What is the difference between DUI and DWI charges?
Here in Georgia, law enforcement uses the term DUI as an umbrella term for anyone arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In some states, police instead use the term OVI (operating a vehicle under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired). Other states may use DWAI (driving while ability impaired) as a lesser offense.
Whether you call it a DWI or DUI, there is no practical difference between DUI and DWI in Georgia. If you refuse to take a sobriety test or if you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you could be facing life-changing consequences.
For instance, while Georgia uses the term DUI, North Carolina uses DWI, even though they mean the same thing in practice. New York state uses both DWI and DWAI. Just like in Georgia, driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% and above is illegal, while you can still be arrested for a DWAI if your BAC was below 0.08% but your driving was impaired. Ohio is one of the few states to use the term OVI, which is the equivalent of a DUI charge in Georgia.
Why are the penalties for DUI/DWI so severe in the United States?
Even though drunk driving rates have been on the decline lately, many states have been passing stricter new drunk driving laws, including new felony DUI laws. Many local politicians like to show off their “tough on crime” bona fides by passing new DUI laws.
Across the country, drunk driving suspects are convenient targets for prosecutors and politicians alike. In 2011, the U.S. saw 9,878 alcohol-related traffic fatalities, while Georgia saw 277 (that is 23% of all traffic fatalities in the state). In Georgia, the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities peaked in 2007 at 445, and the numbers have remained relatively flat ever since.
DUI convictions in the state have also been dropping steadily since 2007. In 2013—the most recent year data was available—32,514 people were arrested for DUI/DWI in Georgia. Over the same time, the number of Georgia drivers who refused to take the breath test also doubled to a record 11,480 refusals. While refusing the breath test can result in automatic penalties, including a suspended license, it can make it more difficult for prosecutors to prove a DUI charge.
What are the DUI/DWI laws in Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia?
There are three primary reasons people are arrested for a DUI/DWI in the greater Atlanta, GA, region:
- Police suspect a driver of driving while impaired, but the driver refuses to take the sobriety test.
- The driver has a BAC of 0.08% or above, or exhibits behavior that demonstrates he or she cannot safely operate the vehicle (no matter their BAC).
- The driver has been stopped by the Georgia State Patrol’s special DUI task force.
What happens if you’re found guilty of a DUI/DWI?
Georgia is one of the few states with mandatory jail time for DUI offenses. For a first offense, a defendant faces possible fines of up to $1,000 and 12 months in jail. For second, third, and fourth DUI charges, the penalties get more and more severe, and can include felony criminal charges as well.
A DUI/DWI charge is one of the most common reasons people are arrested in the United States, and many defendants suffer from serious alcohol abuse disorders. Even so, don’t expect the police, judge, or jury to treat you with sympathy.
When is the right time to contact a criminal defense attorney for a DUI/DWI?
If you’ve been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, you need to get a criminal defense attorney right away. The sooner you start preparing your legal defense, the better off you will be on your day in court. Our Atlanta criminal defense attorneys often represent men and women charged with a variety of DUI/DWI-type offenses, and are committed to securing the most favorable outcome possible for your case.
If you’re still wondering about the difference between a DUI/DWI, or if you have any other questions about Atlanta DUI laws, don’t hesitate to contact Pak and McRae Law, LLC, and our Atlanta criminal defense attorneys today.