Is a DUI/DWI Charge a Criminal Offense or a Traffic Offense?

Written by Christi Hayes and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Driving under the influence or DUI is a criminal offense of driving a motor vehicle with an alcohol level which exceeds the legal limit. This offense is also applicable when the offender operates a machine while intoxicated.

In some jurisdictions, a more rigid version of DUI is being implemented. In California, there are certain restrictions or prohibitions involving DUI. Minors, for example, cannot consume any alcohol, intoxicating substances and prescriptions when driving.

In some states, the alcohol level allowed by law is 0.05% to 0.08%. Each offender is subjected to a breath test wherein the blood alcohol level is measured by an instrument. If the offender is found to have a blood alcohol level which is in excess of that which is allowed by law, he shall then be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).

However, not all jurisdictions consider DUI or DWI as a criminal offense such as in Wisconsin and New Jersey. In said states, DUI or DWI is considered only as traffic violation. This entails that the penalty imposable by law does not include imprisonment.

But, in most jurisdictions, DUI or DWI was already criminalized or treated as criminal offense. This means that the penalty shall not only include fine, suspension of license and community service but also imprisonment.

In California, the penalties differ based on the number of DUI offenses incurred by the respondent. If the respondent was arrested for his first offense, he shall be penalized with 4 days to 6 months imprisonment, $1400 to $2600 fine, 30 days to 10 months license suspension, and installation of Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in all vehicles owned or driven by him.

If the offender was caught for his 2nd DUI violation, he will be merited with 10 days to 1 year imprisonment, fine of $1800 to $2800, two years license suspension and mandatory installation of Ignition Interlock Device. If the offender was caught for the third time, he will serve jail time for 120 days to 1 year, fine of $1800, license suspension for 3 years and installation of Ignition Interlock Device in all his vehicles.

The sentence imposed under the law, especially the prison term, is affected by several factors. One of which is the "look back period" of 10 years wherein the record of offenses committed by the offender shall be examined by the authorities. If the offender was caught for a second DUI violation within a period of ten years from the first DUI conviction, the court may impose the maximum sentence against him.

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