DUI and DWI
To err may be human, but some mistakes can have lasting consequences. Choosing to drive while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs or driving while impaired (DWI) is the kind of error in judgment that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Losing your license and privilege to drive is the most lenient punishment for these offenses. Jail time and stiff fines are among the more severe penalties incurred.
Having a drink or two and then choosing to operate a motor vehicle is not the best decision. Some people are under the mistaken assumption that they have a “high tolerance” for alcohol and will be able to safely drive. The truth is, the average adult can handle no more than four alcoholic drinks before their fine and gross motor skills are significantly impacted. Response times are slowed. Their reasoning and information processing abilities are impaired, making it challenging to detect roadway dangers.
In New Mexico, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher if you are over the age of 21, and 0.02 if you are under 21. The BAC levels are even lower for commercial drivers at 0.04.
Legally, there is no difference between the two terms. Both are used to describe a person who is operating a motor vehicle while impaired. DUI stands for driving under the influence and DWI is short for driving while impaired. Technically, a person could be under the influence of or impaired by alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances.
The short answer to that question is no. DUI is the abbreviation for the legal terminology “driving under the influence.” According to New Mexico Statute Section 66-8-102B, a person technically can be impaired by controlled substances or illegal drugs. The drug does not even have to be illegal for a person to be charged with DUI/DWI. For instance, an individual who is legally prescribed a sleeping pill by their physician could be arrested for and charged with DUI/DWI if they are taking the medication while driving and fall asleep at the wheel, causing an accident. Any substance that impairs a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is fair game for a DUI/DWI charge.
If a law enforcement agent observes a driver behaving erratically or in an unsafe manner, they have the right to pull them over and investigate. If the driver is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may be asked to take a field sobriety test. The purpose of the test is to evaluate whether a person can perform tasks that require simple and complex motor skills – the same ones required for safely operating a vehicle. There are three common field sobriety tests:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus involves the officer testing (usually with a pen or light) to see if the driver’s eyes respond normally to the stimuli or if the response is exaggerated.
- One-legged stand requires the driver to hold one foot at least 6 inches off the ground while balancing on the other leg.
- Walk and turn tests the person’s ability to receive and follow basic commands and the steadiness of their movement.
New Mexico law does not require drivers to consent to a field sobriety test. However, if you refuse to take the test, the officer can then request a breathalyzer test, which measures your BAC. Drivers do not have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test. If a driver is found to have a BAC over the legal limit, they will be arrested for DUI/DWI. A separate blood test may be performed later to confirm the BAC level, especially if officers plan to file charges.
At Cameron & Russell, we advise our clients to say as little as possible if they are arrested for DUI/DWI. Anything you say while tests are being conducted to determine your sobriety can be used against you later to help authorities build a case for the prosecution. We have several avenues available for defending against a DUI/DWI charge, including attacking the efficacy of a field sobriety test or the BAC test. We can discuss all of the defense strategies available during a no-obligation consultation to determine the best course of action.
The least impactful penalty for DUI/DWI is a suspension of your license for 90 days up to one year or longer. First-time offenders may be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and receive a $500 fine. Repeat offenders could face permanent loss of their license and stiffer jail sentences.
If another person is killed while you are driving under the influence, you could open yourself up for involuntary or vehicular manslaughter charges in addition to DUI.