A “DUI”, officially known as “driving under the influence”, is the most popular phrase that people use in regard to a drunk driving offense. However, it is not uncommon in many jurisdictions to hear the term, “driving while intoxicated” or “DWI”, to refer to the same types of offenses instead.

Many states often apply both acronyms (i.e., DUI and DWI) as if they can be used interchangeably. However, not every jurisdiction may recognize both and some jurisdictions may even assign different meanings depending on which acronym is used.

For example, the state of Texas distinguishes a DUI from a DWI when charging someone with a drunk driving violation. In Texas, a DWI is typically reserved for those who are older than 21 years of age, whereas a DUI is a drunk driving offense used to charge those who are minors or under the age of 17 years old. It should be noted that there are certain situations wherein persons between the ages of 17 and 20 years old can be charged with either one in Texas.

Generally speaking, a DUI tends to mean that the driver was operating their vehicle under the influence of substances other than or in addition to alcohol, such as illegal drugs and/or prescription medications. In contrast, the acronym DWI will usually only apply to drunk driving charges that involve alcohol. Thus, the term “intoxicated” in its full definition.

Given the information just discussed, this may sound as if jurisdictions that recognize them as separate charges would consider a DUI to be a worse offense than a DWI, but this does not always hold true. For instance, a DWI can become a more serious offense due to the level of intoxication of a driver. This is known as a driver’s blood alcohol concentration, or “BAC”, which is essentially the amount of alcohol in the driver’s bloodstream.

In such cases, a driver who has a high BAC level and is charged with a DWI violation may receive a harsher sentence than someone who is pulled over and charged with a DUI due to the amount of alcohol that is found in their system.

The person who is charged with a DUI may only have a trace level of prescribed medication that impairs their ability to drive a car, while the person being charged with a DWI could have consumed multiple drinks in a short span of time and blown more than the standard legal limit of a BAC level of 0.08%. Thus, the person with the DUI could receive a lower punishment simply based on the fact that they did not drink alcohol, but rather took a pill that did not register.

As is evident from the above discussion, it is extremely important that you speak to a local lawyer about the differences between the DUI and DWI laws in your state if you are charged with either drunk driving offense. Not only do these laws vary widely by state, but they also may involve different kinds of penalties and/or legal defenses depending on the facts of your case.

What Are the Penalties for DUI/DWI?

The penalties that one can receive after being convicted of charges involving DUI or DWI violations can vary based on the facts of a particular case, the laws of an individual state, and the number of times that the person has been charged or convicted of such crimes in the past. In general, however, the penalties assigned for DUI or DWI offenses in most states include the following forms of punishment:

  • For a DUI or DWI violation that is charged as a misdemeanor offense:
    • A sentence in county jail for up to one full year;
    • Some amount of criminal fines (usually ranging from somewhere in between $500 and $1,000, with the
    • maximum set at no greater than $1,000);
    • Community service; and/or
    • Increased auto or car insurance rates.
  • For a DUI or DWI violation that is charged as a felony offense:
    • A sentence in state prison for one year or longer;
    • Some amount of criminal fines (usually for at least a minimum of $1,000);
    • Community service hours;
    • Probation or possibility of parole;
    • Temporary or permanent license suspension or revocation;
    • Mandatory counseling and/or treatment programs;
    • Traffic or defensive driving classes;
    • Vehicle registration suspension, confiscation, or impoundment;
    • Ignition interlock device installations;
    • Increased auto or car insurance rates; and/or
    • Various other types of penalties that are left up to a court’s discretion.

In other words, the more times that a drunk driver is convicted of a DUI or DWI offense, the higher the chances they have of receiving more serious forms of punishment like longer prison sentences and/or increased monetary fines. In addition, a person may not even need to be a repeat offender in order to receive harsher penalties.

For example, a driver will automatically be charged with a felony DUI offense if they cause death or serious injury to another person in a drunk driving incident. A drunk driver can also face felony charges in the event they were speeding and/or exceeded the high BAC level percentage set by the laws in their state. Additionally, if a driver was engaged in another crime while drunk, such as drag racing or grand theft auto, this may also constitute a felony offense.

On the other hand, a driver who is charged with a DUI or DWI offense may be able to raise some legal defenses against the charges. Such defenses may include the following:

  • The person arrested is the wrong suspect or was not driving the vehicle;
  • Law enforcement did not have probable cause to pull them over;
  • The results of an intoxication test were erroneous or the intoxication test itself was improperly administered;
  • The prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence or was not able to prove its case;
  • The driver was coerced or under duress to drive the vehicle while intoxicated;
  • The chain of custody was broken in administering an intoxication test;
  • Law enforcement encouraged the driver to operate their vehicle drunk in a manner that amounted to entrapment; and/or
  • The defendant was involuntarily intoxicated.

It is important to remember that the legal defenses and penalties for DUI or DWI charges can vary from state to state. Thus, it is extremely important that an individual hire a local DUI/DWI lawyer to discuss the facts of their case as well as to learn more about whether there are any defenses they can raise during their case and/or the different penalties they can receive if they are convicted of such charges.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with DUI or DWI Charges?

You may want to consider consulting with a local DUI/DWI lawyer if you are facing charges for a DUI or DWI violation. This is especially true in cases where individuals are at risk of being convicted of a DUI or DWI offense for a second or third time, which would assign them the status of a repeat offender. In general, repeat offenders typically receive harsher sentences.

Regardless of whether this is your first or third DUI/DWI offense, a lawyer who has experience in handling cases that involve DUI or DWI violations will be able to inform you of your rights and protections under the driving laws in your state. Your lawyer will also be able to recommend the best plan of action based on the specific facts of your case and can discuss the potential penalties you can receive if you are convicted of the charges.

In addition, your lawyer can perform legal research to determine whether there are any legal defenses available that you can raise against the charges and can present such arguments on your behalf in court. Also, if you need assistance with filing paperwork to retrieve a suspended license or to have a DUI/DWI charge expunged from your criminal record, your lawyer will be able to provide legal services that can assist you with these procedures as well.

Remember, DUI/DWI convictions can have long-lasting effects on your life. Not only can they result in having a permanent criminal record, but they can also prevent you from applying for a loan, voting in elections, or securing the job you want if you are sentenced to jail time or prison for violating your state’s DUI/DWI laws.