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DUI & DWI Glossary

If you're trying to navigate the murky legal waters of a DUI or DWI charge, you're not alone—there is a lot of jargon that can be extremely confusing. To clear things up, below you'll find some terms and definitions associated with driving under the influence.

Terms A-F

Absorption Rate

The speed at which alcohol is absorbed into your blood stream is called the absorption rate. Depending on your weight, what you've had to eat, and even genetic factors, the rate at which alcohol enters your bloodstream will differ.

Related term(s): BAC, Breathalyzer

Administrative License Revocation (ALR)

Some states may impose an administrative license revocation, wherein the state revokes a driver's license through a civil proceeding as opposed to/in addition to a criminal proceeding for a DUI/DWI charge.

Arrest

If you're under arrest, then you are being legally detained by a police officer and are not free to leave.

Related terms(s): Miranda rights

Attorney

An attorney is someone who is authorized to represent you in legal matters.

Related term(s): DUI attorney

BAC

BAC is the abbreviation for “blood alcohol content." Your BAC is calculated by looking at what percentage of your blood contains alcohol.

BAC is used in determining if you are legally intoxicated or not.

Related term(s): absorption rate, Breathalyzer

Breathalyzer

A Breathalyzer is a device law enforcement or private citizens use to determine someone's blood alcohol content.

Related term(s): absorption rate, BAC, field sobriety test, ignition interlock device (IID), implied consent

Defendant

In a criminal court case, the defendant is the person who is being charged with a crime. If you're arrested for a DUI, you'd be considered the defendant in court.

Related term(s): plaintiff

DUI

DUI is the abbreviation for “driving under the influence", which is defined as driving while having consumed an illegal amount of alcohol and/or drugs (even those prescribed to you).

“DUI" and “DWI" are often interchangeable, though not always.

Related term(s): DWI

DUI Attorney

A DUI attorney is a lawyer who specializes in the specific laws and practices surrounding DUI cases. If you're in need of legal representation for a DWI case, you should look specifically for a DUI attorney.

DUI School

Classes designed for alcohol and/or drug education, assessment, and treatment as well as DUI/DWI prevention programs. You might be sentenced to attend DUI school in lieu of OR in addition to incarceration, fines, and license suspension.

Related terms(s): sentence

DWI

DWI is the abbreviation used in some states for “driving while intoxicated," or "driving while impaired" which is defined as driving under the influence of an illegal amount of alcohol and/or drugs.

Related term(s): DUI

Field Sobriety Test

These tests are used to determine your level of intoxication and can be admissible as evidence in court in certain situations.

A standard field sobriety test might consist of different evaluations, including:

  • Tracking a target moving side to side with your eyes.
  • Walking in a straight line, then turning around.
  • Standing on one leg.

Related term(s): Breathalyzer, implied consent

Terms G-L

Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

An ignition interlock device (IID) is a type of breath alcohol analyzer connected to your vehicle's ignition. If the device registers your BAC as being higher than the limit imposed, then you will not be able to start your car's motor. IIDs are typically issued to repeat DUI offenders.

Related term(s): Breathalyzer

Implied Consent

Implied consent refers to the set of laws you agree to acknowledge when receiving your driver's license. These may include laws that you will comply with a request to have your breath or blood tested for intoxicating chemicals.

Related term(s): Breathalyzer, field sobriety test

License Cancellation/Revocation

If you're facing a license cancellation, your driver's license is being taken away by the state indefinitely. A judge can often revoke your license as part of sentencing for a DUI charge.

To get a new license you'll usually have to wait a certain amount of time before reapplying for one at your local department of motor vehicles.

Related term(s): license suspension, restricted license

License Suspension

License suspension or revocation means having your driver's license taken away by an entity of the criminal justice system for a specified amount of time.

If a police officer pulls you over and suspects DUI and you do not submit to a Breathalyzer test, they can suspend your license on the spot.

Related term(s): implied consent, license cancellation/revocation, restricted license

Terms M-R

Miranda Rights

Your Miranda rights are read to you prior to certain types of arrests and clarify your legal rights to remain silent and to legal counsel.

Related terms(s): arrest

Offense

A criminal act.

Open Container Law

Open container laws dictate that you are not allowed to have any open bottles, cans, jars, etc., of alcohol while driving your car. This includes any open containers of alcohol that your passenger(s) may have as well.

Probation

Probation is a punitive sentence where, instead of being incarcerated, a judge releases an offender back into the community. Restrictions may be set by the court during this time relating to alcohol use, travel beyond driving to and from work and school, and employment, among others.

Related terms(s): sentence

Prosecution

In DUI court cases, the prosecution is the legal team representing the plaintiff (i.e., the state) and presenting evidence against you so as to yield a guilty verdict.

Restricted License

A restricted license is one that generally allows you to drive only for very specific purposes.

Related terms(s): license cancellation/revocation, license suspension

Terms S-Z

Sentence

Your sentence is the punishment that a judge gives to you if you plead or are found guilty. In DUI cases, depending on the severity of the incident, you could face a variety of sentences, including probation, DUI school, or a lengthy prison sentence (especially if others were hurt).

Related terms(s): DUI school, probation

Sobriety Checkpoint

Sobriety checkpoints are stops set up by police officers on public roads, used to randomly check for intoxicated drivers. Law enforcement might be more inclined to set up sobriety checkpoints on days/holidays when people are more inclined to drive while intoxicated (e.g., weekend nights, New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras).

Vehicle Impoundment

Vehicle impoundment is the act of law enforcement seizing a vehicle and placing it into an impoundment lot until it is determined that the driver can reclaim it. If a police officer determines that you are a danger to others on the road, and there is no one else available to drive your car, they can impound your vehicle. This especially applies to DUI arrests, in which your car may be towed to the police impound lot and searched for evidence.

Zero Tolerance

Zero tolerance laws make it illegal for any driver under 21 years old to operate a vehicle with any type of blood alcohol count.

Related terms(s): BAC


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