Overview of drunk driving crimes in the United States
Each State in the country has passed a law that makes it illegal to drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Since this offense is controlled by law, it can be known as the crime of driving while intoxicated (DWI), or operating a motor vehicle under the influence (OUI) or driving under the influence (DUI), or some other similar variants. Regardless of how each State states this infraction, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in cases where people with alcohol or drug problems do so.
The general elements of driving while intoxicated
In 1984, Congress passed the national law on minimum age to possess alcohol (28 USC §158) that requires all States to raise the minimum age for the possession and purchase of alcohol for children under 21 years of age, or face the reduction of the funding of federal highways in accordance with the Federal Highway Assistance Law. States that do not comply with the law would be reduced by ten percent dollars for federal roads.
Today, all States have enacted tough legislation regarding the handling of a vehicle while intoxicated. For example, per se laws are presumed laws that state that a person is intoxicated, once their blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) meets the legal limit. Normally, the threshold level is 0.08%. However, there are states that also have lower levels of blood alcohol concentration permissible for certain classes of drivers; As low limits as 0.04 percent of professional drivers and zero tolerance levels for drivers under 21 years of age.
So, if you are stopped for drunk driving and agreed to a blood alcohol test or blood test, if the test is returned with a BAC level at or above the threshold, then the prosecutor could introduce this evidence in the Court and he would be considered guilty according to this presumption.
Stop by the police and arrest for drunk driving based on probable cause of reasonable suspicion
In addition to per se laws, a state statute on drunk driving generally authorizes a police officer to arrest a driver suspected of driving while intoxicated based on probable cause. The probable cause could be established after a report on the observation of the field test. However, before making an arrest based on probable cause, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle. For example, if the driver was stopped for speeding, or has committed a traffic infraction; malfunction or breakage of the headlights or rear, or if the official believes that the driver has committed or is about to commit a crime.
In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed a list of things that could indicate a driver is drunk. That list includes, turning in a wide radius, crossing the lines painted on the road, zigzagging, pretending to be drunk, hit or almost hit another vehicle, deviating, driving on the wrong side of the road and braking irregularly. These types of things can serve as the basis for an officer’s determination of whether he has reasonable suspicion to arrest a driver for drunk driving. Also, in many states, law enforcement officials randomly set up checkpoints for a time to register a predetermined number of cars for violations of the traffic law, including those driving intoxicated.
In order to determine if a driver is intoxicated, police officers throughout the country normally perform standardized field sobriety tests (SFST). If a drunk driver appears, the officer may request that the person undergo tests such as reciting the alphabet, stand on one leg and practice a blood alcohol or blood test. If based on the information collected, the officer considers that the driver is drunk, then the officer stops the driver and takes him to the police station, where a second chemistry test will be administered. It is a customary requirement under state law for perpetrators to carry out two chemical tests, which measure the level of BAC to ensure accuracy and to gather evidence that could later be entered in court.
However, refusal to undergo a breath test or blood test will not prevent a person from being arrested, if the SFST evidence indicates that a person was drunk at the time a motor vehicle operated. The respective state laws generally contain some kind of legal provisions that driving under the influence of alcohol can be determined according to the results of the field sobriety test in the absence of chemical tests. Also, since most states have adopted laws about implicit consent, refusal to submit to evidence can be used as evidence against a person in court and also trigger a civil penalty that imposes a loss of driving privileges . Once the arrest is made and the official charges are presented, a person will have to defend his position in court.
If you have been arrested for a drunk driving related offense, you should immediately contact a Lawyer specialized in the matter to know your rights and legal options.
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