Managing Your Court Case

DUI And DWI — Why It's Confusing And Why It Matters

Today's drivers face an increasingly challenging legal environment if they have any alcohol in their system. One of the first, and most confusing, criminal law concepts they may encounter is the difference between a DUI and a DWI. While these terms can be used interchangeably, they may also have serious differences. Here's what you need to know.

What Is a DUI?

A DUI refers to driving under the influence. This term can refer to the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or even nonprescription drugs. While it is an older term than many of the other acronyms, it still has a range of meanings.

In many states, a DUI's focus is how the substance is influencing how you operate the vehicle. This generally means that operation was visibly impaired as observed by law enforcement. The charge may come as a result of failing a roadside sobriety test. 

What Is a DWI?

Driving while impaired (or while intoxicated) may mean the same thing as a DUI. Some states don't differentiate at all or very much. However, in other states, it is a separate charge based less on observation and more on blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 

If your BAC in a breathalyzer or other test registers higher than the state's legal minimum, you may be charged with DWI regardless of whether or not your actual operation is obviously impaired. The evidence shows that you fit the definition of someone impaired by the substance. 

Does the Difference Matter?

In states where both terms are distinguished separately, the terms matter. You may, for instance, be charged with both DUI and DWI if you are both visibly impaired and fail a breathalyzer test. 

The severity of each charge also varies. In some cases, law enforcement may pursue the DWI charge more aggressively because there is physical evidence to back up the charge. On the other hand, some states have stiffer penalties when a person is visibly impaired (DUI).

In some cases, a driver might remain charged with both offenses throughout the court process. In others, though, one charge may be dropped in favor of the one more likely to be successful. 

Where Should You Start?

No matter what charge you may be facing, the best way to defend your rights is to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state. Because these definitions can be murky and vary from place to place, no defendant should try to navigate these charges alone. Call today to make an appointment. For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney near you.