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No Consistency in Drunk Driving Penalties Across the U.S.

If a person in Colorado is convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), he or she faces the potential of up to six months in jail - just for a first offense; subsequent offenses raise possible jail sentences as high as one year. However, if that same person was stopped by police for driving under the influence in Wisconsin, he or she would merely receive a ticket for what that state considers a civil infraction, similar to speeding.

Those contending with DUI charges face a range of potential penalties, depending on which state the driver was in when the event occurred. While the lawmakers in states with harsher penalties want to send a message to drunk drivers, research shows that jail time for a first drunk driving offense has little deterrent effect on people's behavior.

DUI Inconsistencies Across State Lines, in Courts

The possibility of going to jail for a first-time drunk driving conviction varies across the states. Alaska, Tennessee and Georgia all require jail time for a first drunk driving offense; California, Connecticut and Indiana do not have mandatory minimum sentences for drunk driving convictions.

One need not even look across state lines to find inconsistencies in drunk driving penalties - sometimes, the penalties vary depending on where inside a state a driver is convicted of DUI. Colorado has mandatory minimum jail terms for first time drunk driving offenders. These jail terms range from two days to one year.

However, judges have the discretion to waive some or all of the sentence if a defendant agrees to abide by the terms of probation. The likelihood of getting a jail sentence varies based on what judge presides over a DUI case and the defendant's BAC at the time of arrest. The criminal defense lawyer a defendant hires can also influence the results of a case.

In addition to variations in the potential for getting a jail sentence, other penalties for drunk driving - such as loss of driver's license, ignition interlock requirements and fines - vary from state to state. In Colorado, a first time DUI conviction results in a nine-month driver's license suspension and a fine of $200-$500.

Harsher DUI Penalties May Be Ineffective

Some believe that the harsher penalties, like mandatory jail time for first drunk driving offenses, will deter people from doing it again. However, the idea that jail time will "scare offenders straight" is not supported by research. The sentencing guidelines that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism issued to drunk driving courts nationwide noted that jail terms are enormously expensive and not any more effective at eliminating recidivism than other sanctions like ignition interlock and driver's license suspension.

With the wide variations in drunk driving penalties authorities impose across states - and sometimes within states - it is easy for people to get confused about what will happen if they are facing drunk driving charges. If you find yourself facing DUI charges, it is important to consult with a Boulder DUI attorney who can advise you of your options and protect your best interests.

Source: USA Today, "Drunken-Driving Penalties Could Depend on Your Location," John Wisely, July 28, 2011.

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