Toughest DUI Laws By State
All states handle DUIs differently. The laws and penalties will range according to where you reside. It can get tricky when you live in a lenient state but get a DUI in a harsh state. DUIs can carry over from state to state, and you must know the possible penalties you can face depending on where you live. You have a chance of beating a DUI charge wherever you reside when you have the proper legal representation. Regardless of if you live in a state with relatively strict or lenient penalties, you must avoid a DUI conviction whenever possible.
You can face many consequences from a DUI, ranging from jail time, fines, suspension, and even a revoked license. The DUI will also go on your criminal and driving record, making it difficult to get employment and valid insurance rates. There is one universal item that all states agree on, and that is the BAC level of intoxication. A DUI will result when you have a BAC level of 0.08 percent in nearly every state. For drivers under 21, states have varying zero-tolerance laws in place. As an underage driver, your BAC will make no difference in your arrest or DUI charge. Learn more about DUI laws from our experienced DUI offense lawyers.
Toughest state for a first-time offense
There is a consensus that Arizona is the toughest state for a first-time DUI. The state is so stringent on first-time offenses that they have implemented programs typically reserved for repeat offenders. For example, the Ignition Interlock Device is used in other states for repeat offenders or as an alternative sentencing option. In Arizona, it is mandatory for a first offense. While Arizona was the first, several states have followed suit and implemented or encouraged the use of an IID.
Another reason Arizona is known as the toughest for first-time offenses is that you will lose your license the moment you are under arrest for a DUI. There is no grace period for you to fight or a temporary license. Law enforcement will take your driver’s license immediately, and you will need to get off the road. California, in comparison, will suspend your license upon arrest but will offer you a temporary one for 30 days while you request a DMV hearing.
The other consequences for a first-time offense in Arizona include:
- Mandatory drug and alcohol screenings
- $1,250 in fines
- Ten or more consecutive days in jail
- Community service
- Attending a drug and alcohol education program at your expense typically costs $200
- IID for at least 12 months that you will pay for. Costs range from $50 to $200 for installation, plus a monthly fee of $50 to $100. There are also maintenance and data fees for the use of the IID.
Arizona and California are similar because you cannot refuse a chemical test. You can lose your license automatically for refusing a test.
Who has the lowest DUI threshold?
While all states agree to the 0.08 percent BAC for a DUI, one state has taken it a step further by having a lower BAC threshold. In Utah, you can face a charge when your BAC exceeds 0.05 percent, which equals two alcoholic beverages within an hour. Commercial drivers nationwide cannot have a BAC over 0.04 percent, and no underage driver can have alcohol in their system.
Who has the highest fines?
Fines will vary by state and by charge. A first-offense misdemeanor DUI will have the smallest fines, and subsequent ones will have higher fines. Felony DUI offenses have much steeper fines and penalties.
Washington levies the highest DUI fines. A first offense can cost you $5,000 with additional penalties like one year in jail, 90-day license suspension, using an IID, and five years probation. Not too far behind with high fees are Massachusetts and North Carolina. These are the three most expensive states to get a DUI in. Remember, these fees do not include any legal costs you may incur from fighting the DUI charge.
State with the most DUIs each year
The state that has the highest DUI convictions per year is surprising. California has a vast population, so statistics put them first for the most DUI convictions each year. However, when you factor in convictions per capita, the state that leads this statistic is North Dakota. North Dakota is the most dangerous when considering the population and the percentage of DUI convictions.
Who requires the most jail time?
Many states require some degree of jail time, California does not require jail time for a first offense, but it can happen. When you get a DUI conviction in Massachusetts, you can face two and a half years in jail if you cause a severe injury. Additionally, you will lose your license for one year.
What state has the most prolonged loss of license?
You can lose your license to some degree, whether suspension or revocation. However, the time you lose your license will vary and have other consequences. Pennsylvania is the only state that does not suspend your license for a DUI.
Generally, a license suspension can range from 90 days to three years, depending on the DUI and the person’s driving record. The shortest suspension period is in West Virginia, which only requires a fifteen-day suspension. The lead for the most extended license suspension is Ohio, where you can have a license suspension for three years. The minimum suspension in Ohio is six months.
Highest DUI-related deaths
Every year, there are more than 11,000 DUI deaths nationwide. As you might guess, California has the highest number of DUI-related deaths due to its large population. Once again, when you factor in population, California is not the worst state. The following state has double the national average in deaths—Montana has the the most DUI-related deaths.
Other harsh states
While Arizona tops the charts for the strictest DUI charges, some states also have harsh penalties for a conviction.
Here are some other contenders for severe DUI penalties.
- Florida: You can face a six-month license suspension, nine months in jail, use of an IID, and a fine between $500 and $2,000.
- South Carolina: There is a minimum of 48 hours in jail for a first-time offense.
- Alaska: DUI offenders will face a 90 Day license suspension, fines of $1,500, and an IID for six months. To get your driver’s license back, you must apply for a new one, take all relevant testing, and provide insurance forms to the DMV.
- Oklahoma: Jail time between ten days and a one-year minimum of $1,000 in fines is the baseline for a DUI arrest and conviction.
- Washington: One day in jail and a 90-day license suspension
- Louisiana: Two days in jail and 45-day license suspension. For a second offense, you will spend 30 days in jail. Your DUI will stay on your record for ten years.
- Texas: Three days in jail for a first offense, no access to your vehicle, and a 45-day license suspension. a second offense results in 30 days in jail.
- Virginia: Seven-day automatic license suspension and a minimum of $300 fines. Thirty days in jail for a second offense, and penalties can go up to $1,000.
- Colorado: Five days in jail immediately after your arrest and a 90-day suspension with fines of $1,000.
- Utah: License suspension for 120 days and two days in jail. You must pay to get your car and license back and install an IID for 18 months.
- Nebraska: The conviction stays on your record for 15 years, and you will serve seven days in jail with a 90-day suspension and a $500 fine.
If you are in any of these states, whether you reside there or are driving through, you must be wary of a DUI conviction. There are other consequences after a DUI, so even if these penalties are harsh, the rest of your life will also change. You cannot leave your life in balance; you must contact a DUI defense lawyer in your area to find the best strategy for you.
The most lenient states
In contrast to the harshest states, there are also lenient states. The most lenient are South Dakota, Ohio, Maryland, Montana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Idaho. South Dakota is the most lenient because it doesn’t require jail time for drunk drivers facing a first or second offense. When you get to a third offense, you may face a felony but not a license suspension, an Ignition Interlock Device, or impoundment of the vehicle.
While there is a predetermined BAC limit, intoxication will vary by gender and weight. While a person can have a BAC of 0.08 percent after one drink, the same BAC will take another person four drinks. So while you do not feel intoxicated after one or two drinks, a chemical test can determine whether you are.
You can find a BAC calculator online to help you assess your legal limit. These results can vary based on your size, how much you had to eat, and other factors. You will also need to consider your drinks’ strength since that can alter your BAC.
Your diet and certain medical conditions can also alter a chemical test to show that you are over the legal limit when you are not. Additionally, there are other ways to have residual alcohol in your mouth, such as using mouthwash. Even one extra drink is likely to push you over the legal limit. There are instances when people try to be responsible by sleeping off the alcohol in their vehicle or having coffee. These often have little effect on your BAC.
While it can be scary to be facing a DUI charge in any state, there are defenses available to help you even in the harshest states. One thing is sure; you should never try to beat a DUI case alone, and you will need the help of a DUI lawyer near you to find a promising DUI defense strategy. The prosecution will exaggerate and use every tool to get a conviction and harsh penalties that will affect your life. On the contrary, a DUI defense lawyer will fight the prosecution tooth and nail to ensure you get the best outcome and do not feel the long-term effects of a DUI.
The basis of most DUI charges is the results of a chemical test. The first and often best defense is an error during the chemical test.
Some of the most common mistakes are:
- Environmental factors
- Improper handling by the person administering the test
- Instrument malfunction
- Calibration errors
- Psychological conditions like GERD or dietary concerns
- Mishandling of samples by the forensic lab
A breath test is very controversial because it measures the amount of alcohol in your mouth and not the amount of alcohol in your system. These tests are known to give high BAC readings. Since they are so inaccurate, it works to your advantage because you can fight the accuracy of the test.
The other chemical test you can receive is a blood test, and inaccuracies can result because of:
- Blood contamination
- Blood germination
- Improper storage of your blood sample
You will have your lawyer submit a blood-split motion to investigate how the blood was tested and handled. If there is even a minute discrepancy, they cannot use the blood test as evidence, so your case cannot move forward.
Residual mouth alcohol is another prevalent defense that not many people are aware of. Since a breath test aims to measure the alcohol in your mouth, it can often capture alcohol from sources other than an adult beverage.
Some reasons you for residual alcohol in your mouth are:
- Mouthwash or breath spray
- Chewing tobacco
- Dental work that trapped alcohol in your teeth
- Burping after drinking
- Acid reflux or GERD
This residual alcohol factor can contribute to a high BAC reading and a DUI charge. Many other possible defenses are available, but you must contact a local DUI lawyer to get started.