Drunk Driving Penalties Vary Widely From State to State

If you are caught drunk driving in Alaska you could face a vastly different penalty than if you are charged with DUI in Indiana. A new article in USA Today looks at just how differently drunk drivers are penalized from state to state and even county to county. Some states require jail time for a first offense DWI and one state doesn’t even consider a first offense DWI to be a crime.

In Wisconsin, if you are charged with drunken driving, you will be ticketed. This is perhaps the least severe penalty on the books as DWI is considered a criminal offense in every other single state.

Some states require some jail time even for a first offense. Most, however, allow for jail time but it is frequently avoided by serving community service hours or probation time. Because the states have open ended laws when it comes to drunk driving, allowing for judges and prosecutors to choose the appropriate charge and penalty, the penalties don’t only vary from state to state where laws are different, but from courtroom to courtroom where the judge is different too.

Judges often use a variety of factors when determining an appropriate sentence for any crime. But when it comes to drunk driving and especially for first offense DWI charges, defendants will often find themselves fortunate enough to qualify for a diversion or a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor before the case even goes to trial.

According to the USA Today report, jail time doesn’t affect a person’s propensity to reoffend. In other words, it doesn’t prevent drunk driving. And because it’s such a costly penalty, it’s being used less and less. Prosecutors are opting for tools like ignition interlock devices instead, those that cost less and seem to have an immediate effect on a defendant’s ability to hit the road again.

Ignition interlock devices (IID) essentially lock a car from starting until the driver takes a breath test. When an IID is installed the driver frequently has to take breath tests during their drive, making it inconvenient even when completely sober. As if that isn’t annoying enough, they are also prone to false positives, sending a report to the court that you have been drinking and driving.

Not all jurisdictions use ignition interlock devices and some who do, use them sparingly. Although there is no hard data available about their effectiveness, we can expect to see more and more of these and other tools like them in the fight against drinking and driving.

While the USA Today map and illustration can give you some insight into the penalty you might be facing for a DWI, consulting with a defense lawyer is the only way to know for certain, and what sentencing alternatives and defenses are available.

About David Matson