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Elements of Criminal Offense of Driving While Impaired

Elements of Criminal Offense of Driving While Impaired


Drunk driving statutes across the country are not uniform in how they describe the degree of inebriation that is required for conviction for a drunk driving offense. For example, some states have interpreted the terms “intoxicated” and “under the influence” as meaning the same thing, while others have concluded that the two terms represent different levels of impairment. States that view the terms as the same conclude that the degree of inebriation or impairment of the faculties required are the same.


However, in many states the two terms are not the same and the crime charged for each is not the same. In these states, the term “intoxicated” or the crime driving while intoxicated is generally considered to be a higher degree of impairment than the crime of driving while impaired. In other words, in states where the terms do not mean the same thing, a person does not have to be drunk in order to be charged with driving while impaired. Generally, the prosecution must show that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it affected his or her ability to operate the vehicle in a safe manner.


The standard for determining whether a motorist is impaired varies by state. However, in most states the prosecution must show that as a result of drinking alcohol, the motorist's physical or mental abilities were impaired to such a degree that he or she no longer had the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under similar circumstances. Conversely, in some states the prosecution does not have to show that the motorist's intoxication had impaired his or her ability to drive. For example, in Alabama, the prosecution only needs to show that the motorist was operating a vehicle on the highway and was under the impairment of intoxicants.


Therefore, for a conviction of driving while impaired the prosecution must show some level of impairment on the part of the motorist, but it is not necessary to prove that the degree of impairment was so great that the motorist was unable to drive a motor vehicle safely. The expression “under the influence” covers any abnormal mental or physical condition which is the result of indulging in any degree in intoxicating liquors, and which tends to deprive one of that clearness of intellect and control of himself which he would otherwise possess.

Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.