What is the Difference Between a DUI and DWI?
People often ask, “What is the difference between a DUI and DWI?” The most direct answer is that “DUI” stands for “driving under the influence” of alcohol and/or drugs, and “DWI” stands for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” California law recognizes DUI violations, but doesn’t use the term “DWI.”
What’s in a Name?
In some states, the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably. Other states use different terms with nuanced meanings. In Texas, for example, a driver is charged with a DWI, but in Colorado, a driver can be charged with either a DUI or a DWAI, which means “driving while abilities are impaired.” In that state, a DWAI is filed if a driver has a blood alcohol content of .05 and .079, and a DUI is filed for a blood alcohol content of .08 or more. Michigan makes a similar distinction, using the term OWI – “operating while intoxicated” – for a blood alcohol content of .08 or more, and the term OWVI – “operating while visibly impaired” – as a lesser offense. In Massachusetts, police can bring charges of “operating under the influence” – or OUI – once you start your ignition. To be arrested in the Bay State, you don’t actually have to be on the roadway.
Here’s a rundown of what alcohol- and drug-related driving offenses are called in each state:
Colorado: DUI or DWAI
Florida: DUI or DUBAL (driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level)
Hawaii: OUVII (operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant)
Michigan: OWI or OWVI
New Hampshire: DUI
New Jersey: DWI
New Mexico: DUI
New York: DWI or DWAI
North Carolina: DWI
North Dakota: DUI
Oregon: DUII (driving under the influence of intoxicants)
Rhode Island: DWI
South Carolina: DUI
South Dakota: DUI
West Virginia: DUI
Wyoming: DWUI (driving while under the influence)
When the Distinction Matters
At first glance, various states’ terminology just seems like alphabet soup. After all, what difference does it make if you have an Alameda County DUI or a Detroit OWVI? If you’ve been arrest for a DUI in Oakland, why would it matter if you have an OUI from Massachusetts? The truth is that it does matter. That’s why it’s valid to ask the question, “What is the difference between a DUI and DWI?” Moreover, it’s doubly important that your Oakland DUI lawyer knows the distinction.
To understand why it’s important to understand individual states’ alcohol- and drug-related driving offenses, it’s necessary to first look at California’s DUI laws and penalties.
California DUI Law and Penalties
There are a few different California legal provisions that pertain to driving under the influence. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) says that it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(d) limits BAC to .04 for drivers of commercial vehicles, and California Vehicle Code Section 23152(e) expands the .04 limit to anyone driving a paying passenger (think Uber and Lyft drivers). California Vehicle Code Section 23152(c) declares that someone addicted to a drug isn’t allowed to drive, and California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f) says that those under the influence of a drug – legal or illegal – violate the law if they drive. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(g) puts a finer point on the concept of DUI by stating that driving while under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol is a no-go. A DUI attorney in Alameda County should know these distinctions.
Next, a review of DUI penalties is in order. Judges are allowed to order a first-time offender to spend between 48 hours and six months in jail. For a second offense, an Oakland DUI conviction can carry a jail sentence of 96 hours up to one year. A third conviction can mean a jail sentence of between 120 and 364 days. While those are the allowable penalties, it’s more common for judges to order a three- to five-year probation period for a first-time conviction and some type of alternative sentence – such as house arrest or a work program – for a second conviction. The third time out, the judge may opt to order a 30-day jail sentence and three to five years of probation.
The possibility of jail is one facet of DUI penalties in California. Another facet is the financial cost. For your first or second DUI conviction, you’re required to pay fines of between $390 and $1,000. A fine of up to $1,800 can accompany your third DUI conviction. In addition to fines, you will pay penalty assessments. Those can include court costs, booking and fingerprinting costs, and victim restitution fund fees.
The financial impact is much greater than fines and penalty assessments, however. If you’re charged with a DUI, your driver’s license will automatically be suspended or revoked. For your first Alameda County DUI conviction, you’ll face the possibility of a six-month suspension. For a second conviction, that increases to two years. With a third conviction, that tops out at a three-year driver’s license revocation. To get your license back, you’ll need to pay the California Department of Motor Vehicles a $125 reissue fee along with proof of financial responsibility. In other words, you’ll need car insurance, the premiums for which will skyrocket for the ten years your DUI conviction stays on your record.
Typically, the penalty for an Oakland DUI conviction also includes a requirement to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car. An IID is a breathalyzer that prevents the engine from starting if you’ve been drinking. In Alameda County, the IID requirement is five months for a first DUI conviction, one year for a second conviction, and two years for a third. Plan on spending between $70 and $100 per month for your IID.
DUI convictions often come with the requirement to attend a DUI education program. For a first-time conviction, the program will be either 30 or 60 hours. If you’re granted probation for a second conviction, the program might be 18 months or 30 months. The third time around, the program will be 30 months. Costs can range from $600 to $1,200 or more.
Prior Convictions Matter
It’s obvious from the penalties associated with DUI convictions in California that prior DUI convictions matter. One prior DUI conviction can mean the difference between having a six-month driver’s license suspension and a two-year license suspension. It might mean the difference between probation or up to a year in jail. Two prior DUI convictions can mean double the fines, mandatory jail time, and a longer driver’s license suspension. Three prior DUI convictions likely mean that you just moved from the realm of a DUI misdemeanor to a DUI felony. As a convicted felon, you could spend up to four years in prison.
This is why it’s important to know the answer to, “What is the difference between a DUI and DWI?” California courts take into account prior convictions in California and prior convictions in other states. When the prosecutor searches a national database and discovers a conviction in another state within the previous decade, they will consider that a prior offense. However, if your Oakland DUI lawyer is familiar with the alphabet soup of other states’ DUI laws, they may be able to argue that the other state’s law is too different from California’s and thus shouldn’t be counted as a strike against you. For example, if you have a DWAI conviction in Colorado, your lawyer can argue that a DWAI is charged for a blood alcohol content of .05 and .079 – lower than the .08 threshold of a California DUI charge. If they’re successful in discounting a prior conviction in another state, it can mean a significant reduction in penalties. Furthermore, if your DUI attorney in Alameda County can get your previous conviction disallowed, it paves the way to successfully negotiate a plea agreement for a lesser charge like reckless driving.
If you have a prior DUI conviction from another state, the difference between a DUI and DWI can be significant. The California criminal justice system is complex, and DUI charges are serious. It pays – literally and figuratively – to have an Oakland DUI lawyer by your side to navigate your DUI charges and achieve the best possible outcome for you.