The legal term for a drunk driving offense may vary by jurisdiction, as will the possible penalties. Drunk driving is often called "operating while intoxicated (OWI)," "operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVWI)," or "driving under the influence (DUI)." The possible penalties for a first DUI offense may include incarceration and/or probation, as well as home detention, counseling, and fines.
In most jurisdictions, a first DUI offense is charged as a misdemeanor absent aggravating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances which may elevate a first DUI offense to a felony often include the presence of a minor in the vehicle, an accompanying accident with injuries, or an exceptionally high blood-alcohol level. In addition, in some countries throughout the world — predominately in Asia and the Middle East — drinking and driving is considered a very serious offense, and even a first offense may carry serious potential penalties.
In most European countries and the Americas, a first DUI offense is charged as a misdemeanor and, therefore, carries possible penalties associated with a misdemeanor crime. In most cases, incarceration is possible, but not likely. Most jurisdictions provide for a possible term of incarceration of up to one to three years. In the United States, a short period of incarceration may be mandatory if the blood-alcohol level is extremely high; however, the majority of the time incarceration is not part of a sentence for a first-time DUI.
A first DUI offense is more likely to result in a period of probation along with a variety of special conditions to be satisfied. Often, the offender will be given a suspended sentence, meaning he or she is actually sentenced to a period of incarceration; however, the period of incarceration is suspended pending the successful completion of a period of probation. A typical probation period may be from six months to two years.
While on probation, a first-time DUI offender is likely to be required to complete a number of special conditions including: payment of the costs and fines associated with the case; completion of an assessment for alcohol and classes if deemed appropriate; completion of community service hours and a MADD drinking and driving education class or equivalent; and maintain regular employment or attend school. Along with probation, a first DUI offense may require the offender to serve some of the probation period on home detention, meaning he or she may only leave the house for work, school, or court-related travel. Some states also require the offender to use an ignition interlock device which prevents the driver of a vehicle from starting the car without first passing a breath test which checks for the presence of alcohol.