First Time DUI Convictions in Alabama

Photo Credit: http://www.dracutpersonalinjury.com/rights-hit-drunk-driver/

By: Jordan Godwin
Interim Business Committee Chair, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious crime that the State of Alabama does not take lightly. Generally, a person cannot be in “physical control” of a vehicle if: (1) a person’s blood has 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol;[1] (2) the person is under the influence of alcohol;[2] (3) the person is under the influence of a controlled substance to the degree that he is not able to safely drive;[3] (4) the person is under the influence of both alcohol and a controlled substance to the extent he is not able to drive safely;[4] or (5) the person is under the influence of any substance which impairs him to the point he cannot drive safely.[5]

Alabama treats those younger than age twenty-one a tad more strictly. People under the age of twenty-one are not allowed to be in “physical control” of a vehicle if there is 0.02% or more by weight alcohol in their blood.[6] Once convicted, Alabama will suspend or revoke the underage person’s driver’s license.[7] Luckily, however, an underage person’s first DUI violation will only result in a thirty-day suspension of his driver’s license, as opposed to the harsher penalties for repeat offenders and people over the age of twenty-one.[8] Underage DUI offenders might also receive leniency if their blood-alcohol content is between 0.02% and 0.08%.[9]

Once a person over the age of twenty-one is convicted of his first DUI, Alabama has the option to impose a host of punishments and deterrents from future infractions. The person cannot pay a small fine to make a DUI disappear. The person will have to go to court and stand before a judge. Alabama has several ways to punish people for their first DUI. First, the court will suspend that person’s driver’s license for ninety days.[10] If he is convicted, on-top of taking his license, Alabama can fine him between $600.00 and $2,100.00.[11] Even if this is his first DUI, he can be sent to jail for up to one year.[12] These punishments are not “either-or;” the court might send him to jail, fine him, or both.[13] Luckily, there is one way to keep the court from suspending a person’s driver’s license after a DUI conviction: the driver can install an interlock device on his vehicle.[14] If the driver installs an interlock device, then Alabama issues the driver a “scarlet letter” driver’s license, which clearly explains that his license is subject to the successful use of the interlock device.[15]

An interlock device is a breathalyzer hooked up to a vehicle’s engine.[16] Specifically, Alabama defines an interlock device as “a constant monitoring device that prevents the motor vehicle from being started at any time without first determining the equivalent blood alcohol level of the operator through the taking of a breath sample for testing.”[17] Basically, the device controls the vehicle’s ignition system.[18] The device requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece before the vehicle starts and if his blood-alcohol content is too high, his car will not start.[19] Generally, the interlock device will prevent the car from starting if the driver’s breath sample has more than 0.02% alcohol in his breath sample.[20] If a person is convicted for DUI, but either (1) his breath test was below 0.15%, or he did not have to submit to a breath test, then he only needs to use the interlock system for ninety days.[21] If, however, a person either refused to submit to a breath test; there was a person under the age of fourteen in the car at the time; or the person’s blood alcohol content was 0.15% or higher, then he must use the interlock device for one year.[22] Alabama’s Department of Forensic Sciences regulates the list of vendors that can officially install interlock devices.[23] There is an exception to the interlock rule. If a person does not live or work within fifty miles of an interlock installer, then he is not required to choose between installing an interlock and surrendering his license.[24]

Once an interlock device is installed in a vehicle, then an entire set of separate “rules” called Interlock Drinking Violations apply to the driver. If a driver violates these rules, then he is stuck with the interlock for a longer period of time.[25] For example, the time period will be extended by six months if the device records a driver’s breath sample with an alcohol content higher than 0.02% more than four times in a month.[26] Moreover, if the driver is convicted of a misdemeanor while the interlock is installed on this vehicle, then the time extends by six months.[27]

Interlock devices are not cheap. Installing an interlock device costs $75.00 per month for the first four months after conviction.[28] The driver also has to pay for the interlock to be installed, to lease the device from the interlock company, and to have the device maintained.[29] The special interlock driver’s license costs up to $150.00.[30] Once the interlock device is removed from the driver’s car, the driver will have to pay up to $75.00 to have a “normal” driver’s license reissued.[31] Indigent defendants only have to pay for one-half of the interlock device’s costs.[32] Defendants who do not own a motor vehicle will still have to pay the $75.00 monthly interlock fee.[33]

Conclusion

Alabama is not lenient when it comes to DUI’s, not even if it’s your first one. A DUI in Alabama will cost thousands of dollars and potentially much more than money.  The best practice is to drive safely and drink responsibly.


[1] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(a)(1) (2019).

[2] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(a)(2) (2019).

[3] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(a)(3) (2019).

[4] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(a)(4) (2019).

[5] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(a)(5) (2019).

[6] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(b) (2019).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(e) (2019).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Phillip B. Prince, Sr. & George D. Flowers, Ala. DUI Handbook § 1:21 (2018), Westlaw.

[16] Ignition Interlock Laws, ALEA, https://www.alea.gov/dps/driver-license/license-and-id-cards/ignition-interlock-laws (last visited May 17, 2019).

[17] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191.4

[18] Phillip B. Prince, Sr. & George D. Flowers, Ala. DUI Handbook § 1:21 (2018), Westlaw.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Phillip B. Prince, Sr. & George D. Flowers, Ala. DUI Handbook § 1:21 (2018), Westlaw.

[25] Id.

[26] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(u)(3) (2019).

[27] Id.

[28] Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(u)(3) (2019).

[29] Phillip B. Prince, Sr. & George D. Flowers, Ala. DUI Handbook § 1:21 (2018), Westlaw.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

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