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DUI First Offense & Penalties

DUI, or driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is a serious criminal offense in all 50 states. A first offense is generally treated as a misdemeanor, and the penalties are similar among the states.

Every state uses the standard of 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) as the minimum limit for which driving a motor vehicle becomes illegal. Most states have a lower limit for commercial operators and a zero-tolerance level for drivers under age 21.

What Constitutes a DUI?

Anyone who is in control of a motor vehicle, which includes boats, motor scooters and even a lawnmower, while under the influence of alcohol or a drug is in violation of the law. The issue of what constitutes operating a motor vehicle or being in control varies among the states, but many will agree that having the keys in the ignition and the motor running, even if you are asleep, usually means operating a vehicle within the meaning of the law.  The following factors are usually used to justify your being asked to take a test:

If your BAC is at least 0.08 percent, you are presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. You can also be charged with being under the influence if no chemical or breath test is obtained solely based on the above factors.

First Offense Criminal Penalties

A first offense DUI is a misdemeanor in every state, meaning that any jail sentence must be less than one year, though the maximum sentence is rarely if ever imposed in this instance. Typical penalties include:

  • Two days or other minimal jail time
  • No jail time or community service in lieu of jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000 unless there are aggravating circumstances
  • Participation in a drug or alcohol treatment education program
  • Loss of your driver's license for six months to up to one year
  • Possible use of an ignition interlock system

Most states impose harsher penalties if your BAC was above a certain level, usually 0.15 percent, even for first offenders. If you were involved in an accident resulting in serious injuries or death, you can face felony charges.

Civil Penalties

If you are arrested on a DUI charge, your state's motor vehicle department will be notified. If you refused a chemical test, you risk loss of your driver's license for up to one year. If your BAC was at least 0.08 percent and you complete an alcohol education program, however, your license suspension may be shortened to a few months, depending on your state.

Most states have administrative procedures whereby you can challenge your license suspension based upon an improper stop, faulty testing equipment, a medical condition, or that you had a valid reason for refusing testing.