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driving while intoxicated (DWI)

DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated), and OWI (operating while intoxicated) are similar criminal offenses that involve the operation of a motor vehicle, electric vehicle, or sometimes an otherwise-powered vehicle—including boats, aircraft, and bicycles—by an operator who is under the influence of or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. Per se (pronounced purr-say) intoxication is intoxication by definition—as defined in the state’s statutes by blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more (.05 in Utah). And even if a person is not per se intoxicated, they may be intoxicated by not having the normal use of their mental or physical faculties (abilities), for example, and may be charged with a criminal offense.

In some contexts the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably, with some states using one term and other states using the other term to define what is essentially the same criminal offense. But in some states both criminal charges are available and there is a legal distinction between them.

For example, in some states with both criminal offenses, DUI is the criminal offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of prescription or recreational drugs, and DWI is the offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol. In some states DWI refers to per se intoxication when the driver’s BAC is above the threshold defined by statute—.08 (.05 in Utah)—and DUI is a criminal offense charged when the police officer believes the driver is under the influence of alcohol, despite the driver’s BAC being below the statutory threshold of .08. And in some states DUI is a separate offense for drivers under the legal age of drinking (21) who have some alcohol in their system, but less than a .08 BAC.

These and other similar alcohol-related operating offenses—including aggravated or enhanced forms of these offenses—vary from state to state in their definitions and potential punishments and are generally located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal code or criminal code.

In Texas, the terms DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) represent different offenses. Texas law primarily uses the term DWI, which is defined as operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, which means not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. A DUI charge in Texas is specific to individuals under the age of 21 who operate a motor vehicle in a public place with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, reflecting Texas's zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. The state does not use the term OWI. Penalties for DWI in Texas can include fines, jail time, driver's license suspension, and the installation of an ignition interlock device, among others. The severity of the punishment can increase with higher BAC levels, prior offenses, and if aggravating factors are present, such as causing an accident with injury or death.

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