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DUI and DWI: What is the difference?

Drinking Under the Influence (DUI) and Drinking While intoxicated (DWI) are often grouped together in terms of motoring offences but (did you know?) they can mean two very different things altogether.

So it’s no surprise that people are often confused when it comes to knowing the difference between the two offences.

And it’s safe to say that most of this confusion is generated because the difference is very subtle and, in fact, not all US states use the same terminology to describe the same crime.

This is illustrated by the fact that 32 states use the term DUI to refer to drunk driving, while the others use DWI to describe the very same offense.

So, what are the differences?

When a person is charged with a DUI it usually means that the driver was under the influence of some form of substance – either drugs or alcohol – whereas a DUI charge doesn’t just cover the taking of illegal drugs.

So you could be charged with a DUI even if you had consumed over-the-counter medicine or prescribed medication.

This means that if you are charged with a DUI, it’s usually due to the fact that your judgment was impaired while driving a motor vehicle, regardless of which substance you were using, and a DWI typically means that the driver was specifically charged with driving while drunk.

It can depend what state you are in

But things become a little more unclear due to the fact that many states look at DUI and DWI differently.

For example, in Minnesota, DUI typically means the general offense of Driving Under the Influence, which may or may not include a specific alcohol level and all that is required is that the Prosecutor proves that the driver was impaired by some form of substance. But DWI, on the other hand, is usually defined as a prohibited alcohol level which is 0.8.

However, in Texas, the term DUI refers to a minor who was caught drinking and driving, while the charge of DWI is only used for an adult caught driving while over the legal alcohol limit.

Then there are states like New Jersey, who have a “zero tolerance policy” meaning they have no reason to recognize any differences between DUI and DWI.

And just to make things a little more complicated there are states like New York. Here the term DUI is used when your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is below the legal limit of 0.08, but you can be charged with a DWI when it is above the legal limit. This means it is sometimes possible for drivers to opt for the lesser charge of DUI.

Charges can be reduced

In some cases and various parts of the country it is actually possible to have a charge of DUI changed to DWI, which often carries less harsh punishments. But this will usually rest on two key areas; if this was your first offence and how high your blood alcohol limit was.

Typically, a first drunk driving offense carries a less severe penalty than a repeat offense, whereas a repeat offender will get harsher penalties in terms of fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension.

This means if you have been arrested for drunk driving previously, it will be hard to gain the sympathy of the court when it comes to reducing your charge from DWI to DUI.

But there are occasions when a driver can reduce their DWI charge to a DUI if thier BAC level is not extremely high. So if your BAC was marginally over the legal limit (0.08 percent in Minnesota) when you were arrested, it may be possible to reduce the charge to the lesser DUI offense.

The best advice

When it comes to DUI and DWI, the difference can be subtle to say the least, if not non-existent. So the best thing you can do to avoid either charge is not drink at all if you are planning to drive.

If you are planning a night out then make sure you have a designated driver who won’t drink, or use a taxi to get home.
Being found guilty of any charge can be damaging, not just to you and your family, but for your job and career prospects too. So if you are facing a DWI or DUI charge you will need to talk to a reputable and qualified Minnesota attorney, so call Gerald Miller today.

Key Takeaways

  • There are often just subtle differences between DUI and DWI 
  • There are variations in DUI and DWI definitions across various US states 
  • DUI often refers to being under the influence of a substance; either drugs or alcohol 
  • DWI is more directly associated with being drunk while driving 
  • In Minnesota, DWI is defined as breaching the 0.8 alcohol level 
  • DWI can sometimes refer to lesser punishments; meaning those convicted will look to change their DUI to a DWI

About the author

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.

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