According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the state of Wyoming is one of the top four most dangerous states for drunk driving in the nation. Despite its low population of only half a million residents, as of January 2020, six in every 100,000 people die in impaired driving accidents in the state, and 0.6 percent of the state's residents faced driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in 2019.
While it is usually a misdemeanor, a DUI conviction in Wyoming is serious and carries severe penalties, including jail time, fines, probation and license suspension. Depending on the circumstances of the charge, it can become a felony due to too many prior convictions or the occurrence of injury or death.
Impairment Terms in Wyoming
According to DUI Attorney Home, the term Driving Under the Influence, or DUI, describes driving, or otherwise controlling, a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. The term Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) usually refers to impairment by alcohol only.
To describe impaired driving, Wyoming uses the term Driving While Under the Influence (DWUI), which is essentially the same as a DUI offense, and these terms are often interchangeable in the state's legal circles.
Elements Leading to Impairment Charge
According to NOLO, Wyoming drivers face DWUI charges when driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher. However, if law enforcement sees obvious signs of impairment, the driver's BAC doesn't have to be at the legal limit for an arrest to occur. Wyoming has a zero tolerance policy for drivers under 21, so if law enforcement detects any alcohol in a minor's system, or if their BAC level is above the legal threshold of 0.02 percent, they face arrest.
Wyoming allows drivers to refuse a field sobriety test, but they cannot refuse when an officer requests a breathalyzer or chemical test, according to the state's Implied Consent law. If they do refuse to take a chemical test, the court can issue a warrant, forcing them to take it.
DWUI Penalties in Wyoming
DWUI is usually a misdemeanor offense, but it comes with serious penalties. After a conviction, all drivers must complete alcohol and drug screening. The court then bases its sentencing on the results of those evaluations. The charges carry these penalties:
- First Offense: Up to six months of incarceration; maximum fine of $750; license suspension of 90 days; and ignition interlock device (IID) installation for drivers with a BAC of 0.15 percent or greater.
- Second Offense: Seven days to six months in jail; fine of $200 to $750; one-year license suspension; and one-year IID installation.
- Third Offense: 30 days to six months in jail; fine of $750 to $3,000; three-year license suspension and three-year IID installation.
After offenders fulfill the minimum jail sentence, they may receive probation for up to three years. During that time, sobriety monitoring, supervision or treatment may also take place.
Wyoming DWUI Penalties and Marijuana
Marijuana is illegal in Wyoming, and there is no allowable amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active ingredient in marijuana) that a driver can have in their system. The state has a zero-tolerance attitude toward drugs – anyone using them while operating a vehicle may likely face DWUI charges, according to attorney Christina Williams.
The penalties for marijuana DWUI are:
- First Offense: Up to six months of incarceration; maximum fine of $750; license suspension of 90 days; and mandatory substance abuse assessment.
- Second Offense: Seven days to six months in jail; fine of $200 to $750; one-year license suspension; and mandatory substance abuse assessment.
- Third Offense: 30 days to six months in jail (the court can suspend incarceration after 15 days if the offender completes inpatient substance abuse treatment); fine of $750 to $3,000; three-year license suspension; and mandatory substance abuse assessment.
Enhanced Penalties and Felony DWUI in Wyoming
Prior offenses within 10 years and certain other circumstances can cause a misdemeanor DWUI charge to become a felony. For example, an impaired driver who causes serious bodily injury that leads to long-term disfigurement, impairment or death faces a prison sentence of six months to one year and a $2,000 to $5,000 fine. If that driver had a prior conviction involving serious bodily injury, the prison sentence increases to 20 years.
A driver over 18 who has a passenger younger than 16 at the time of a DWUI traffic stop also faces felony charges. The first offense carries a maximum prison sentence of one year in prison, a $750 fine or both. If the driver has a previous DWUI conviction, the imprisonment term increases to a maximum of five years.
Wyoming DWUI Administrative Penalties
Offenders don't just face criminal penalties. Law enforcement reports convictions and chemical test failures to the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), which has its own DWUI sanctions. If a driver receives a criminal and administrative license suspension, both penalties will overlap; the offender won't have to complete these sentences consecutively. A person convicted of two DUIs within two years will also have their vehicle registration suspended at the same time as the suspension of their license.
Drivers who fail their chemical test or who have a BAC level of at least 0.08 percent or higher will see their license seized for 30 days with the option of appealing the test result within 20 days. If they choose not to contest, the WYDOT will suspend their license for an additional 90 days after the initial seizure.
Provisional Licenses During a Driver's License Suspension
During the suspension, some drivers are eligible for provisional licenses, which allow them to commute to work, school or court. Suspended drivers who have an IID installed can apply (and pay $125) for a restricted license. Drivers can also apply for a probationary license, which allows them to drive during the suspension period, but there are some exceptions:
- Drivers who have had a conviction in the past five years.
- Drivers with an expired license.
- Offenders who have never had a license.
- Drivers with an IID already installed.
- Offenders with a current suspension in Wyoming or another state.
- An offender with a suspension who remedies it themselves, such as paying a fine or reinstatement fee or taking other steps to clear the suspension.
- Drivers with a previous disqualification, revocation or denial.
- Commercial Driver's License (CDL) holders who must regress to a Class C, or standard, license before applying for a probationary license.
Underage DWUI and Penalties
Anyone under 21 years old operating a vehicle with a BAC level of 0.02 percent to 0.08 percent faces DWUI prosecution, according to Wyoming law. The court usually expunges a minor driver's conviction after probation, so it does not count as a prior offense if another offense occurs later.
An impaired underage driver faces a $750 fine with a license suspension of 90 days for their first offense. If a second offense occurs within a year of the first, the driver may receive a license suspension of six months, an IID restriction for one year, up to 30 days incarceration and a $600 fine. A minor offender with three DUIs within two years will see a license suspension of six months, IID installation for two years, up to six months incarceration and a $750 fine.
Implied Consent Law in Wyoming
Wyoming has an Implied Consent law, which requires a driver to submit to a chemical test of blood, breath or urine if requested to do so by law enforcement. However, Wyoming is rare in that it has no separate penalty for test refusals, which the state legislature did away with in 2011, according to NOLO. CDL drivers are the only offenders penalized administratively for implied consent violation – they can receive a one-year suspension of their commercial license for test refusal.
In place of penalties, the state allows law enforcement to request a search warrant for an unwilling driver's test sample. With a warrant, an officer can require anyone who refuses the test to submit to a blood draw, even by force.
CDL Drivers and DWUI
Drivers who hold a CDL license are under a slightly different set of rules regarding DWUI charges. Their BAC legal limit for impairment is lower, at 0.04 percent. The motor vehicle does not have to be in motion for a DWUI arrest to occur. The WYDOT will take a driver out of service for 24 hours if law enforcement suspects impairment. Drivers do not have to be at the legal limit for this loss of driving privileges to occur.
A CDL driver charged with a first time DWUI faces a maximum fine of $750, up to 90 days in jail or both. If a driver has two or more convictions, the penalties are a maximum $750 fine, up to six months in jail or both. A driver transporting hazardous materials faces a three-year suspension and up to six months in jail. For a subsequent offense, such drivers may incur a lifetime suspension, according to Traffic Violation Law Firms.
Open Container Laws in Wyoming
Wyoming's open container laws are similar to those in other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state defines alcoholic beverages as those with a minimum of 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, which means a driver can legally transport liquids with lower alcohol content. It otherwise prohibits alcoholic beverage containers that are open, have broken seals or have some of their contents removed. Open container laws apply to both the driver and passenger, whether the car is in motion or parked on a public roadway.
A driver's first open container conviction carries a fine of up to $200. If there is a second offense in the same year, the fine goes up to $300 with a maximum of 30 days in jail. A driver facing their third offense within a year will face a maximum $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
Exceptions to Wyoming Open Container Laws
The state's open container law does have a few exceptions. A driver can transport alcohol in the trunk of their car or, if the vehicle doesn't have a trunk, behind the back seat or in a locked area. The cabinets of a motorhome or RV are also legal storage areas. No matter the type of vehicle, an open container must be out of the driver's reach.
The open container law does not apply to passengers in vehicles for hire, who can possess and consume alcohol, but the beverage must not be accessible to the driver. Drivers can also transport corked wine from a restaurant in a tamper-proof bag and must carry a dated receipt for the wine.
Life After a Wyoming DWUI Conviction
According to Wyoming lawyer Christina Williams, a driver who has DWUI will have the charge on their record for 10 years even after fulfilling sentencing requirements. This can impact an offender's future in terms of jobs, residences and credit availability. It can also create a negative judgment on their character overall.
From the DWUI date of conviction, Wyoming requires drivers to carry SR-22 insurance. This type of insurance is more expensive than typical car insurance, as it classifies the driver as high risk.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Open Container and Consumption Statutes
- Just Criminal Law: DUI Sentencing in Wyoming — and Why You Should Care About It
- NOLO: Wyoming’s Implied Consent Laws
- Justia.com: 2019 Wyoming Statutes Title 12 - Alcoholic Beverages Chapter 6 - Minors Section 12-6-102 - Transporting or Possessing in Motor Vehicle With Intent to Furnish to Person Under 21; Penalties.
- WYDOT: Probationary Licenses
- NOLO: Wyoming’s Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties
- DUI Attorney Home: The Difference Between DUI and DWI in Wyoming
- Jackson Hole News & Guide: Wyoming Ranks Second in Drunk Driving Fatalities
- Traffic Violation Law Firms: Wyoming CDL Traffic Violations: Commercial License Issues
- Christina Williams: Driving While Under the Influence of Marijuana
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.