Glossary of DUI Terms | Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys

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DUI Glossary Icon Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense under Pennsylvania law. If you are arrested and charged, it can be a very confusing time and you might not be aware of the numerous legal and technical terms associated with your DUI charge.

Need help overcoming your DUI charge? At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC our Pittsburgh DUI lawyers are not only concerned with providing criminal defense legal representation around Pittsburgh in your time of need, but we are also committed to keeping our clients informed. Below we define and explain some of the most frequently used terms relating to Pennsylvania DUI offenses.


When you drink, the alcohol goes through the body and a portion of it is absorbed, while some are naturally eliminated. The rate at which the consumed alcohol stays in your body is referred to as the absorption rate. It is a critical component in chemical testing to determine a driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC). There are a number of factors that will affect the absorption rate, inclusive of the percentage of alcohol in the beverage consumed, and whether you drank on an empty stomach or not. Body type, weight, and gender will also affect how quickly your body will absorb alcohol.


One of the penalties that you could face if you are found guilty of a DUI-related offense is the suspension of your license. In many states, there is an administrative process that is independent of the criminal court proceedings and can take place even before a verdict in the DUI criminal charge. In such proceedings, the suspension of your license is referred to as an administrative license suspension, generally carried out by the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) in the state of the offense.

However, in Pennsylvania, there is no such separate administrative license suspension. The penalty of license suspension is only imposed after conviction and depending on the particular DUI offense with which you were charged.


It is generally the driver that is arrested and charged with DUI. However, if you allow someone to drive a vehicle you own or have control of, with the knowledge that he or she is under the influence, you could be considered an accomplice to drunk driving and face a summary offense under Pennsylvania law. The penalties can include a fine and a suspension of your driver’s license.


In addition to time behind bars, fines, and suspension or revocation of the offender’s driver’s license, a Pennsylvania court can also order the installation of an alcohol monitoring device in a DUI offender’s vehicle. This device is referred to as an ignition interlock and works like a breathalyzer, detecting the BAC levels of the driver. The device prevents the car from starting if your alcohol content of the offender driver is higher than the stipulated amount.


An arrest for DUI will come after you are pulled over by the police officer, who has probable cause to believe that you are driving under the influence. You will be required to perform a series of roadside sobriety testing or a breath examination with a handheld breathalyzer. If you fail any of these tests you will be arrested for DUI and you will be informed of such an arrest as it is happening. Even if you refuse the testing, you can still be arrested.


The charge of drunk driving is characterized by proof of impairment of the driver and that the person so charged was driving. Attempted drunk driving is, therefore, a substantial step taken by an individual which was aimed at actually committing the offense of driving under the influence. The practice of charging anyone for attempted drunk driving is very limited as it is a very gray area of the law. However, in theory, if you are drunk, enter your car, start the ignition, and even put the car in gear, but immediately fall asleep with your foot on the brakes, you could be charged with attempted drunk driving.


Referred to as blood alcohol content or blood alcohol concentration, BAC is the scientific measurement used to determine the amount of alcohol in the body at any particular time. The measurement is expressed as a percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream. BAC levels are used as evidence to determine whether a driver is driving under the influence (DUI). BAC levels can be assessed by chemical testing whether by means of a breathalyzer, urine, or blood test.


In Pennsylvania, if a police officer has probable cause that you were driving under the influence (DUI), he or she will take you to a hospital following your arrest to have medical personnel administer a blood test. The purpose of the blood test is to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). If you test positive for BAC levels above the 0.08%, this will be used as evidence to substantiate your DUI charge. 


When you are arrested for a DUI-related offense in Pennsylvania, booking and charging will follow shortly thereafter. The booking process will include the taking of personal information, fingerprinting, and mug shots. Formal charges can be prepared immediately, but in most cases, this will not happen until after receiving the results of any chemical testing done prior to or during booking.


Breath testing is one of the chemical tests that are administered to a driver who is suspected of driving under the influence. The test is carried out with the use of a device commonly referred to as a breathalyzer, and it seeks to give an estimate of the blood alcohol content of a driver after blowing into the instrument. This type of testing will normally generate faster results as they are readily available to law enforcement officers at the time that a driver is pulled over or at a police station following an arrest. However, this type of testing is not the most reliable chemical testing for DUI-related cases as operation and maintenance of the device coupled with other factors can result in false readings.


A breathalyzer is a device used to estimate the blood alcohol content (BAC) of an individual suspected of driving under the influence (DUI). The instrument can only give an estimate of the BAC levels as it does not have the capacity to collect blood samples. Results are therefore based on the alcohol content in the breath of the driver. The device is available in two forms. Most individuals are familiar with the handheld breathalyzers that are used by a police officer in a traffic stop. However, the device is also available in a desktop version.


The burn off rate refers to the time taken by an intoxicated individual to get sober. The body will take a longer time to burn off alcohol than what was taken to get drunk. It takes the liver an estimate of one hour to metabolize 0.05oz of alcohol. This rate will vary depending on body weight, food consumption and percent of alcohol contained in the drink consumed by the particular driver.


For the purpose of DUI-related offenses, a chemical test is a process that is used to measure the blood alcohol content (BAC) level in a driver suspected of driving under the influence. This is achieved with three types of testing, namely, a blood test, urine test, and breath analysis. Unlike field sobriety testing, chemical testing is more reliable and is not based on subjective criteria.


A citation is a notice that is prepared by a police officer and which is given to an individual to appear in court to answer to a particular charge. It is generally used in cases involving minor crimes and are often used in DUI cases. The citation negates the need for you to be arrested, but if you fail to show up for the first court hearing, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

Commercial Vehicle

A commercial vehicle is classified as a motor vehicle that is used to carry out any business or commercial purpose. Such vehicles will often time be used to transport goods, but a commercial vehicle can also include a passenger bus, limousine, or catering truck. Pennsylvania Laws makes special requirements as it relates to the driving and insurance of such vehicles. Additionally, DUI laws are far harsher on drivers of commercial vehicles than private cars.


When a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty in a court of law, there are a number of penalties available to the court at sentencing. Community service is one such option that a judge can impose as a punishment for committing a criminal offense. Community service in the criminal judicial system is an alternative and non-custodial sentence given to offenders who meet certain requirements. Community service will include carrying out free tasks and services to public agencies and charitable organizations.


A conditional license is a driving license that is granted upon the completion of a condition of your DUI-related charge. In Pennsylvania, such a license is called an occupational limited license, which authorizes a DUI offender whose driver’s license was suspended to drive in restricted circumstances. With a conditional license, a DUI offender may operate a motor vehicle for the purpose of work, school, medical emergency, and for any other purpose and under any other condition as the authority deems fit.


In criminal law, a conviction is the official declaration of a court finding a defendant guilty of the offense for which he or she was charged. A conviction will result from the hearing of evidence in a trial in which the guilt is determined by a judge or a jury. In a DUI matter, a conviction is a declaration that you have committed the offense of driving under the influence. A conviction in all criminal matter will lead to sentencing.


The corpus rule is a common law principle formally known as the corpus delicti rule. The rule prevents the prosecution from using a confession to prove that the defendant committed a crime, without at least having evidence that would independently prove the crime allegedly contained in the confession. As it relates to a DUI-related case, the prosecution cannot solely rely on the confession of a driver that he drank a certain amount of alcohol to prove that he was driving under the influence; there must also be independent evidence such as chemical or roadside sobriety tests.


Referred to as Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition Program in Pennsylvania, diversion gives a first-time DUI offender with no criminal record the opportunity to avoid any possible penalties associated with a DUI-related charge. Successful completion of the program will result in charges being dismissed.


A defendant is a legal term used in both criminal and civil matters; this is the person answering to a claim against his or her actions or omissions. For the purpose of a criminal matter and particular to a DUI case, the defendant is the person charged with the crime and will have to answer to the allegations in court.


Divided attention test is a term used to categorize two types of roadside sobriety testing that is carried out by a police officer to determine whether a driver had too much to drink. The walk-turn and one-leg stand tests are both referred to as divided attention testing, as they seek to ascertain your mental and physical alertness to complete the action. An intoxicated individual is not able to divide his or her attention and will most often fail these tests.


Dram shop is a term originating in England in reference to places that sold alcohol by the spoonful. In Pennsylvania, the dram shop liability law dictates that a business or a person can be held liable if they give alcohol to an individual that is clearly intoxicated. This can result in criminal charges if there were any liquor violations and civil penalties in the form of financial damages.


Drunk driving is operating a motor vehicle when you are intoxicated above a legal limit. That legal limit of intoxication is determined by your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In Pennsylvania, you are considered to be drunk driving if your BAC is 0.08. You could also be considered to be drunk driving even without a BAC reading if the police officer is of the opinion that you were impaired while you were driving.


A DUI school is an educational program that is focused on teaching participants the effects of driving while under the influence with the hope of deterring individuals from being DUI repeat offenders. Enrollment in such a program is generally a term of sentencing and the required length of time will vary depending on the particular DUI offense for which you were convicted.


DUI is the acronym for driving under the influence. DUI describes the crime of operating a motor vehicle while being impaired by alcohol or drugs. DUI will vary depending on whether you are a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or multiple offender and will also include classifications relating to aggravating circumstances such as injury/death as a result of driving under the influence.


Some states utilize a system that issues special plates for particular DUI offenders. The objective of the DUI plates is to alert law enforcement officers and to encourage change in the drivers who are prone to driving drunk. The measure varies from state to state but is not used in Pennsylvania.


DWI is the acronym for driving while intoxicated. The term is used interchangeably with driving under the influence (DUI) and is in reference to the criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle while being impaired by alcohol or drugs.


Enhancements are add-on penalties at sentencing resulting from certain aggravating factors associated with the particular offense. In relation to a DUI conviction, sentencing can be enhanced if the offender had a high BAC, has multiple convictions, or the DUI resulted in injury or death. In essence, these factors result in harsher penalties.


Expungement is the legal process by which an ex-offender seeks to delete the records of a particular criminal charge or conviction. The steps to be taken will vary on the type of offense and the length of time that has passed since the completion of the sentence imposed. In Pennsylvania getting a DUI record expunged can be difficult unless you participated in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.


Felony is used to describe a category of crimes that are considered to be much more serious than others. DUI offenses are generally charged as misdemeanors, but when the allegations include serious injury and death, the DUI charge can be elevated to that of a felony in Pennsylvania.


Forceful seizure of blood samples occurs in DUI-related matters in which the alleged offender refuses to submit to the drawing of blood to facilitate chemical testing that would determine his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In Pennsylvania and despite implied consent laws, a person arrested for a DUI offense can refuse to give a blood sample, but such refusals come with legal consequences such as an automatic suspension and added penalties at the time of sentencing.


Foreign prior convictions refer to convictions which occurred in another state. It is also referred to as an out of state conviction. Out of state convictions for DUI will form part of an offender’s record in Pennsylvania. As a second or subsequent offender in another state, Pennsylvania will take action to suspend your license.


FST is the acronym for field sobriety test. Also known as a roadside sobriety test, FST is a series of tests administered by a police officer to determine if a driver is under the influence. The tests are designed to ascertain the participant’s ability to coordinate mentally and physically to carry out the activities in the test. FST will generally include, walking in a straight line, standing on one foot and counting backward.


A guilty plea is when a defendant in a criminal matter admits to guilt. Once the plea is accepted by the court, there is no need to have a trial and a sentencing hearing will follow. A guilty plea should be pursued with caution and after seeking legal advice.


High BAC refers to a certain blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at which increased penalties will be applied. In Pennsylvania, the BAC level of 0.08% or more will result in a DUI charge, but with a BAC level is 0.16% or more, the driver can be charged for high BAC and this can result in higher jail time, fines and other penalties.


The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test is one of the field sobriety tests administered by police officers to determine whether a driver is under the influence. The test involves moving a pen from left to right and asking the participant to follow the movements with his or her eyes. In this test, the police will be looking for an involuntary eye movement that can be used as probable cause to arrest an individual for DUI. The results of the test, however, cannot be used as evidence in a Pennsylvania’s court.


An ignition interlock device is used to screen the alcohol content of a driver before driving. It is normally required as part of the sentence imposed after an individual is found guilty of driving under the influence (DUI). The device is connected to the ignition of the car and will prevent the car from starting if the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at a particular level.


Implied consent laws relating to DUI cases refer to laws that dictate that at the time of getting a driver’s license you consented to submit to any chemical testing if you are arrested for a DUI offense. While a driver is still at liberty to refuse the testing, that refusal will result in certain penalties as a direct effect of the application of the implied consent laws.


Intoxilyzer is a brand used to identify a number of breathalyzer machines manufactured by CMI, Inc. 


Liability is a legal term used to describe the state of being responsible for an action or omission by a person, a group of persons or an organization. As it relates to a DUI matter, the driver who is under the influence is liable for the consequences of his or her actions.


License revocation relates to an administrative or judicial process of canceling someone’s driving privileges. In some states, serious DUI-related charges will result in license revocation and offenders must wait a specific amount of time before being able to re-apply for a new driver’s license. In Pennsylvania, DUI-related offenses carry some degree of license suspension as a penalty and not license revocation.


License suspension is an administrative or judicial process of denying an individual their driving privileges. Unlike license revocation, the license is not canceled but the holder of that license will not be able to drive for a specific period. License suspension is one of the penalties available to the court in DUI-related cases. The suspension is set for a specific amount of time depending on the particular conviction, after which the offender may apply to have the license reinstated.


Created in 1966 by the Supreme Court, Miranda rights is the specific statement that a police should say at the time of arrest and before questioning an individual in custody. The essence of the recital is to inform you that you have the right to stay silent and to have an attorney. Miranda rights seek to protect citizens and their Fifth Amendment right to prevent self-incrimination.


A misdemeanor is the categorization of crimes that are less serious than a felony. In some states, misdemeanors are classified into degrees to establish the severity of the offense and the resulting penalties. In Pennsylvania, most DUI offenses are classified as a misdemeanor, save and except for those DUI-related crimes that involve serious injury or death.


A motion is a formal request that is made to a judge for the purpose of obtaining a decision on a particular issue. In most cases a motion is written and relates to a specific legal issue in a criminal or civil matter. However, sometimes motions are oral and may include a request for a postponement of a particular hearing. In DUI-related cases, a number of motions can be made by your lawyer, inclusive of motions to obtain evidence, to exclude evidence, or to have your charges dismissed.


A moving violation is the breach of a state’s traffic laws or rules while driving a motor vehicle. Such violations include speeding or texting. Penalties for moving violations normally result in a fine, points on your record or license suspension in more serious violation like excessive speeding. Moving violations are considered to be simple infractions and will only lead to misdemeanors or felonies if the violation causes serious injury or death to someone else. DUI-related offenses are not considered as moving violations.


A no contest plea originated from the Latin phrase “nolo contendere”. It is one of a number of other pleas available to an individual charged with a crime. In a no contest plea, a defendant in a criminal matter neither denies nor admit the charges.


At some time before trial, a defendant in a criminal matter will be required to enter a plea for the charges. A not guilty plea is an indication to the court that the defendant makes no admission to the charges. When this plea is entered, a trial is scheduled.


The one-leg stand test is one of three field sobriety tests administered by the police to determine if a driver is under the influence, which could impair their driving. The participant is required to keep one leg off the ground, hands to the side, while maintaining a balance. Failing this or any of the other standardized field sobriety test will result in an arrest for DUI.


Open container laws relate to legislation that makes it illegal to be in possession of an open container of alcohol in public. These laws will vary from one state to the other but applies to having an open container in your vehicle.


OUI is the acronym for operating under the influence. It is the same as a DUI or DWI and refers to the offense of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence. The term is mainly used in the state of Maine.


OVI is the acronym for operating a vehicle under the influence. It is the same as a DUI, DWI, or OUI and refers to the offense of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drug.


Per se is derived from Latin and means by or in itself. In relation to DUI, matter per se limit refers to the point at which an individual is deemed to be drunk. This simply means that whether an individual feels that he or she is impaired by alcohol, by virtue of having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of a certain level, in or of itself, will lead to a charge of DUI.


A plea bargain is an agreement that the defendant makes with the prosecutor in a criminal matter. In this bargain, the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for some favor from the prosecution. In many instances, plea bargains can result in lesser charges and penalties for a defendant.


A preliminary breath test is a field sobriety test. It is administered by a police officer, after pulling over a driver, he or she suspects is under the influence. The test requires the driver to blow into a small hand-held breathalyzer machine to estimate the amount of alcohol in the body.


Probable cause is the legal basis upon which a police officer will go ahead and arrest and charge an individual with a crime. It must include facts or circumstances that are within the officer’s knowledge. However, to determine whether a police has probable cause to arrest, the facts or circumstances would also result in a reasonable person believing that the individual to be arrested did commit the crime or was about to. In DUI matters, this probable cause to arrest normally stems from a preliminary breath test, roadside sobriety testing, or observation of the driver’s driving prior to a traffic stop.


Probation is an alternative sentencing to time behind bars. The court will outline certain conditions associated with this type of sentence and the offender is under the supervision of a probation officer. Similar to jail time, probation is imposed for a set time and any breach of the condition can result in time behind bars. If you are found guilty for a DUI-related matter, probation is always an option for the judge at sentencing depending on the facts of the case and your criminal history.


Property liability relates to the legal responsibility for one’s actions or omission that could or has resulted in damage to property. Accordingly, in a motor vehicle accident in which you were at fault, you would possess property liability if that accident resulted in damage to another’s motor vehicle. Sometimes a DUI-related offense can also include property damages which are often times pursued in a civil court by the owner of the property.


A prosecutor is a public official who is charged with the responsibility of initiating criminal legal proceedings against an individual or entity who is alleged to have committed a crime. A prosecutor also carries the legal burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime for which he or she has been charged.


A provisional license is a type of license that grants limited driving privilege to an individual whose license has been suspended. It is an option utilized by drivers facing or who have been convicted of a DUI charge that resulted in a suspension of his or her driver’s license. In Pennsylvania, this type of restricted license is called an occupational limited license and allows the driver to continue driving for limited purposes such as work, school, or medical treatment.


Pupil reaction relates to the response of the pupil under certain conditions. When pulled over by a police, a driver may be subjected to field sobriety testing to determine whether he or she was driving under the influence. A police may use an eye test that includes the shining of light into the participant’s eyes and results will depend on the pupil dilation.


In criminal matters, the prosecution is required to prove the guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is, therefore, a standard of proof and is not used in civil matters. It is the uncertainty that if present, should cause a jury to find a defendant not guilty.


Reasonable suspicion is the legal basis on which a police officer can pull a driver over for driving under the influence or any other similar offense. It requires facts which when accumulates leads to a rational inference. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than that of probable cause. The latter is required for an arrest.


Regurgitation is the ejection of contents from the stomach causing it to get into mouth. Essentially, it is the process of vomiting or burping. Regurgitation is important to DUI field sobriety testing. Police officers are trained to observe a driver before breath testing to ensure that regurgitation does not occur since it has the capacity of giving a higher reading and invalidate the results.


This is the scientific process by which toxicologists are able to determine the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of an individual at an earlier time, based on testing done at a later date. The testing is useful in circumstances when prosecutors want to determine if the driver had a BAC level of 0.08% or higher at the time of arrest, with results obtained after the fact and with a lower BAC reading.


Restitution is the financial compensation ordered by the criminal court. It is a penalty available at sentencing and requires the convicted defendant to compensate the victim for any loss he or she may have incurred as a result of the criminal behavior. For e.g. the court can order restitution in cases where your DUI charge leads to damages of a motor vehicle, other property to personal injury.


When you consume a drink containing alcohol, it takes anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours before it is absorbed by the body. As the body absorbs the alcohol, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will rise and continue to rise. If testing is done at the time when the BAC is rising, it is an indication that at the time of driving the driver’s BAC was actually lower. This gives rise to what is known as the rising curve defense in DUI matters.


The saliva effect relates to how the saliva contributes to false reading in alcohol breath testing. When an individual is intoxicated, alcohol concentration will also find its way into the saliva. However, without first rinsing out the mouth, alcohol in the saliva can result in a higher than usual blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level.


A sobriety checkpoint is a random and temporary checkpoint set up by the police with the objective of stopping and detaining drivers suspected of driving under the influence. Also referred to as mobile checkpoints and roadblocks, sobriety checkpoints are generally implemented around the time of festive activities. Sobriety checkpoints are legal in the state of Pennsylvania.


In some states, upon being arrested (stop) for a DUI related offense, your license will be taken (snatch) and you will be required to go through an administrative process associated with the suspension of your driver’s license. You are normally informed of a specific time in which to request a hearing, failing of which your driver’s license can be automatically suspended.


Under the influence is the term used to indicate that an individual is affected by his or her consumption of alcohol or drugs. It is a critical element of the offense of DUI and is assessed by your overall impairment or the results of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing.


Urine testing is a chemical test available to a police officer to determine the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of a driver who is suspected of driving under the influence. Compared to the breath and blood test, it is the least most reliable form of testing for this purpose and accordingly is not the first option for law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania.


A vehicle is any means by which people or goods are transported. In relation to DUI matters, the legal definition of a vehicle includes a range of private passenger cars, vans, and SUVs. However, the vehicle will also incorporate motorcycles, bikes, and other off-highway vehicles and will even extend to motorboats, jet skis, and other water vessels.


This is the legal process by which an owner is deprived of his or her vehicle. The vehicle is generally returned after certain conditions are met. Some states impose vehicle impound as a penalty in a DUI case.


Vehicular homicide refers to the offense of causing death in a motor vehicle accident. The criminal mindset in such cases need not be intentional as the crime is satisfied as long as the driver at fault was criminally negligent in the operation of the motor vehicle that led to the death of someone else.


Verbal field sobriety tests refer to a combination of test used by a police officer to determine the impairment of a driver who is suspected of driving under the influence. They include requests for the driver to recite the alphabet or count backward. The inability to carry out such verbal exercises are generally viewed as additional evidence that the driving is under the influence. However, verbal field sobriety tests are not standardized testing and accordingly are not the most accurate indication of impairment.


The walk and turn test is a standardized field sobriety test administered by a police officer to determine whether a driver is under the influence after a roadside pullover. The test requires that the driver walks heel to toe in a straight line with arms at his or her side while counting the steps. At the end of the nine steps, the participant is asked to turn and repeat the walk.


A warrant is a legal document that gives the police or other law enforcement officers the authority to arrest, search and carry out other actions required for the purpose of the criminal judicial system. As it relates to DUI-related matters, a warrant is not required for an arrest, probable cause is sufficient under the law.


Work release is leave given to a prisoner to leave prison in the day in order to continue employment under the condition that he or she returns at the end of the work day or shift. This privilege is aimed at rehabilitation and only offered to selected inmates who display a certain level of trust and responsibility.


Zero tolerance BAC refers to an approach that prohibits any blood alcohol concentration (levels) in minors. This can range from as low as 0% to 0.02% BAC levels for a driver under the age of 21 years of age. In Pennsylvania, the zero tolerance BAC level is 0.02%.

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