Like every state in the union, Connecticut makes it a criminal offense to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person can be prosecuted by violating the legal limit for alcohol, but chemical test results are only one way a prosecutor in Connecticut can convict a driver of this offense. The statute also allows for arrest and prosecution when there is evidence that the person's ability to drive was impaired by alcohol or drugs. Anyone driving in Connecticut should understand the scope of the state's laws regarding driving under the influence, including administrative and criminal penalties.
Driving Under the Influence
The laws prohibiting drunk or drugged driving are often called DUIs for driving under the influence. However, similar laws in other states are termed DWIs, for driving while intoxicated, or OUIs for operating a vehicle under the influence or OWIs, for operating a vehicle while impaired. Connecticut's law is found at Connecticut General Statutes Section 14-227. It is entitled "Operation While Under the Influence," and most commentators refer to the offense as OUI. Others, however, use DUI, but these initials refer to the same state law.
Under Connecticut law, a driver can be found guilty of an OUI if they drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit while they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or are proved to be driving while impaired. Each of these grounds for the criminal charge can only be understood with additional details. The former is called a "per se" OUI, while the latter is called an impairment OUI.
"Per Se" OUIs in Connecticut
The legal BAC limit for an adult driver is 0.08 percent. That is, anyone found to be driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher can be arrested, charged and likely convicted of a crime. For commercial drivers who are permitted to drive large, heavy commercial vehicles or vehicles with many passengers, the legal BAC limit is significantly lower at 0.04 percent. Drivers under the drinking age of 21 are subject to a zero tolerance law and can get picked up with any amount of alcohol in their system.
These types of OUIs are termed per se offenses because a chemical test over the legal limit is sufficient, in and of itself, to support a conviction for drunk driving in the state. While the driver can argue that the test result was wrong, they cannot defend themselves by claiming that the test result was correct, but they were not impaired.
Impairment OUIs in Connecticut
Even if a driver does not test at above the legal BAC limit, they still can be arrested and charged with an OUI based on evidence of impairment – being under the influence. In this context, being under the influence means being sufficiently impacted by the alcohol or drugs that the driver lacks the ability to function properly in relation to the operation of a vehicle. Their mental, physical or nervous processes must be so affected that the driver lacks to an appreciable degree the capability of driving safely.
Contrary to a per se OUI, a conviction for an impairment-based OUI must be based on evidence of that impairment. The prosecution often relies on police officer testimony as to how the individual drove the car erratically before they were pulled over and how they performed when asked to take roadside sobriety tests.
Connecticut Implied Consent Law
Given how much easier it is for a prosecutor to convict a driver of a per se OUI than for an impairment OUI, some drivers might consider refusing to take a chemical test when stopped by the police. To deter this, Connecticut has passed an implied consent law premised on the fact that driving is a privilege, not a right. If a person wishes to avail themselves of that privilege, they must do so under the terms provided by the state. Connecticut's implied consent law provides that any person who operates a motor vehicle on Connecticut roads is deemed to have consented to take a test to determine their BAC level if they are asked to do so by the police.
Administrative Penalties for OUIs
Because of the implied consent laws, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has a big role in doling out punishment to OUI violators. In fact, most drivers arrested for a violation of the per se drunk driving laws first face administrative penalties from the DMV, long before – and independent of – the outcome of their criminal case.
A person who refuses to take a chemical test violates the implied consent law and is subject to an automatic license suspension. This is also true when someone takes a chemical test and is found to have violated the BAC legal limit. This is how it happens: When a driver is arrested and charged with an OUI, the arrest report is sent to the DMV, which immediately imposes a license suspension. The suspension begins 30 days after the date of arrest, and it is independent of any criminal penalties or sanctions.
The driver can request a DMV administrative hearing about the suspension. This must be done before the cutoff date on the suspension notice. If the driver loses this hearing, they can seek an appeal to the court. Note that winning the DMV hearing does not make the criminal case go away; the two are completely independent.
Period of License Suspension
The administrative driver's license suspension can be either for failing the chemical test or for refusing to submit to the test – either one is a 45-day suspension. Likewise, under both scenarios, drivers will have to use an ignition interlock device (IID) when they get their license back.
The IID is a type of breathalyzer that is attached to the car. The vehicle will start only when the driver first blows into the device, showing that they do not have alcohol in their system. For a first offense, the IID period will be one year; two years for a second offense; and three years for a third offense. The driver must pay for the IID installation in every vehicle they own and every vehicle they use regularly. There is also a monthly monitoring/maintenance fee for each IID.
Administrative Sanctions for Impairment in Connecticut
The Connecticut DMV also suspends the license of any driver convicted of an impairment OUI. However, since these are not per se offenses, no administrative sanctions apply unless and until the driver pleads guilty or is found to be guilty after a criminal trial.
The period of suspension for the impairment OUI is 45 days, the same as for the per se OUI. However, the IID period is longer. For a first offense, the period is one year, but for a second offense, it is three years. The revocation period for a third offense is permanent, but this can be reconsidered after two years, at which time the driver can seek a hearing.
Misdemeanor and Felony OUIs
In Connecticut, like in most other states, less serious crimes are called misdemeanors, which category includes such things as petty theft, loitering and littering. More serious crimes are termed felonies, and these include all the horrific crimes like murder, rape, assault and treason. A misdemeanor is defined in Connecticut as a crime for which the maximum punishment does not exceed a year in jail. A felony is a crime punishable by more than a year in state prison.
In Connecticut, some OUI convictions are misdemeanors and some are felonies. This depends largely on the driving history of the individual and the circumstances of the OUI.
It is noteworthy that, in addition to prison time, anyone convicted of a felony OUI will bear that burden for life. Felons can have a hard time getting housing, have limited employment opportunities, be denied college scholarships, be kept out of college-level athletics, be ineligible for professional licenses, pay more for auto insurance premiums, be denied security clearances, have trouble taking international trips and, in some cases, lose child custody.
First Connecticut OUI Offense
In Connecticut, the punishment for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs depends on the person's prior driving history. A first-time offense is a misdemeanor, while subsequent offenses are felonies.
A first offense OUI is punished in Connecticut by a minimum of 48 hours of jail time or probation with a minimum of 100 hours of community service. The court can sentence the person to up to six months in jail. Fines range from $500 to $1,000. There is also a license suspension and a mandatory period of IID use of one year.
Second Connecticut OUI Offense
Potential jail time and fines go up when a person is facing an OUI with one prior conviction for OUI in their history. Those convicted of a second OUI can get a minimum of 120 days in jail, but might get as much as two years, plus probation afterwards with a minimum of 100 hours of community service. Fines range from $1,000 to $4,000 and the mandatory IID period can be up to three years.
Third Connecticut OUI Offense
Connecticut's laws provide for a permanent license revocation when the driver currently facing an OUI charge has two OUIs in their history. They will get a sentence of between one and three years in state prison, probation with at least 100 community service hours and a fine of between $2,000 and $8,000. There will be no IID period unless and until the permanent revocation of their license is reconsidered by the court.
Alcohol Education Program
Connecticut's alcohol education program (AEP) is one way a person arrested for an OUI can avoid having the crime on their driving record. The AEP is a diversionary treatment program in which a driver can have their charge dismissed if they complete alcohol education classes.
Not everyone can be accepted into this program, which applies only to first offenders. If the driver has not been convicted of an OUI in Connecticut or any other state, and has not been accepted into an AEP program in Connecticut or any other state in the past 10 years, they may qualify. Note that any OUI conviction, even decades ago, is disqualifying. A driver should check with the court in which their case is pending to see if they qualify.
If so, the driver will be ordered to take either 10 or 15 sessions of this substance abuse/educational program and must pay the costs of several hundred dollars or more. A driver who successfully completes the program will have the charge against them dismissed one year from the date that they qualified for the AEP program. If they do not successfully complete the program, the judge may allow them to try again. Alternatively, the court may order them tried for a first-offense OUI.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.