“BAC”, formally known as “blood alcohol content”, refers to the percentage of alcohol that is found in a person’s bloodstream. A person’s BAC can be detected by administering a medical exam, which produces results that inform law enforcement and any other state officials as to whether you can be charged with drunk driving or not.

For instance, each state has adopted its own laws that contain a prescribed BAC level, which when reached, can result in charges for drunk driving. In general, the standard BAC level that must be met before a person is typically charged with drunk driving is at least a minimum BAC level of 0.08%. Another common percentage of BAC is 0.10%, but a state can increase or decrease this specific percentage, just so long as it does not fall below a BAC level of 0.08%.

In addition to setting a baseline BAC percentage, many states have also implemented supplemental requirements, such as imposing enhanced or extra punishments on drunk drivers whose test results reveal an exceptionally high level of BAC in their bloodstream. Drunk drivers who are found to have a high BAC level will most likely face felony charges, depending on state laws and the facts of a particular driver’s case.

It should be noted that being charged for drunk driving with a high BAC is considered more than a mere traffic citation and thus will put you at risk of having a permanent criminal record if you are convicted of such charges. Accordingly, you may want to consider hiring a local DUI/DWI lawyer if you are arrested and charged with a drunk driving offense. A lawyer can explain the potential penalties you may be facing as well as may be able to get them reduced.

What Is Considered a High BAC Level?

As previously mentioned, each state has adopted its own laws and requirements concerning the penalties for drunk driving violations and which set the state standards for BAC levels in drunk driving incidents. Thus, whether a BAC level will be considered to be high or not, will depend on the laws of a particular state.

In general, the range for what is considered to be a high BAC level typically falls somewhere in between 0.15% and 0.20%. Again, a person who is charged with drunk driving and discovered to have a high BAC level may receive additional or an enhanced set of penalties if they are convicted of those charges. In other words, the higher a person’s BAC level is, the more likely the chances are that they will receive a harsher sentence.

The reason as to why a driver will receive a harsher sentence for having a high BAC level than a driver who is found to have a lower BAC level is because this number offers further proof that a person likely committed the offense of driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. It is important to note, however, that other factors in a case may affect this basic premise (e.g., body weight, age, damage inflicted on others and/or property, and so forth).

What Kind of Enhanced Penalties Are Imposed under High BAC Laws?

Similar to the criteria set by states for baseline BAC levels, the types of penalties that a defendant can receive for charges involving drunk driving with a high BAC level will vary widely from state to state.

The following provides a list of various penalties issued and imposed by certain states when a person is found guilty of drunk driving with a high BAC level. These may include:

  • California: In California, a BAC level of 0.15% or higher is deemed to be excessive enough to warrant enhanced penalties. Some examples of punishments that a California state court may issue in such cases include suspension of one’s driver’s license, mandatory attendance for alcohol and drug counseling or treatment, fines, and possibly a prison sentence.
    • The court will also use a high BAC level to determine whether a person should be granted probation or not. In addition, the court will also consider this factor in deciding if an ignition interlock needs to be ordered as well. An ignition interlock is a device that gets attached to an individual’s car, which requires them to take a test (e.g., a breathalyzer) before they can start their car.
  • Florida: Similar to California, Florida also recognizes a BAC level of 0.15% or higher as the percentage that will prompt a court in Florida to issue enhanced penalties on a drunk driver. A court will incorporate this factor when deciding whether to issue heftier fines and/or a jail sentence.
    • Additionally, if a drunk driver is found to have a BAC level of higher than 0.20% in Florida, the court will not be allowed to accept a prosecutor’s recommendation to reduce the charges or lower the penalties associated with the drunk driving incident.
  • Illinois: Drunk drivers who have a BAC level of 0.16% or higher in the state of Illinois will be subject to a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and 100 hours of community service for a first-time offense. A second violation will increase this fine to $1,250 and a minimum jail sentence of two days. A third conviction will lead to a mandatory fine of $2,500 or greater, and at least 90 days in prison.
    • Drunk drivers who continue on to commit several more violations can receive a sentence of three to thirty years’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to $25,000. These penalties will increase even further if a drunk driver is found to have a BAC level that exceeds the already elevated level of 0.16% and has been convicted of more than five drunk driving offenses within a certain period of time.
  • New York: New York considers 0.18% to be the high BAC level for which drunk drivers can receive enhanced penalties if convicted. A drunk driver who is found to have a BAC level of 0.18% or higher in New York state will not only receive increased penalties like jail time and fines, but also will be charged with an aggravated driving offense. Such drivers can also have their license revoked for up to 18 months.
    • Over the last couple of years, the state has proposed a bill that would decrease this percentage to a high BAC level of 0.15% or 0.12%. Thus, drivers should be aware of any changes made to the current law.
  • Texas: Like Florida and California, Texas also has increased penalties for a BAC level of 0.15% or higher. Drunk drivers who are convicted of a DUI or DWI and meet this standard can face up to one year in jail or longer, as well as various monetary fines. As with the other states, the more times that a driver is convicted of drunk driving offenses, the more severe the penalties they will receive.

What Should I Do If I Am Arrested for Drunk Driving DUI/DWI?

If you are facing charges for a drunk driving violation, such as a DUI or DWI, then it is strongly recommended that you consult with a local DUI/DWI lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer who has experience in handling cases that involve DUI or DWI charges can assist you in defending your interests and in presenting your case before a judge.

Your lawyer can inform you of any legal rights you are entitled to under the laws in your state as well as any potential legal defenses that you may be able to raise against the charges. Your lawyer can also advise you as to whether you should take a case to trial or settle for a more favorable plea deal (if possible).

In addition, your lawyer can provide legal representation in court on the matter and/or at other proceedings related to your case. If you need assistance with getting back a license that was temporarily suspended or revoked, your lawyer will be able to help guide you through this process as well.

Finally, do not delay in finding and retaining the services of a local DUI/DWI lawyer. The faster your lawyer can begin working on your case, the better your chances are of building a strong defense and/or in negotiating with a prosecutor to drop or lower the charges by entering into a plea agreement.