Many people ask – “What is the difference between DUI and DWI?”

Both DUI and DWI refer to the illegal act of driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

The chief difference lies in what the letters mean. DUI designates driving under the influence, while DWI refers to driving while intoxicated.

While the definition for both DUI and DWI may sound identical on the surface, some states actually classify them as separate crimes.

If you live in a state that classifies them separately, DUI is the lesser charge.

A DUI charge denotes a lesser degree of impairment than a DWI for a driver charged with drinking and driving.  The punishment for a DUI is likely less than for a DWI.

The level of impairment is determined by the driver’s actual blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest.   For example, let’s say a driver A is arrested and has a BAC of .09% – driver A may be charged withdriving under the influence (DUI), because of the lower alcohol level.  Let’s say driver B was arrested and has a BAC of .20% – this driver would likely be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).   In this scenario, the BAC level determines the level of intoxication.   In other words, being under the influence means that the person is being affected by the alcohol; being intoxicated means that person is truly drunk or inebriated, which is a higher level of impairment.

In some cases, the state may agree to a plea bargain, reducing a more serious charge of DWI to the lesser charge of DUI.  Usually there are certain conditions that must be met in order to reduce a DWI charge to a DUI. For example, it must be a first offense and the driver’s BAC may not be excessively high.

There are some states in the U.S., such as California, that have created a zero-tolerance policy. These states do not make a distinction between a DUI and DWI.

The laws in zero tolerance states mandate that any BAC over the legal limit (.08%) is a crime.

In California, which is a zero-tolerance state, anyone driving with a BAC of .08 or above is deemed to have violated the DUI statute – VC23152.

However, California does have enhancements if convicted of violating the DUI law.  For instance, Vehicle Code section 23578 states that:

the court shall consider a concentration of alcohol in the person’s blood of 0.15 percent or more… as a special factor that may justify enhancing the penalties in sentencing…” 

These enhancements could lead to longer alcohol classes, ignition interlocks, etc, depending on the facts of a particular case.

Further complicating matters, in California we also have the common law DUI charge VC23152(a), which states:

“It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle”

Under this statute, it does not matter what the driver’s BAC is – the only question is –  was the driver under the influence of alcohol at the time of driving?  Thus, a driver’s BAC may only be .05%, and still be convicted of DUI if there is sufficient evidence that the driver was under the influence of alcohol at the time of driving.

What exactly does the vague term “under the influence” mean?  Well, according to the jury instruction, under the influence means that the driver was “so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person…” which is another vague term

The vagueness of these DUI statutes and their meanings is why it is in the accused person’s best interest fight DUI charges.   Just because a person was arrested for DUI does not mean the person is guilty of DUI.

Remember, being arrested only means that a police officer felt in his/her mind that there was probable cause to make the arrest.  This lower evidentiary standard is not the same as the prosecutor’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher evidentiary standard.

Attorney Manuel J. Barba represents clients accused of DUI and other criminal charges in all courts throughout Riverside and San Bernardino County, as well as parts of Orange and Los Angeles County.   If you have any questions about your situation or the charges filed against you, give me a call:  1-866-442-2722

Attorney Manuel J. Barba represents Clients Accused of DUI and other criminal charges in the following criminal courts:

Riverside County: Banning, Blythe, Indio, Murrieta, and downtown Riverside Courthouses.

San Bernardino County: Joshua Tree, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Victorville Courthouses.

Los Angeles County: Alhambra, Bellflower, Downey, East Los Angeles, El Monte, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Norwalk, Pasadena, Pomona, West Covina Courthouses.

Orange County: Fullerton, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Westminster.