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What’s the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

Posted by Ken Barrett | Dec 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

You've likely heard of both a DUI and a DWI, but do you know the difference between the two? “DUI” is an acronym that stands for driving under the influence. “DWI” stands for driving while intoxicated or impaired. Many states use both of these terms and in some cases, a DWI will strictly refer to someone being intoxicated with alcohol, while a DUI refers to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some states will use them the other way around. It really depends on the state you live in and how they choose to use each of the acronyms.

In the state of Rhode Island, both DUI and DWI are used interchangeably for drunk driving offenses. You may even come across the phrase, operating while impaired (OWI) used in Rhode Island as well. The use of the word “operating” is meant to cover more than just driving under the influence. It also means that someone can be charged even if the vehicle is stopped and not running. For the full scoop on the difference between a DUI and a DWI, we have some Rhode Island DWI/DUI facts for you. 

The Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Rhode Island

The acronym DWI will be used for any driver who is found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher. So, if you are pulled over under the suspicion of drunk driving and your BAC level reads above that level, you will likely be charged with driving while impaired in Rhode Island.

When it comes to underage drivers (younger than 21), they will be charged with a DUI if their BAC level is between 0.02% and 0.08%. While those of age will receive a DWI for this offense, those who are younger typically receive a DUI instead. This is where you will really see the difference between the two acronyms.

Both terms refer to someone who is too impaired to be driving a motor vehicle. In order to determine whether or not you are too impaired to drive, you will be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test and will likely have to complete field sobriety tests as well. There are even instances where someone will be charged with driving under the influence, despite having a legal BAC level, due to impaired behaviors or failing a field sobriety test.

When it comes to drugs, a breathalyzer test will not reveal whether or not you're under the influence of any other substance. In cases like this, the police officer would have to request the help of a Drug Recognition Expert to determine if drug use has left you too impaired to drive a motor vehicle. States are really cracking down on DUIs and DWIs, whether you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs while driving.

DWI Penalties in Rhode Island

No matter how old you are and whether you're facing a DUI or a DWI, you're still going to be up against some pretty serious consequences. Even first-time offenders will face hefty fines and possible jail time. The penalties you face all depend on the details surrounding your case, such as how many prior offenses you have had, your BAC level, and other information.

While the exact penalties you face for a DWI in Rhode Island will depend on your unique case, here are some possibilities so you know what to expect: For a first-time offender with a BAC level between 0.08% and 0.10%, you face fines ranging from $100-$300 and license suspension anywhere between 30-180 days. You may even be required to serve 10-60 hours of community service and you even face up to one year in jail. These are already pretty serious consequence, but they get even more severe for repeat offenders.

In fact, a third DWI offense with a BAC level of 0.15% or higher you could be ordered to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, which is a huge strain financially. Your license can also be suspended for three years and you face three to five years in jail. In some cases, the court orders the vehicle in question be seized and sold by the state. Other penalties include required enrollment in an alcohol treatment program or even a driving school.

Hiring an experienced DUI attorney can help you lower these charges or even get them dropped altogether. This is why it's so important to have an attorney by your side to help you every step of the way through your case. The attorney you choose could essentially make or break your case based on the defensive strategy he or she provides you.

DUI Penalties in Rhode Island

As mentioned previously, anyone found to be driving under the influence of alcohol who is also under the age of 21, will likely be charged with a DUI. Again, the exact penalties you face will depend on how many previous offenses you have had, your BAC level, and other details surrounding your case. Your age can also play a factor in the punishments you receive. No matter what the circumstances are, you still face serious consequences that can drain you financially and strip you of your freedom.

A first-time offender who is under the age of 18 will likely have their license suspended for anywhere between six to 12 months. This can certainly put a damper on a teenagers life by making it hard to get to and from school and work. Not only are you looking at the suspension of your license, but you will probably have to pay a highway assessment fee and community restitution. These fees can be pretty costly for a teenager! The court may also require you to enroll in and complete an alcohol treatment program. For those between the ages of 18 and 21, you'll likely receive similar penalties, but will probably see a shorter time frame for your license suspension. It all depends on your specific case.

About the Author

Ken Barrett

Attorney Kensley Barrett is a skilled criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record in handling a wide range of cases in Rhode Island. Known for his strong background in trial advocacy and negotiation, Barrett is dedicated to providing personalized and effective representation for his clients. Recognized as a "Rising Star" by Super Lawyers and with a 10.0 "Superb" rating on Avvo, he consistently achieves successful outcomes, including acquittals, dismissals, and reduced charges.


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Kensley Barrett

Our law firm was founded on the belief that working with us is more than just hiring a lawyer. Working with us will bring you peace of mind and also allow you to continue with your regular life while we attend to your legal matters. Our vast experience means that it allows us to excel in both aggressively representing your interests and generating the best possible result for you.