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Alcohol and Handcuffs - DUI Laws in Utah - Wasatch Defense Lawyers

DUI Laws in Utah

Utah has some of the strictest laws in the nation for driving under the influence. The state depends on proven methods to determine a driver’s level of intoxication, and the punitive consequences of a conviction are rather severe. Law enforcement relies on measuring the blood alcohol content of a driver in order to prove a DUI in a court of law.

Educated drivers can evoke their rights, and give themselves the best possible opportunity to challenge any DUI charge. If charged with a DUI, there is a potential for somewhat dire outcomes. Utah sentences offenders to heavy fines and fees for even first-time convictions, and any subsequent DUIs thereafter result in third-degree felony charges and possibly prison time! The overwhelming force of our legal institutions and the potential for punitive outcomes can be incredibly distressing. But there is no need for our clients to worry needlessly—because there are ways to defend against a DUI, and Wasatch Defense Lawyers know how!

Measuring the Level of Intoxication

The liver metabolizes about one standard drink per hour in a healthy person. One to two drink will raise a person’s BAC by .01-.05% depending on several factors such as size, body-mass, gender, age, and any prescriptions the person may be taking. After two to three drinks, most people will have a BAC between .06%. Mental processes including memory, judgment, reaction time, perception, and fine motor skills will be inhibited at that level of intoxication. High BAC is typically associated with a loss of social inhibition, loss of balance, slurred speech, low body temperature, trouble breathing, vomiting, and even death.

Law enforcement relies on two main methods of determining BAC: the field sobriety tests, and breathalyzer analysis. The Romberg Balance test is administered broadly across most jurisdictions. The Romberg test is based on certain physiological principles that suggest that three functions are involved in remaining standing still: vision, proprioception (knowing where your body is in space), and vestibular function (the balance provided by the inner ear). Police officers who pull over any driver may administer this test if there is a reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The officer will ask the suspect to stand still with their feet together, tilt their head back and close their eyes, and ask them to estimate how long 30 seconds takes to pass. The officer will be looking for: 1) body sway, 2) eyelid or body tremors, 3) annunciation of words, and 4) ability to follow directions. Drivers with disabilities or injuries do NOT have to engage in these field tests. The Driver need only communicate that they are medically incapable of performing the tests, and the officer will be constitutionally obliged to respect the driver’s medical limitations.

Breathalyzer analysis determines the BAC by measuring certain metabolic responses the body has to alcohol. Around 98% of alcohol passes undigested through the digestive system to be later processed by the liver. After alcohol enters the bloodstream, it is circulated throughout the body until it is eliminated by the liver. Before being fully processed, alcohol circulates in the bloodstream and through the lungs where about 2-8% of any alcohol consumed by a person will be exhaled. The amount of alcohol exhaled by a person correlates directly with the amount of undigested alcohol in the bloodstream. Breath tests can detect alcohol consumption up to 24 hours after consumption, but breath tests cannot measure how high an individual BAC may have been in the past. All licensed drivers have given implied consent to receive breathalyzer analysis under Utah law. However, to provide a proper sample, a driver must blow hard and long enough. Some people experience shortness of breath as a result of some medical conditions. If a driver has a genuine medical condition, they must engage in the breathalyzer analysis to the best of their ability. All breathalyzer tests are video recorded, and so all drivers must exhibit a genuine effort to provide a breath sample. But if a driver cannot medically provide a breath sample, they cannot be prejudiced for that disability.

There is no metric currently available for law enforcement to measure the subjective experience of intoxication. There are field sobriety tests that are routinely administered by law enforcement—but some folks operate rather well after consuming a moderate amount of alcohol; while other people may be incapable of performing certain physical tests even having not consumed any alcohol. Because there is no way to determine subjective functionality, law enforcement has come to rely upon blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as an objective standard to describe how drunk a person may be. BAC represents the amount of alcohol actively displacing blood within a person’s body. And research has shown that even small amounts of alcohol directly impede certain mental and physical processes. Legislatures have generated laws based on BAC as a reliable metric, and Utah, for example, currently enforces a BAC of .05% as the legal limit.

Driving Under the Influence in Utah

Driving under the influence (DUI), also frequently referred to a driving while intoxicated (DWI) in many states, is considered a serious offense throughout the United States. In Utah, persons operating a vehicle with a BAC of .05% or greater has committed the crime of DUI. Utah code also illegalizes the operation of vehicles while under the influence of any controlled substance the prevents the driver from safely operating a vehicle. The first DUI offense is generally a Class B misdemeanor. However, the first offense can be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor if any harm to a victim resulted from the DUI, and the driver had a minor as a passenger. Thereafter, subsequent DUIs will be charged as Third Degree Felonies.

The consequences of a DUI conviction can be extreme. The punishment ranges from up to six months in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000; to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. In addition to any incarceration or fines imposed by the court, an offender will have their license revoked for 120 days. If an offender is a minor, then the license will be revoked until they turn 21 or one year, whichever is longer. And if the offender has a prior conviction in the last 10 years, then the license will be revoked for two years. The offender can also expect to attend alcohol treatment, and to have a breath test interlock device installed in their vehicle.

Dealing with a DUI

Being charged with a DUI is a serious challenge, but it does not need to derail your life. At Wasatch Defense Lawyers, we know how to navigate the criminal justice system to optimize our client’s outcome. Every DUI case is different, but our team of experienced attorneys know how to approach the unique challenge that each DUI client presents. Call: 801-980-9965 for a FREE, No-Obligation Case Review to see how we can help.

Craig R. Chlarson