250 and $400; a $230 fee for the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC); $75 to the Neighborhood Services Fund; $100 each for the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) and the drunk driving fund; a $1,000 annual surcharge for three years; and up to 30 days in jail.
If the driver registers 0.10% or higher or is caught driving after using drugs, the penalties are the following: the driver’s license will be suspended for seven months to one year; the fine is increased to between $300 and $500; the other fees and jail time are the same. Repeated DUI/DWI convictions will result in even harsher financial penalties, longer license suspensions and more jail time.
DUI vs. DWI At Trial
With a DWI case for alcohol, the evidence is generally straightforward. There are times when mistakes are made with the breathalyzer test or was not certified to give the test and the charges were dropped as a result. If the traffic stop was made without justification, then this too could be a reason that the charges are invalid.
With DUI due to drug use, it can be more complicated. Drivers must be given blood or urine tests to determine what drugs they were using. It could have been a prescription medication, a hallucinogenic drug or habit forming drugs. An attorney who is experienced in handling a DUI due to drugs will know that there must be a chain of custody with the blood and urine tests and they must be properly labeled. With any kind of mistake, the charges might not hold up in court. There could be the scientific evidence used in the case or expert testimony might be utilized by the prosecutor. There are viable defenses for DUI for drugs and DWI for alcohol. An experienced attorney will know how to handle both and respond to the prosecution’s case and evidence accordingly.