What Constitutes an OUI and What Are the Penalties?

Operating under the influence (OUI) is a charge similar to driving while intoxicated (DWI). Both are criminal charges for someone caught in a vehicle while drunk or drinking. OUI carries mandatory penalties in most states that recognize the charge. OUI and DWI are treated identically in some areas. You should understand what constitutes an OUI and what the penalties are.

Meeting the Standard for OUI

Individuals must meet two requirements in order to be charged with OUI. The first is that the blood alcohol level of the person must meet or exceed the legal level for being intoxicated in the state. This is generally a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or greater. This number needs to be determined with a chemical test. This means testing the blood, urine or breath of the person. These tests are mandatory if an officer makes the request. The second requirement is that the intoxicated person must be operating a vehicle. OUI is different from DWI because operating means the keys to the car are in the ignition. The car does not have to be running. The person does not even have to be in the driver’s seat. A person sleeping in the back of a parked car can be charged with OUI as long as the keys are in the ignition.

First Offenses

All states have lighter penalties for people who are being charged with OUI for the first time. A first offense generally carries a fine of a few hundred dollars. The license of the offender can be suspended for anywhere from 30 days to a year. If the incident was particularly bad, then a judge might also order jail time. This is usually just a few days in jail for a first offense. Some states include community service that lasts from 20 to 50 hours. Judges normally have discretion to impose softer or tougher sentences depending on the circumstance although most states have mandatory sentencing guidelines for OUI.

Multiple Offenses

All states that have an OUI charge increase the penalties for multiple offenses. Multiple offenses mean a person has been arrested for OUI more than once. It could also mean a person has previous arrests for DWI or related charges dealing with alcohol. States increase penalties gradually. The maximum sentences are reserved for offenders with four or more convictions. These penalties usually include fines that can be thousands of dollars. There is mandatory jail time for the offender. The offender could be sentenced for anywhere from one to five or more years in prison, even if there were no injuries, fatalities or property damage. The offender’s driver license will be suspended for multiple years. This could include lifetime revocation of the license.

Blood Alcohol Levels Matter

Blood alcohol levels do matter in many states when a person is convicted of OUI. Several states will declare the charges enhanced or aggravated if the blood alcohol content is much higher than the legal limit. The threshold in some states is 0.15 percent blood alcohol content. Aggravated or enhanced charges mean that an offender could face more jail time, higher fines and a long license suspension than normal.

Alternative Sentences

There are some instances where courts could impose alternative sentences. This is generally done only for first time offenders where the situation was very mild. Alternative sentences usually include completion of an alcohol treatment program. People who complete these treatment programs successfully could avoid the charges or could avoid any other penalties.

Driving while drunk indicates that you or a loved one has a serious problem. Continued drinking and alcohol abuse could lead to years in jail, especially if someone is hurt or killed during an accident. It is important to get help immediately. You should contact an alcohol treatment program right away if drinking has become a problem.

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