Understanding the difference between Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is tricky but important. Both offenses refer to illegally operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Both charges carry with it a set of consequences that can include fines, court appearances, loss of license and even jail time. It’s important to understand the differences and what you should do in the event of charges. Although states vary in their usage of the terms DUI and DWI, the difference lies largely in which the way prosecutors end up charging drivers with the offense. Both DUI and DWI mean it’s a crime to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but the difference in terms is in how the evidence is collected. With a DUI, the cops are looking for behaviors to indicate the driver is intoxicated, such as swerving or erratic braking. In the case of a DWI, this conclusion is arrived at after a driver has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. The way you handle the different offenses are similar and it’s always advisable to secure a defense lawyer should you be charged with either.
What is a DUI?
DUI, depending on the state, can mean different things. Some states use it as a lesser charge of DWI, taking into account blood alcohol levels as measured by a breathalyzer. Some states seemingly use the two terms interchangeably with no real differences. In other states, DUI looks at the behavior of the driver while they are driving rather than measuring blood content. Does the driver have their headlights off at night? Is the car moving erratically? Does the police officer notice a lot of weaving or swerving? All of these behaviors and more can cause a police officer to pull over a driver. Once pulled over, the police officer may choose to utilize a method to measure the blood alcohol content, or if the driver is suspected of being impaired by other substances, they may just be charged with a DUI.
What is a DWI?
Similarly, a DWI is defined differently in each state. Certain states use it as the heavier of the two charges, meaning it carries with it heftier fines or consequences. In other states, it can simply mean that the method of gathering evidence was different. For example, a driver is pulled over due to suspected drunk driving or a random checkpoint system. At this point, the police may choose to use a breathalyzer to measure the alcohol content in the bloodstream. This is a preferred method as it can provide the cops with an actual measured number of how much alcohol the driver may have had. This type of evidence is always preferred to simple observation. In either case, but particularly with a DWI, it is important to have great representation via a defense attorney.
Determining the difference between a DUI or a DWI depends largely on what state you are in. Some states use the terms to delineate between the severity of the offense and subsequent consequences. Still, other states regard the differences in how you collect the evidence and prosecute the intoxicated driver. If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI, a criminal defense attorney can help you weigh your options. Often, a first offense carries with it a lighter set of consequences than a multiple offender or a higher blood alcohol level. In either scenario, you could be looking at steep fines, court appearances and loss of your driver’s license.