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What is DUI and DWI?

Driving while intoxicated is a very serious driving offense. Some states refer to it as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Operating Under the Influence (OUI), but most states refer to it as Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The more colloquial term "drunk driving" is a misnomer, because you don’t have to be drunk to be nailed for drunk driving.

DUI usually includes two stand-alone offenses:

  • driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent it impairs your physical and mental faculties, and
  • driving while you have a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater even though the alcohol has had no effect on you.

In the vast majority of DUI cases, both offenses are charged. The good news is that in the end, if you plead or are found guilty, you very likely will only be sentenced on one. The bad news is, of course, that it’s hard to win a DUI case when the prosecution has two shots at you.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

Unlike the other driving offenses, defending a DUI charge usually requires a lawyer because the consequences of a DUI conviction are so serious. If you want to fight the case all the way through a trial, you should represent yourself only if you absolutely have no access to legal representation. On the other hand, you could save thousands of dollars in attorneys fees if the almost certain course of your particular case — like the vast majority of DUI cases — will result in a guilty plea and a standard sentence.

If you face a DUI charge you first need to figure out 1) whether fighting the charge in your case would likely result in a successful outcome, and 2) whether you can handle the case yourself in the course of entering a plea or arranging a plea bargain. Serious charges require an attorney’s help. Second and subsequent DUI charges, juvenile DUI, DUI charges that involve injury or death, and DUIs in which you had a very high blood alcohol content can result in a substantially more serious punishment, and the laws concerning these more serious DUI offenses vary enormously from state to state.

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