The term DUI stands for "driving under the influence", meaning driving or operating a vehicle while drunk or on drugs. In some jurisdictions, the offense goes by different names, such as "driving while intoxicated", "driving while impaired", or "operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated". Typically DUI charges are based on the results of a person's blood alcohol concentration (called a BAC), which is determined by breath, blood or urine tests. Urine tests are more commonly used when drug use is suspected.

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Police and highway patrol officers make traffic stops when they observe suspicious driving behavior, and can conduct field sobriety tests if the driver smells strongly of alcohol or slurs his speech. While suspicion of insobriety is enough to justify a test, it's not enough to issue a DUI charge. Even failing simple field sobriety tests like walking a straight line is not sufficient grounds for a DUI charge: the officer must ask permission to perform a blood alcohol content test or a breathalyzer test to prove that the driver's BAC exceeds the legal limit of 0.08%. When a driver's BAC is over the legal limit, he can be immediately charged and booked. In all states, drivers under 21 cannot have any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems. Drivers can refuse to take a BAC or breathalyzer test, and call a lawyer for legal protection.

DUI policies tend to be progressive: maximum punishment is usually reserved for multiple-offenders, not first-time offenders or offenders who plead guilty and show remorse. While you should check the specific DUI penalties in your state, the general rule are:

  • First DUI conviction: driver's license revocation (for up to a year), a steep fine, or community service, as well as penalty points on the driver's license after it is restored. The cost of the offender's insurance coverage will also increase.
  • Second DUI conviction: prison time, court-ordered rehabilitation, and in some cases permanent suspension of the driver's license.
  • Third DUI conviction: Habitual Violator laws kick in, resulting in felony penalties. This means offenders can lose not only their license, but many rights as well, such as owning a weapon or voting. The offender must also attend DUI school in order to get these rights back, and go through an assessment interview.

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