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DUI Glossary

We all feel the horrid adrenaline pump when we see the flashing lights in our rearview mirror. It’s a terrible feeling as we hold our breath, hoping the police cruiser passes us by to pursue another driver. Then, there can be downright fear and overwhelming anxiety when we realize that it’s us the police want to pull over – all increased exponentially if we’ve had a few drinks – and may be drunk driving.

A Drunk Driving Conviction Can Change Your Life

How bad can a DUI conviction be?

  • It’s estimated that a first time DUI conviction can cost upwards of $17,000+ or even more if you hurt or kill someone while driving drunk.
  • Subsequent convictions cost even more – how much pay would you lose if you go to jail for 6 months, a year, or more?
  • You may lose your job and go to jail.
  • How will you get to work, buy groceries, or take your children to the doctor if your driver’s license is suspended or your car is impounded?
  • What will your neighbors, friends, colleagues, and loved ones think of you?
  • How will you and your family deal with the stress?
  • A DUI conviction stays on your record forever.

How This DUI Keyword Glossary Will Help You in a Matter of Minutes

If you’ve been arrested for DUI, DWI, drunk driving, or driving under the influence, you likely know it’s serious. This article will provide assistance by helping you to understand what’s going on and guiding you in the selection of a drunk driving attorney.

  • First, we’ll provide a drunk driving keyword glossary so you understand the terminology used by the police, prosecutors, and courts. It helps your defense if you understand what’s going on and can communicate in the appropriate lingo.
  • Second, we’ll show you how to find and select a DUI lawyer. Being arrested for drunk driving is not the same as being convicted – even if you failed a Breathalyzer or blood test. Your DUI lawyer will fully analyze your case; investigate how you were stopped, tested, and arrested. If there are any holes in your case, your attorney will find them.

DUI Keyword Glossary

Absorption Rate

“Absorption rate” refers to how fast the alcohol you ingest gets into your blood stream.

  • A potential drunk driving defense is that you were not legally drunk when you were actually driving because your body didn’t have time to absorb the alcohol.

    For example, if you had a few drinks immediately before you drove home, the alcohol may not have had time to get into your system when you were actually driving.

    The defense is that even though the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing registered .08 or above – that was after not while you were driving.

  • Your individual alcohol absorption rate can be affected by the amount of food you’ve eaten, the type of food ingested, type of alcoholic beverage, and biological factors.
  • Be aware that highly caffeinated drinks such as Red Bull and the like mask the effects of alcohol so you don’t realize how intoxicated you really are.
  • And, carbonated beverages mixed with alcohol (e.g. rum and Coke) have been found to increase intoxication.
  • “Peak absorption” refers to the highest BAC just before the BAC begins to dissipate.

Administrative License Revocation – Administrative License Suspension

If you are stopped for drunk driving and refuse to take a Breathalyzer or blood test, your driver’s license may be suspended for a significant period of time such as one year or 18 months.

  • Some states have an automatic driver’s license suspension upon refusal to submit to DUI testing.
  • While other states allow the arresting officer discretion in deciding whether your driver’s license should be revoked – or not.

Drunk driving lawyers have differing opinions as to whether you should refuse a Breathalyzer or blood test.

  • Some DUI attorneys advise that you should take the tests unless someone has died in an accident you may have caused. If someone died – and you caused it – the consequences are much more serious than losing your driver’s license.
  • Others say you should take the Breathalyzer or blood test because the loss of a driver’s license is so serious.

In addition, you may have your driver’s license suspended or revoked if you are convicted of DUI more than once.

Alcohol Evaluation – Drug Evaluation

If you’ve been convicted of DUI, the court may order that you undergo a drug and/or alcohol evaluation to diagnosis addiction and recommend treatment.

In addition and in some states, you may be ordered to undergo drug and alcohol treatment or even be ordered into a 28-day rehabilitation program.

Blood Alcohol ConcentrationР’В  (BAC)

“Blood alcohol concentration (BAC)” refers to how much alcohol is in your bloodstream. BAC is measured with a Breathalyzer or blood or urine testing.

  • In all states, if your BAC is .08 or above, you are guilty of drunk driving per se.
  • You can be guilty of driving under the influence with a lower BAC if you have alcohol, drugs, or medication in your system and you are driving unsafely.
  • In some states, if you are driving a commercial vehicle (including a school bus), you’re guilty of drunk driving is your BAC is .02 or .04 (depending on the state).
  • In some states, if you are under the age of 21, you are guilty of drunk driving if your BAC is .02 – or – if you have any alcohol at all in your system.

Potential drunk driving defenses include defective BAC testing equipment, improper execution of testing, and improper training of professional executing BAC testing.


Police officers often use equipment called a “Breathalyzer” to determine a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This test is administered roadside.

If an officer thinks that you have been driving drunk, she will likely ask you to expel your breath into the Breathalyzer.

  • If the Breathalyzer indicates that your BAC is .08 or above, you will be arrested for drunk driving and the test results will be entered into evidence if your case goes to trial.
  • If the Breathalyzer indicates that your BAC is less than .08, drunk driving charges are more challenging to prove and the officer has a choice.
    • She can arrest you for driving under the influence if you’ve driven unsafely – or –
    • She can let you go.

Breathalyzers can be faulty or testing may not be administered correctly. Both are potential DUI defenses.

Burn Off Rate

As time passes, any alcohol you’ve ingested is metabolized – or – “burned off”. The only thing that can cure drunkenness is time – coffee and a shower won’t work.

  • It can take 6 hours to get alcohol out of your system.
  • Your individual burn off rate is determined by how often you drink, medical conditions, and your weight and age.

Chemical Test

In the DUI arena, a chemical test refers to the analysis of the presence of drugs and/or alcohol in the blood steam.

  • Alcohol – the amount of alcohol in the blood stream is measure with a Breathalyzer, blood test, or urine test.
  • Drugs – the presence of drugs in the blood stream is determined by blood or urine testing.

Conditional Driver’s License

Some states will give you your driver’s license back in return for some action such as completing a drug alcohol treatment program or counseling or attending DUI school.


The person accused of a crime is called the “defendant”. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, you are the defendant.

The district attorney (or other government representative) who is prosecuting you for the crime is called the “prosecutor”.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

While most of us think of DUI as drunk driving – legally, the term, “driving under the influence” means that you have driven while intoxicated with alcohol, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, marijuana or any other illegal drugs, or even toxic vapors.

  • Every day cough or allergy medicines can cause drowsiness, leading to unsafe driving.
  • Some medications mixed with alcohol can cause unsafe driving.
  • Studies have found that driving is actually impaired with the first drink.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

DWI and DUI usually mean the same thing, but the exact meaning depends on state law.

  • DWI = driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
  • DUI = driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

DUI School – Drunk Driving School

If you’re convicted of drunk driving, you’ll be punished – to deter you and others from driving drunk.

Part of that punishment may include DUI school, so that you learn:

  • You are too drunk to drive much sooner than you realize.
  • Just one drink can impair your driving.
  • The devastating effects of drunk driving.

Dram Shop Act

A “dram shop” is a licensed drinking establishment such as a bar, tavern, pub, liquor store, restaurant, and the like. A “dram” is a small unit of measurement. The term was originally used in England.

  • Many states (but not all states) hold licensed drinking establishments liable (aka financially responsible) for injuries to third persons when they serve a visibly intoxicated adult.

For example, Lionel is drinking at Joe’s bar and the bar tender knows he’s had one too many – but serves him anyway. Then, Lionel attempts to drive home and runs over Penelope in the parking lot.

Penelope can successfully sue both Lionel and Joe’s bar for her injuries if her state has a Dram Shop Act.

  • In addition, many states have a Dram Shop Act that allows third parties injured by minors as well as the minors themselves to successfully sue a bar for their injuries – if the bar knowingly served alcoholic beverages to that minor.

    For example, Felix and Pete, age 20 and 19, respectively, snuck into Joe’s bar and convinced their buddy, Tad, to serve them drinks.

    If either Felix or Pete is injured as a result – or – if they injure someone else, Joe’s bar can be held liable for all resulting injuries.


If you drive drunk under certain conditions, you will likely receive a stiffer penalty than if you don’t.

For example, enhancements may include drunk driving and speeding, driving with a child in your vehicle, causing property damage, and causing death or injury.

Field Sobriety Test (FST)

If a police officer stops you at a road block or has reasonable suspicion that you are driving drunk and pulls you over, he will likely use a “field sobriety test” to determine whether you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Both physical and mental coordination may be tested:

  • Physical – You’re likely familiar with these field tests – and may have used them yourself to show a friend that you’re not too drunk to drive.

Example physical field sobriety tests include: following a light or finger with your eyes, walking in a straight line heel-to-toe, and putting head back while closing eyes and touching nose with index finger.

  • Mental – reciting the alphabet.

Ignition Interlock

Many states use the ignition interlock as a preventative measure. Your car may be fitted for ignition interlock (at your expense) if you’ve been convicted of drunk driving more than once.

  • The ignition interlock device, which measures blood alcohol concentration, is attached to your vehicle.
  • Before you can drive your car, you must blow into the device, which determines your BAC – like a Breathalyzer.
    • If your BAC is too high, the car will not start.
    • If your BAC is okay, the car will start.

For example, Kim has been arrested for drunk driving 2 times. She has spent time in jail and the judge has ordered that an ignition interlock be installed on her car. Each morning before Kim goes to work and each evening when she is about to come home, she must blow into the ignition interlock. The car won’t start without the test being completed.

If she hasn’t been drinking, the car starts and she is free to go on her merry way. If she has been drinking and her BAC is above the limit allowed by the ignition interlock, the car will not start and Kim has to wait to drive her car, take the bus, ride with a friend, call a taxi, or walk.

Implied Consent

When you apply for your driver’s license and drive, you are agreeing that, if asked, you will allow blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing if requested by a police officer. This agreement is called “implied consent”.

You’re implying that you consent to BAC testing when you get a license and drive. If you refuse BAC testing, your driver’s license may be revoked.

  • In many states, revocation is automatic if you refuse testing.
  • In other states, the police officer has discretion whether to revoke your license – or not.

For example, Joe applied for a driver’s license and drove daily. When he was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, the police officer smelled alcohol on Joe’s breath and asked him to step out of the car and complete a field sobriety test. Joe agreed.

Joe wasn’t able to walk the strait line heel-to-toe so the officer asked him to take a Breathalyzer test. Joe got angry and refused stating that he has an inner ear imbalance, which caused field test failure – he also explained that his breath smelled like alcohol because he just used mouthwash at the dentist.

The officer didn’t buy Joe’s story and insisted that he take the Breathalyzer. If Joe refuses, his license will be suspended because his state law provides that accepting a driver’s license and driving implies consent to BAC testing.

  • In this case, Joe should likely go ahead and take the Breathalyzer test, even though he feels insulted and annoyed.
  • If Joe had been drinking, it may be in his best interests to take the Breathalyzer anyway – if he doesn’t, he’ll lose his driver’s license for a long time – in his state, 18 months. Joe needs to drive to get to work, take his children to school, and for life necessary errands.
  • However, if the facts were very different and Joe had been drinking, caused an accident, and someone was killed, many DUI defense attorneys would tell their clients NOT to take the Breathalyzer test.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)

If a police officer gives you a field sobriety test, she may ask you to follow her finger or some object with your eyes. This is a horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN).

  • Jerky eye movements are a sign that you are intoxicated.
  • When intoxicated, your eyes may move quickly one way, but slowly another way.
  • These involuntary rhythmic eye movements are called “nystagmus”.

If the horizontal gaze nystagmus and other field tests such as walking in a straight line heel-to-toe, putting your head back and touching your nose, and saying the alphabet are positive, the officer will likely ask you to take a Breathalyzer test.

It may surprise you to know that there are defenses to failing a field test.

  • This means that your drunk driving defense attorney will investigate all aspects of your case, including any field test execution and documentation to determine whether a mistake was made.
  • In addition, perhaps, there was some other reason you failed the HGN test or another field test. For example, you may have a medical condition that explains the test results.

Miranda Rights – Miranda Warnings

The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution grants you the right to remain silent if you are being questioned in a crime. However, before 1966 many folks didn’t know they had 5th Amendment rights.

Now, many folks know some right to an attorney and to be silent exists. In fact, you’ve likely seen something about Miranda rights – legal rights – on television crime shows. Have you heard an actor say, “I know my rights”; “You have a right to a lawyer”; or “You have the right to remain silent”?

These statements all refer to Miranda rights (also known as “Miranda warnings”) that prevent the accused from being bamboozled by overzealous or corrupt police officers. Those rights were established in a United States Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona (1966).

  • You do have a right to an attorney if you’re being interrogated. “Interrogated” means questioned. It’s likely in your best interests to ask for an attorney (and wait for an attorney to show up) before you answer any questions other than:
    • What is your name?
    • What is your address?
    • What is your social security number?
    • Do you want an attorney?
  • You have the right to remain silent. You do have the right not to answer any questions without an attorney present. It is okay to state your name, address, and social security number (if asked).
  • The prosecution (e.g. district attorney) can’t use any of your statements in court against you, unless you have been read your Miranda rights.

Sometimes, the failure to read someone his rights or the failure to honor those rights is a drunk driving defense. Ask your DUI defense lawyer whether this defense applies to your case.

WARNING: In the United States legal system, even innocent persons benefit from having an attorney. It is NOT a sign of guilt to refuse to answer police questions or to ask for an attorney. If you’ve been arrested or are being questioned for a crime, the police are not your friends, even if they pretend to be friendly.

Open Container Law

If your state has an open container law, it is illegal to have an open alcoholic beverage in your motor vehicle.

For example, Jack, Barry, and Tim are cruising around town. Jack’s driving, so he’s careful not to drink; but Barry and Tim are imbibing. This is a violation of the open container law.

Operating Under the Influence (OUI)

OUI, “operating under the influence”, is the same as DUI, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This criminal offense may also be called DWI (“driving while intoxicated”) or OWI (“operating while intoxicated”).

Each state has its own law that labels the crime as DUI, DWI, OWI, or OUI.

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

OWI, “operating while intoxicated”, is the same as DUI, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This criminal offense may also be called DWI (“driving while intoxicated”) or OUI (“operating under the influence”).

Each state has its own law that labels the crime as DUI, DWI, OWI, or OUI.

Prosecutor – District Attorney

The district attorney (or other government representative) who is prosecuting you for the crime is called the “prosecutor”. The prosecutor represents the community.

For example, your case may be called “People of the State of New York vs. Smith”. The prosecutor represents the people of the state of New York and your DUI defense attorney represents you.

The person accused of a crime is called the “defendant”. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, you are the defendant.

Provisional License – Restricted License

When you’re convicted of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, your licensed can be suspended – or even revoked – however, in some circumstances you may be granted a “provisional” license or a “restricted” license – which allows you to drive in very limited circumstances. For example, your provisional license may allow you to drive only to work, court, or DUI school.

Punishment – Drunk Driving Penalties

Specific drunk driving punishments vary greatly from state to state – and increase with subsequent convictions. No matter what state you’re arrested in, conviction is serious.

DUI penalties include jail time, fines, suspension of driver’s license, ignition interlock, community service, DUI school, drug and alcohol counseling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, vehicle impoundment, and vehicle seizure.

A conviction stays on your record forever.

Often, judges have a range of sentences they can hand down. Part of your DUI defense attorney’s job is to get you the minimum penalty possible. Of course, his or her first priority is to have the charges dropped or to have you acquitted – however, if that’s not possible, sometimes much can be done to get you the minimum sentence allowable under state law.

Rising Curve Defense to Drunk Driving

Your drunk driving attorney will fully analyze your case to find weaknesses; this includes a rising curve analysis.

If you drank right before you drove, the alcohol was not yet in your bloodstream while you were driving. Thus, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tests may not accurately reflect your actual state of sobriety or drunkenness while driving.

While you are being analyzed and tested, your BAC may continue to rise because alcohol continues to be absorbed – making testing inaccurate.

Ask your DUI lawyer if the rising curve defense may apply in your case. Be sure to be completely forthcoming and honest when you explain exactly what happened. Don’t leave anything out – even if you think it will make you look bad. That information you leave out may be the key to your own defense and you won’t know it unless you explain everything. Everything you say to your attorney will be kept confidential.

Sobriety Checkpoints or Roadblocks

If you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint or roadblock – as opposed to being pulled over by an officer while on the road – your DUI lawyer will investigate to make sure the roadblock was on the up and up.

  • Road blocks, set up in a particular location for a set time period, must be systematized so that no particular driver is targeted.
  • If you were targeted without a system or without reasonable suspicion, the stop was illegal and the resulting arrest was illegal as well – even if you were driving drunk.

Be sure to let your DUI attorney know whether you were pulled over, stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, or the arresting officer approached you while you were stopped. The details are important to your defense.

Standard Field Sobriety Test

In an effort to accurately and efficiently identify and convict drunk drivers the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has standardized field sobriety tests.

If all police officers conduct field sobriety tests in the same manner, then consistency will be improved.

Vehicle Impound

If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, your car may be towed to a police lot – called an “impound yard”. Thus, your vehicle has been “impounded”.

For example, Alicia was arrested for drunk driving and taken to the police station. The police called a tow truck to take her car to the police impound yard. The next day, Alicia’s brother drive her to the impound yard to pick up her car. She had to pay for the towing before she could take her car home.

In some states – after multiple DUI convictions – your car may be seized and auctioned off – not just impounded.

Vehicle Immobilization

You may have seen the wheel boots on a car if the there are too many parking tickets or the car payments have not been made. Sometimes, a repeat drunk driver’s car is booted to keep him from driving.

In addition, after repeat convictions, some states authorize ignition interlock so that the driver cannot start the car if his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over a preset limit.

  • The ignition interlock device, which measures blood alcohol concentration, is attached to your vehicle.
  • You blow into the device, which determines your BAC.
    • If your BAC is too high, the car will not start – preventing you from driving drunk.
    • If your BAC is okay, the car will start.

Zero Tolerance

In many states – but not all – drivers under the age of 21 are deemed to be drunk driving with any alcohol in their systems. This policy is referred to as a “zero tolerance” policy.

For example, Ashley, age 18, had a drink of wine at dinner at her father’s place. On the way home, she went through a red light and a police officer pulled her over. He smelled alcohol on her breath and had her take a Breathalyzer test.

Ashley had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01. Ashley lives in a zero tolerance state and was arrested and convicted of drunk driving even though the adult driver BAC standard in her state is .08.

Note: Some states have a .02 limit for drivers under age 21.

How to Find and Select a Drunk Driving Attorney

As we promised, we’ll use this article to show you how you can find and select a DUI attorney. While you can represent yourself, it may not be in your best interests, after all, the consequences of a DUI conviction are fierce and you’re not likely to know all the ins and outs of drunk driving law and the court system. Even lawyers hire DUI attorneys if arrested for drunk driving.

How to Select a Drunk Driving Lawyer

If you do choose to consult with a drunk driving lawyer, we suggest you select an attorney who:

  • Is licensed in the state where you were arrested.
  • Focuses his or her legal practice on DUI defense.
  • Answers your questions, including fee inquiries, in a patient and professional manner.
  • Makes you feel comfortable.

There are 3 Main Ways to Find a DUI Attorney

  • Ask a friend or loved one, who has worked successfully with a good DUI lawyer, for a referral.
  • Call the bar association for a list of DUI attorneys in the geographic area where you were arrested.
  • Conduct an Internet search. is free, private, no obligation lawyer referral website.

How to Work with Your DUI Lawyer

Select an attorney with whom you are comfortable and trust. Then, trust him or her.

In addition, the keys to success are:

  • Always keep in mind that your attorney is on your side. Even if he or she says something that upsets you, it’s for the greater good. Trust your attorney.
  • Your attorney may be polite and cooperative with the police, prosecutor, judge, and any witnesses. There is no conspiracy against you. Professionalism is standard, expected, and may be a key to your defense.
  • Disclose everything. Keep in mind that anything you say to your attorney is protected and confidential. It’s essential that you spill the beans, so to speak. If in doubt, disclose it, even if you think it makes you look bad. Your attorney can only help you if he or she has all of the facts.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice, always. You’re paying for legal advice, it’s important that you take it. After all, your entire future, as well as that of your family, is at risk.

Good Luck and Best Wishes

We understand that being arrested for drunk driving is a scary and likely life-changing event; it is our hope that this drunk driving keyword glossary and guidance in finding, selecting, and working with your DUI attorney will help you along your path. We wish you the best of luck for a bright, prosperous, and healthy future.

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