DUI or DWI: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between DUI and \DWI?

I’m Northern Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney Scott Nolan, and I’m here to talk to you about the definition of DUI, DWI, and similar cases. In Virginia, there’s really no difference between DUI and DWI, but there is a difference in some states, and there is a difference in the federal system. There are also several related offenses like OUI and BWI, and we’ll talk about all of those right now.

What exactly is DUI?

DUI, or driving under the influence, is usually proven simply by breath alcohol concentration or by blood alcohol concentration. It’s a statement that you’ve drunk more alcohol than is legally allowed when you’re driving.  They don’t have to prove that you’re intoxicated. They don’t have to prove that your driving was impaired in any way.  If your blood alcohol or breath alcohol concentration is above a certain point, then you are driving under the influence, i.e., DUI.

How is DWI different?

DWI, or driving while intoxicated, is different. This has nothing to do with your breath alcohol concentration or your blood alcohol concentration. It has to do with impaired driving. In Virginia you have to have drunk enough alcohol to be visibly altered in your speech, your gaze, your appearance, your movements and a number of other things. Basically you have to look and act drunk.

How does Virginia handle DWI and DUI

In Virginia, both of these are simply two different methods of proving the same thing, but it’s not called DWI or DUI. It’s called operating under the influence.  Technically, it could be OUI and in some states they call it that. I’ve never heard a Virginia attorney or judge call it OUI though. But the real charge in Virginia is “operating under the influence.”

Operating vs. driving

The difference between operating and driving is important because you don’t need to be driving. You can be in a car that is off and as long as any portion of the electrical machinery is on, like your speakers or your heater, then you can be found guilty of operating under the influence.

There is a famous case where a woman was in a car. She’d gone out to her front lawn, and into a car that had no wheels. It was up on blocks. And she turned on the radio just to sit and think. But she was drunk. And the police charged her and the court found her guilty on operating under the influence. It was an intensely stupid decision but it is the law.

How is the federal court different?

Now, in the federal courts, these two charges, DUI and DWI, are two separate things. And Virginia residents may from time to time involve federal courts, especially if they live here in Northern Virginia or down in Tidewater, or where there is a lot of federal property. Typically if they charge you with one, they’ll charge you with the other, and let the judge sort it out.

Finally, there’s BUI and BWI, and that’s boating under the influence. It’s a different code section but the proof is essentially the same. If you are in command of a boat, that is, if you are sailing or driving a vehicle on the water and you are either under the influence or intoxicated by either of those definitions, then you could be found guilty in the same way.

If you have any questions about DUI or any of those other things, or indeed any portion of the law, please feel free to give a seasoned DUI defense advocate a call. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it.