In Utah, the terms DUI and DWI are often used interchangeably in referring to the charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But there are differences and distinctions that are often misunderstood. Clarity in the context of defending a criminal case is critical.
DUI – Utah Code 41-6a-502
Utah Code section 41-6a-502 defines the crime of “driving under the influence” (DUI) as including alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. The statute includes what is sometimes called a “per se” DUI violation if a driver’s BAC is 0.05 or greater. The statute also establishes criminal liability for DUI regardless of BAC level if the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, “to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.”
A “per se” DUI can be established based on BAC at the time the person is in actual physical control or operation of the vehicle. Alternatively, a charge can be based on BAC at the time that a chemical test is administered subsequent to actual physical control or operation of the vehicle.
Without a chemical test showing a BAC of 0.05 or higher, prosecutors must show actual impairment of the driver at a level “that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.”
DWI in Other States
The term “DWI” is used in many states in reference to the crime of “driving while intoxicated.” In most states, a DWI is nearly synonymous with the Utah crime of DUI. As a result, the two terms are often used interchangeably in conversation with defense attorneys, prosecutors, and even judges. But this casual use of the terms can cause substantial confusion.
Impaired Driving – Utah Code 41-6a-502.5
The crime of “impaired driving” is established under Utah Code section 41-6a-502.5. It is an unusual statute in that it creates a crime that cannot be independently charged. Instead, a conviction for “impaired driving” can only be entered as a result of plea negotiations between the defense and prosecution, or after the completion of court-ordered probation on a standard DUI case.
A charge of “impaired driving” does not have any elements that distinguish it from a standard DUI. It is, instead, actually a DUI charge that is renamed and reclassified based on an agreement between the parties.
This reclassification may allow a person to avoid a driver license suspension completely, or reduce the length of a suspension if the DLD has already entered a suspension. Beyond driver license benefits, a conviction for “impaired driving” carries essentially the same penalties and potential enhancements.
Intoxication, Influence, or Impairment?
The concepts of intoxication, influence, and impairment are related but different. Even some Utah attorneys and judges will use the term “DWI” to refer to Utah’s crime of impaired driving. But understanding the differences is important.
DUI on the road is dangerous. A DUI in court can have serious consequences. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is important.
Contact us today to see how our criminal defense team can help you.