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Penalties for OUI/OWI (Operating Under the Influence or While Intoxicated)

Penalties for OUI/OWI (Operating Under the Influence or While Intoxicated)


The penalties imposed by states for operating while intoxicated (OWI) and operating under the influence (OUI) follow the same pattern of penalties imposed by states enforcing laws for driving under the influence (DUI) and/or driving while intoxicated (DWI). In general, all states and the District of Columbia have “per se” laws defining it as a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a proscribed level of 0.08. percent and above.


In most states, if a driver fails or refuses to take a chemical test, the driver’s license will be administratively suspended. Administrative license suspension laws are independent of criminal procedures and are invoked after arrest and range from one week to one year, with most averaging 90 days. Driving privileges may be restored during suspension if the driver demonstrates special hardship to justify restoration of the privilege, and then the privilege is restricted to time and place, such as to or from work or school.


All states impose mandatory penalties for OUI/OWI convictions. License suspension or revocation usually follows conviction for alcohol-impaired driving. Some laws require driver license suspensions for drug convictions even if the offender was not driving at the time of the offense.


The penalties become progressively stiffer if the driver has been charged with multiple offenses over a fixed time period, usually five to 10 years. All offenses carry minimum and maximum jail time, fines, driver responsibility fees, and license suspension periods. In addition, the state may confiscated the license plate of the vehicle owned by the driver and either impound or immobilize the vehicle for a fixed time period. An ignition interlock device may be required for a several year period following completion of the sentence. This device is often made mandatory for a first offense as well as subsequent offenses.


Three or more convictions can lead to felony charges and enforcement of vehicle forfeiture laws. In that event, the offender must also attend mandatory drug / alcohol treatment programs paid for by offender. In general, states have created “first-time” offender programs which stress driver and alcohol education and community service in lieu of jail time. To increase the first-time offender’s understanding of the consequence of his or her actions, many communities use victim impact panels where victims and/or witnesses describe the experiences they or loved ones have endured due to the actions of drunk drivers.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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