4 Major Legal Differences Between OWI and DUI

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) are terms commonly associated with impaired driving offenses. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are significant legal differences between OWI and DUI, depending on the jurisdiction. We will explore four major legal distinctions between OWI and DUI.

1. Terminology and Definitions

The vocabulary and phrases used to define the offenses are the first obvious distinction between OWI and DUI. While DUI is more frequently used in some states than OWI, both terms are equally widespread in others. Remembering that this terminology can change depending on the jurisdiction is vital. For instance, the legal term for OWI in Michigan is OWI, although DUI is the more popular term in California.

OWI and DUI legal definitions may also differ. OWI generally refers to driving a car under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both to the point where one’s normal faculties are impaired. DUI, on the other hand, usually refers to driving or operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit, regardless of whether or not impairment is visible.

2. Severity of Charges and Penalties

The harshness of the accusations and penalties associated with OWI and DUI are very different from one another. The seriousness of the charges and punishments may vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, the offender’s prior convictions, and the particulars of the offense.

OWI and DUI accusations may entail identical penalties in some states, including fines, license suspension, enrollment in required alcohol education programs, and even the possibility of jail time. Other states, however, might have different sanctions for every crime.

3. Implied Consent Laws

Implied consent laws are another area where OWI and DUI can differ. Implied consent refers to the legal doctrine that assumes individuals operating a motor vehicle have implicitly given their consent to chemical testing for determining their level of intoxication if lawfully arrested for an impaired driving offense.

While most states have implied consent laws, the specific requirements and consequences for refusing a chemical test can vary. Some states impose harsher penalties for refusing a test, such as automatic license suspension, while others may not have such strict provisions.

4. Legal Thresholds and Defenses

In OWI and DUI cases, the legal limits and possible remedies can also be different. In DUI cases, a breathalyzer or blood test is often used to figure out how much alcohol is in the driver’s blood. In most states, the legal limit for BAC is 0.08%, but it can be lower for business drivers or people who are under the legal drinking age.

The available defenses for OWI and DUI charges can also differ. Common defenses include the following:

  • Challenging the accuracy of the chemical tests.
  • Disputing the legality of the traffic stop or arrest.
  • Questioning the reliability of field sobriety tests or presenting evidence of a medical condition that may mimic the signs of impairment.

Understanding these distinctions and consulting legal resources or professionals can provide valuable guidance when faced with an OWI or DUI charge.



Alex is the co-author of 100 Greatest Plays, 100 Greatest Cricketers, 100 Greatest Films and 100 Greatest Moments. He has written for a wide variety of publications including The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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