Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants is strictly against the law in all 50 states. Some states identify this violation as DUI (Driving Under the Influence), while others consider it DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). Drivers arrested for suspicion of DUI or DWI often seek out the professional services of a DWI lawyer, a defense attorney who specializes in such cases and agrees to represent the accused driver during all legal proceedings.
A DWI lawyer is first and foremost an attorney who is licensed to practice law in the state the alleged offense took place. In the same way other legal professionals may specialize in domestic violence or personal injury cases, a DWI lawyer chooses to handle cases involving accusations of drunk driving. This generally means he or she has studied the language and application of the state's DWI laws and believes he or she can successfully defend a client against the charges.
A police officer or county deputy on patrol can observe a driver's erratic behavior on the road and assume that he or she is too intoxicated to drive safely. During a traffic stop, the officer can perform several field tests designed to measure a driver's reaction time, coherence and coordination. If the officer suspects the driver is too impaired by alcohol or other drugs to drive legally, then he or she can ask the driver to blow into a portable breathalyzer, a machine capable of measuring the percentage of alcohol present in a person's bloodstream.
If the test results are above a certain percentage, generally between .08 and .10 percent, the driver can be charged with DWI and transported to the police station for a blood test. The suspect can remain in a holding cell for several hours to several days until he or she makes a first appearance in front of a judge. At this point, the driver can consult with a DWI lawyer for further representation. The DWI lawyer should help his or her client arrange for release pending the actual trial date.
Determining a driver's legal impairment on the road can be a straightforward process, but successfully prosecuting a defendant for DWI is often more challenging. A DWI lawyer will study all of the paperwork and test results associated with the case, and will most likely interview the arresting officer, potential witnesses, lab technicians and the defendant in order to get an idea of the chain of events and the handling of evidence.
During the trial, a DWI lawyer may question the legality of the process followed by the arresting officer. The officer could have failed to advise the defendant of his or her rights, for instance. The field tests which indicated intoxication could have been conducted on uneven ground or under less-than-ideal conditions. The defendant may have been overly tired at the time of the traffic stop, or may have been affected by a medical condition such as diabetes or hypoglycemia.
A DWI lawyer could also challenge the results of the blood alcohol tests. The breathalyzer may not be calibrated correctly, resulting in a incorrect reading. The officer may not have administered the test properly, or the driver may have a pre-existing medical condition which registers as a high blood alcohol percentage. The blood sample taken during the defendant's incarceration could have been tainted, improperly processed, or even switched with another sample while in police custody. Even if these suggestions of police incompetence or conspiracy sound implausible or unfounded, a DWI lawyer has an obligation to present them as a legal defense.
Once both sides have presented their arguments in front of a judge and/or jury, the defendant may be found guilty or not guilty of DWI. If the defendant is found guilty, a DWI attorney may argue for a lenient sentence based on the defendant's extenuating personal circumstance or willingness to seek treatment for alcoholism. The judge may opt to suspend or revoke the defendant's driver's license, limit the defendant's driving rights to work only, or possibly sentence a chronic DWI offender to jail time. An experienced DWI lawyer may be able to negotiate the fairest terms possible for his or her client, but cannot ethically make any guarantees of acquittal or leniency for those who have been lawfully convicted.