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A first offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) is treated in an unusual way by the justice system. In most jurisdictions, a first DWI charge is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. However, because DWI is a serious crime, it is punished much more strictly than almost any other misdemeanor count.

Being Arrested for a First Offense DWI

When a law enforcement officer observes certain signs that indicate a driver may be impaired, probable cause has been established, and the driver can be pulled over. If closer inspection yields more clues, like slurred speech or an odor of alcohol, the officer can place the driver under arrest on suspicion of DWI.

The next step after the arrest has an effect on the potential punishments for a first DWI offense. The driver will be asked to submit to a blood or breath sample. If the driver submits willingly to the test, the potential punishment will be less severe. If the driver refuses to submit to the test, immediate license suspension for up to six months is invoked.

Penalties for a First DWI Conviction

In some jurisdictions, if the tests indicate a concentration of alcohol at more than twice the legal limit, harsher punishments can be included with a conviction. Some typical punishments for a first DWI offense conviction can include:

  • License suspension: Driving privileges can be revoked from a period of 90 days up to a full year. Factors that affect the length of the suspension can range from blood alcohol content to other driving offenses committed.
  • Jail time: Although most people arrested for a first DWI offense can bail themselves out of jail, anyone who cannot afford bail may be incarcerated for up to three days. Additional jail time can be added to a charge at the judge’s discretion.
  • Fines and fees: Reinstating a driver’s license costs $125 and a mandatory DWI surcharge will cost $1,000 a year for three years.
  • Restrictions: Some jurisdictions mandate that anyone who is bonded out of jail on a first DWI offense must install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. This device prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The driver must pay monthly fees to maintain this device.
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