Common Legal Terms Used in DUI-DWI Cases

Posted by on

Legal terms can be confusing, we understand. There are a number of common DUI and DWI legal terms that can be very helpful to those who have been charged with driving under the influence. Some of the terms refer to the legal process that follows a DUI arrest, while others refer to the arrest itself. If you have any questions regarding legal terms you should always consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney. A qualified attorney can assist you in better understanding the terms that apply to your particular case if you need clarification. In fact, most DUI defense attorneys offer a free initial consultation to discuss the details of your case where you can address questions regarding legal terminology.

Absorption Rate

The absorption rate refers the rate at which alcohol works itself into the blood stream following consumption. Many factors can affect the absorption rate including, but not limited to: how much you have eaten, physical differences, and what type of alcoholic beverages were consumed. For these reasons is not always entirely accurate to refer to a “drinking chart” to determine your safe level of consumption.

Administrative License Suspension

Administrative license suspension refers to legal action that allows the suspension of the license of drivers charged with driving under the influence when the driver has a BAC above the legal limit. This may also be the case if the driver refuses to submit to a roadside blood or breathalyzer test. This means that the license may be suspended even before the case goes to court.


BAC is one of the most common terms related to DUI-DWI cases and stands for “blood alcohol concentration”. You may also see or hear of it referred to as “blood alcohol content”, “blood ethanol concentration”, or “blood alcohol level”. BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and is measured in percentages. At the time of this writing the current legal limit in California is 0.08%, driving at or above that limit is illegal. BAC can be measured through multiple different methods such as blood, breath, or urine testing and is often used by law enforcement to determine if someone is legally drunk.

Blood Test

Blood tests are most commonly used in DUI cases to determine BAC. A laboratory will test the blood that was drawn from the DUI suspect to measure the percentage of alcohol found in the bloodstream.

Breath Test

Breath test, or breathalyzer test, is a test that is also used to determine BAC by measuring the amount of alcohol present in the suspect’s breath. Breathalyzer test results are frequently challenged and have been criticized as being inaccurate. However, it is still a commonly used test by law enforcement.


The Breathalyzer itself is a machine used by trained law enforcement officials to measure the BAC of suspected drunk drivers. It is important to know that an officer administering a Breathalyzer test must be trained in how to do so properly.

Burnoff Rate

The burnoff rate is a bit more scientific and refers to the rate at which our bodies metabolize alcohol. During burnoff the blood alcohol level drops because the body is metabolizing it.

Chemical Test

Chemical tests refer to multiple tests used to for the alcohol and/or drug concentration in a person’s blood. A Breathalyzer test, blood test, or urine test can all be used as chemical tests to determine BAC. If drugs are suspected a blood or urine test will be used.

Commercial Vehicle

As it relates to DUI charges this would be a vehicle driven for business purposes while under the influence.

Community Service

Depending on the circumstances of your case you may be offered community service as an option to reduce fines and/or jail time. In some situations community service may be a mandatory condition of your sentencing.

Conditional License

A conditional license means that the license is granted on the condition of something. For example, you may receive a conditional license upon completing an alcohol treatment program. Upon completion, if the condition is considered met you will generally be issued your license or have it reinstated.


A diversion is a court program that can suspend the prosecution of a criminal charge in exchange for meeting certain conditions. For example, you may have to complete an alcohol treatment program. If you successfully complete the condition the charges are dismissed. While this is not frequently used it does still in exist in some states.

Driver Responsibility Tax

In some states drivers convicted of DUI are penalized an additional tax on top of fines and court costs. This tax usually consists of payments made to the state for three years after the incident occurred. In most instances, failure to pay the tax will result in license suspension.

DUI School

DUI schools are typically drug and alcohol education programs that are designed to educate drivers and help them realize how dangerous drinking and driving is. These programs are also attempting to help reduce the amount of repeat offenders. Most states have compiled a list of approved schools that are available for you to choose from.


Driving Under the Influence.


Driving While Intoxicated. Just another way of stating DUI.

Felony DUI

Many states treat DUIs that have caused serious bodily injury or death as a felony DUI. Depending on the circumstances of the case it may be charged as a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree felony. Prior DUI convictions can also result in being charged with felony DUI even if injury or death has not occurred. A felony conviction can not only lead to harsh fines but also state prison time.


FST is short for Field Sobriety Test. Field Sobriety Tests are a series of physical and mental coordination tests that help law enforcement officers determine if a driver is under the influence. Field Sobriety Tests include:

  • Walking in a straight line
  • Saying the alphabet
  • Standing on one foot
  • Standing with your feet together and arms extended

Field Sobriety Tests are often criticized for being highly subjective, meaning the law enforcement officer is using their own discretion to determine the results of the test.

High BAC

The High BAC refers to the threshold for blood alcohol content for which maximum penalties and fines may apply even if it is a first DUI offense. In California, the High BAC is 0.15%.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device, or IID, is a device within the car that acts like a Breathalyzer test and prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects a BAC over a pre-set limit.

Implied Consent Laws

Some states have what are known as Implied Consent Laws. This means that if you have a driver’s license in one of these states you have, by implication, given your consent to have your BAC measured. In many states, if you refuse to be tested you may face fines and possible license suspension.

License Revocation

License Revocation is another way of stating that your driving privileges have been suspended. If this happens you will likely need to reapply for a driver’s license after a designated period of time.

License Suspension

Having your license suspended means that you may not legally operate a vehicle during the time period in which your license is suspended. If your license is suspended it will most likely be done upon your arrest and not upon a conviction. In certain circumstances a restricted license may be granted that allows you to drive to and from work, but nowhere else.


Many states treat a first time DUI offense as a misdemeanor assuming no injury or death occurred. Misdemeanors are not as serious as felony charges.

Open Container Laws

State laws that make it illegal to have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle.

Provisional License

A provisional license, also known as a Restricted License, is a license granted with certain privileges. As it relates to DUI cases a provisional license may be granted to someone to drive to and from work only or to a DUI treatment program and back home.

Rising Curve Defense

The Rising Curve Defense gets a bit technical and relates to a defense that is based on the claim that the driver did not have a BAC above the legal limit when they were driving but that it rose to that level after the arrest due to the fact that the alcohol was still being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Sobriety Checkpoints

You’ve probably seen these while out driving. Sobriety Checkpoints are used by law enforcement at certain locations during a particular time period and systematically stop vehicles to investigate possible DUI. If the driver is suspected of DUI they are typically told to pull over to the side of the road for further investigation.

Zero Tolerance BAC

Zero Tolerance BAC refers to the allowable blood alcohol content for minors. The State of California has strict drunk driving laws for drivers under the age of 21 and repeat offenders (.01%) and a “no tolerance” law for drivers under the age of 18. In addition a driver of a commercial vehicle is only prohibited from driving with a .04% BAC or higher.

Common Legal Terms Used in DUI-DWI Cases
Article Name
Common Legal Terms Used in DUI-DWI Cases
There are a number of common DUI and DWI legal terms that can be very helpful to those who have been charged with driving under the influence. Some of the terms refer to the legal process that follows a DUI arrest, while others refer to the arrest itself.
The Law Office of Gregory W. Fox