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DUI in Alabama

What is a DUI in Alabama?

‘DUI’ is an acronym used to refer to the criminal offense of driving under the influence in Alabama. It is the crime of operating a motor vehicle after consuming an illegal amount of alcohol or other inebriating substances. Alabama's DUI laws are compiled under Section 191 of the Alabama Rules of the Road Act; Title 32, Chapter 5A of the Code of Alabama.

Motorists who exceed the recommended alcohol levels in Alabama can be arrested and prosecuted by the state's judicial system. Records of all DUI charges are included in the offender’s Alabama Criminal Record as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Offenders are charged with a felony if their crime leads to fatalities or if they are repeat offenders. Also, the offense is considered more severe if a minor was a passenger or the offender's blood alcohol content exceeded a particular limit.

A DUI conviction in Alabama can result in imprisonment, hefty fines, probation, the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), substance abuse treatment, and others. Furthermore, the motorist may be subject to administrative license actions from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), such as losing driving privileges and payment of license reinstatement fees. Other possible repercussions of a DUI in Alabama include high auto insurance premiums, loss of insurance coverages, and difficulty finding employment.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Alabama?

DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while impaired or intoxicated) are two legal terms for drunk driving in the United States. While some states use "DUI" to refer to traffic offenses involving drunk drivers in their jurisdictions, others favor the "DWI" moniker for describing traffic violations where the driver was intoxicated by drugs, alcohol, other controlled substances, or otherwise impaired (e.g., drowsy). Still, a few states use both acronyms, with DWI charges having the more significant penalties.

However, people caught drunk driving in Alabama are liable to DUI charges alone. The state does not refer to an intoxicated driving offense as a DWI.

Alabama DUI Laws

Alabama's DUI laws are outlined in Title 32, Chapter 5A, Article 9 of the Code of Alabama. According to the law, Motorists are charged with a DUI if found operating a vehicle while intoxicated to a certain level. However, road users do not have to be driving to be guilty of a DUI offense in the state. Being in "actual physical control" of a vehicle (i.e., in the driver's seat but not driving) can result in a DUI arrest and criminal prosecution. "Vehicle" in this context is not limited to motor vehicles but includes water skis, aquaplanes, and other marine vessels.

Per Section 32-5A-191, it is a crime to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle in Alabama while:

  • Having the following blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels:
    • 0.08% or more for age 21+ non-commercial drivers.
    • 0.02% or more for persons under 21 years of age.
    • 0.02% or more for daycare and school bus drivers.
    • 0.04% or more for commercial drivers.
  • Under the influence of alcohol.
  • Intoxicated by a controlled substance that makes a person unable to drive safely.
  • Under the combined influence of a controlled substance and alcohol, so much so that the intoxicated person cannot drive safely; or
  • Intoxicated by a substance that impairs one's physical or mental faculties and makes safe driving impossible.

In Alabama, the courts and the Department of Public Safety (DPS), an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) division, penalize motorists who violate the DUI laws. The state trial courts handle criminal punishment, while the ALEA is concerned with administrative penalties.

DUI Penalties in Alabama

In Alabama, a DUI is a serious traffic offense that attracts equally severe penalties for offenders. The state has no tolerance for persons who compromise their motor skills or mental capabilities while operating a vehicle.

Anyone pulled over for drunk or impaired driving in Alabama will be required to submit to a scientific test to evaluate their sobriety level. This can be a blood, urine, or breath test. Other than testing a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels, law enforcement can also determine a person's ability to be in control of a vehicle based on observation (e.g., by signs of slurred speech, red eyes, fumbling, erratic driving) or using field sobriety tests.

The penalties for a DUI arrest or conviction are often severe. However, the severity of the punishment varies based on the circumstances of the case. If it is the offender's second or third offense or if aggravating factors (death, personal injury) exist, the courts and ALEA will augment sentences and sanctions.

Alabama's DUI penalties are outlined in Section 32-5A-191 of the state's code and include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Fines
  • Evaluation and treatment for substance abuse
  • Probation
  • Driver's license suspension or revocation of driving privileges
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Community service

Refusing to take or provide a blood, breath, or urine test at the request of law enforcement may lead to arrest or further legal consequences. However, in Alabama, a motorist may opt to decline a roadside test (also called a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test) to avoid civil or criminal penalties. This does not apply to people who refuse an official test at the police station. In that scenario, the unwilling party's license can be suspended.

It should be noted that Alabama has implied consent laws. Anyone who operates a vehicle in the state is deemed to have given consent to a blood, urine, or breath test to check their blood alcohol content. Therefore, failing to comply when asked to take or provide such a test is no trivial matter.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Alabama?

Alabama does not refer to drunk/impaired driving offenses as DWIs (driving while intoxicated). Instead, the state uses the DUI (driving under the influence) acronym.

Following a DUI offense, an individual will possibly be detained until sober and taken to court. Upon a conviction, such a person may be subject to enormous fines, jail time, license suspensions, community service, and other penalties mentioned in the previous sections. As such, it is preferable that one hires a lawyer to defend against such charges or, if guilty, negotiate a plea bargain.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Alabama?

In Alabama, a first DUI offense does not mean that it is someone's first-ever drunk driving violation. The state has a lookback period of 10 years. Therefore, a person is charged with a first DUI offense if they had no other DUI convictions within ten years.

Any person caught driving while drunk or influenced by drugs for the first time in Alabama will be arrested, detained at a police station, and asked to take a chemical test to determine their blood-alcohol (BAC) levels. This test can be done at the station or a hospital. Refusing to take this test attracts administrative penalties from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), such as:

  • A 12-month driver's license suspension, and
  • An extra year added to the duration that a person needs to keep an ignition interlock device in their vehicle (Ala. Code § 32-5A-191(t)(2))

After the chemical test for intoxication, the offender becomes subject to the court's jurisdiction. The individual will be required to attend an arraignment hearing, where the party's rights and charges will be explained, and a plea will be entered. Other subsequent court processes include a preliminary hearing to determine if enough evidence exists to proceed to trial, pre-trial motions, plea deals, and the trial.

If convicted of a DUI offense, a person will be subject to the penalties below. These penalties may differ with the offender's age.

DUI offenders 21 years old or higher:

For such persons, a first DUI conviction in Alabama is penalized with:

  • Imprisonment in a municipal or county jail for a year or less.
  • A fine not less than $600 or more than $2,100.
  • Both a fine and prison sentence.
  • Mandatory DUI or substance abuse program.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) shall also suspend the offender's driving privileges or driver's license for 90 days (1 year if the offender is a daycare or school bus driver). ALEA will stay the 90-day license suspension period if the offender agrees to install an approved ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle for 90 days. Persons who elect for an IID must submit proof of the installation to ALEA to receive an ignition interlock restricted driver license.

However, ALEA will impose both a 90-day driver's license suspension and require the installation of an IID for one year, if:

  • The individual refused to provide a blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
  • A child below 14 years of age was a passenger in the vehicle when the offense occurred.
  • Someone other than the driver was injured.
  • The individual had a BAC of at least .15% or more at the time of the offense.

The agency will stay this 90-day suspension period if the offender submits proof that they installed the mandatory ignition interlock.

Regardless of whether an IID installation is voluntary or mandatory for a first DUI offense, ALEA can reduce the duration of one's driver's license suspension, provided the person completes the period in which they are expected to have a functional IID in their vehicle.

Typically, license suspensions imposed by the ALEA take effect 45 days from a person's arrest. The arrested person has ten days to request an administrative hearing to review the pending suspension. Any license suspension period runs alongside the ensuing criminal prosecution.

Underage DUI offenders (Below 21)

An individual under 18 who violates the DUI laws of Alabama (operating a vehicle with a BAC between .02 and .08) will incur an automatic license suspension for 30 days. The individual will also be required to participate in a DUI or substance abuse program.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in Alabama?

A second DUI conviction in Alabama comes with increased penalties:

  • A fine not less than $1,100 or above $5,100.
  • Imprisonment in a county or municipal jail for a year or less (and it may include hard labor). Also, the jail sentence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of not less than five days or community service for at least 30 days. The jail minimum sentence is not subject to probation or suspension.
  • Revocation of a driver's license for a year.
  • Ignition interlock for 2 years.
  • Mandatory DUI or substance abuse program.

What Happens After a Third DUI in Alabama?

Upon a third conviction for a DUI in Alabama, an individual will face the following penalties:

  • A fine not less than $2,100 or more than $10,100.
  • Incarceration ranging from 60 days to 1 year in county or municipal jail, with a 60-day mandatory minimum sentence.
  • Revocation of a driver's license for 2 years.
  • Ignition interlock for 3 years.
  • Mandatory DUI or substance abuse program.

An individual can also receive a fourth conviction for a DUI in Alabama. However, unlike the first, second, and third DUI convictions which are misdemeanor offenses, a fourth or subsequent conviction is a Class C felony. It is also known as a "Felony DUI".

Persons convicted of a fourth or subsequent DUI offense will incur more stringent penalties, including:

  • A fine not less than $4,100 or more than $10,100.
  • Incarceration for not less than 1 year or more than 10 years. The offender will be confined to county jail if the imposed sentence is not above 3 years and one day.
  • Revocation of a driver's license for 5 years.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for 4 years.
  • Mandatory DUI or substance abuse program.

Enhanced penalties

Note that, regardless of whether it is one's first or subsequent DUI violation, the courts can double the minimum penalty that a person would have received with a blood-alcohol level less than .15%. This can happen if the offender's blood alcohol content was.15% or higher or if a child under 14 was a passenger in the offender's vehicle.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Alabama?

In Alabama, any conviction resulting from a charge for driving while under the influence of intoxicating substances (DUIs) remains on a person's driving record for the rest of their life. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency does not offer a means to remove these convictions.

DUI Expungement in Alabama

Alabama does not have any expungement provisions for DUI convictions. This type of conviction stays on a person's criminal record forever and can be viewed by any employer, landlord, or interested party.

However, changes to the Alabama State Legislature in 2014 allow certain misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges to be expunged (see Ala. Code §§ 15-27-1 and 15-27-2), if:

  • The charge was dismissed with prejudice.
  • A grand jury no-billed the charge (i.e., the jury concluded that there was a lack of sufficient evidence).
  • The defendant was acquitted.
  • The court dismissed the charge without prejudice some time ago (2 years for a misdemeanor charge and five years for a non-violent felony charge), and the charge was not refiled, nor was the defendant convicted of another criminal offense within the applicable period.

For non-violent felony charges, the following also apply:

  • Ninety days have gone by since the date of dismissal with prejudice, acquittal, nolle prosequi, or no-bill, and the charge has not been refiled.
  • The charge was dismissed after completing a court-approved deferred prosecution course, and over a year has gone by since the completion.

Furthermore, 2020 amendments to the legislature provide for the expungement of felony charges, including violent felony charges, if the defendant was acquitted (Ala. Code § 15-27-2(c)(1)).

Therefore, an individual can file a petition with the circuit court to expunge records relating to a DUI charge if they meet the above criteria. More information on filing this petition, including the petition forms, instructions, and FAQs, can be obtained from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's criminal record expungement webpage.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Alabama?

Extremely likely. The Alabama courts are not lenient with DUI offenders, even if it is their first offense. Per Section 32-5A-191 of the Alabama Code, a first-time DUI offender faces up to a year in county or municipal jail.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in Alabama?

A DUI arrest comes with legal, as well as financial, implications. An offender is likely to pay anywhere between $600 to $10,100+ to cover all or some of the following:

  • Attorney fees
  • Court costs. For example, DUIs in the City of Montgomery amount to $210 in court costs. Meanwhile, a DUI offender in the City of Hoover will spend $662 to $1,412 on municipal court proceedings for a misdemeanor charge.
  • License revocation costs (e.g., installation of an ignition interlock, public transportation costs)
  • Driver's license reinstatement costs
  • High auto insurance premiums
  • Bail costs
  • Towing and impound costs
  • Alcohol education program costs
  • Lost wages

For this reason, there is no fixed amount that a person can budget to spend for a DUI, nor is it easy to calculate an average in Alabama as it varies on a case-to-case basis — the overall sum reaching several thousands of dollars.

The general rule is that the more DUI convictions a person accumulates, the more the individual will have to spend to resolve the case.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in Alabama?

Any person arrested for a DUI in Alabama may be required to post bail to leave jail. However, not all DUI offenders are required to post bail to be released. Some offenders can be released on personal recognizance (also known as an OR bond). This means that they will sign a piece of paper promising that they will show up for their court date.

The amount of bail payable by a DUI offender differs by the county or city where the offense took place and the severity of the charges (if aggravating factors such as injury, death, or high BAC levels exist). But generally, if bail is required, a person can expect to pay some hundreds of dollars.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in Alabama?

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) can suspend or revoke a driver's license because of a DUI offense. This license suspension period is calculated based on whether it is someone's first or subsequent offense and by their age:

  • For a first offense committed by a person of at least 21 years old: 90 days
  • For a first offense committed by a daycare or school bus driver: 1 year
  • For a first offense committed by a person under 21: 30 days
  • For a second offense: 1 year
  • For a third offense: 2 years
  • For a fourth or subsequent offense: 5 years

Until the suspension or revocation period expires, an individual cannot get back their license after a DUI, nor can they apply for a hardship driver license as such DUI offenders are ineligible. In some cases (mostly first DUI offenses), the offender can choose to install an ignition interlock device, and after using the device for a certain period, ALEA may cancel the suspension term.

Once the suspension or revocation period is complete, the offender can submit a form to find out the requirements for reinstating their license: This form should be sent by mail to:

Driver License Division
P.O. Box 1471
Montgomery, AL 36102-1471

Note that there is a $275 fee to reinstate a suspended or revoked license. The applicant may also be required to pay an extra $25 for a drug-related offense.

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Alabama?

Other than the legal repercussions and administrative license actions that DUI offenders in Alabama endure, an offender will still incur the following:

  • High auto insurance rates.
  • Hardship in getting a job or school admission.
  • Day-to-day transportation costs if one's license was suspended or revoked.
  • Difficulty entering another country for vacation or work.
  • Loss of professional license.
  • Ineligibility for military service.

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in Alabama?

Most likely. Unless a criminal record holder qualifies for expunction, DUIs appear on criminal background checks and remain on criminal records forever in Alabama. The unfortunate implication is that any employer can review a potential employee's criminal record for a DUI conviction. This may cause past DUI offenders to be disqualified from the employment screening process, especially if their offense may impact any of the job requirements or work performance. For example, if the position is for:

  • A commercial truck driver
  • A pilot
  • A teacher
  • A medical professional
  • A licensed security broker
  • Other driving-related positions or those that require the use of heavy machinery.

Furthermore, the Alabama State Legislature does not prohibit employers from terminating a person's employment because of a DUI offense. Therefore, employers in Alabama are well within their rights to fire someone for a DUI, whether it relates to the person's job or not.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Alabama?

According to the 2019 report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,142 people lost their lives in 2019 due to drunk-driving crashes. Several US states (38 of them and the District of Columbia) establish DUI checkpoints within their jurisdictions to combat these fatalities.

In Alabama, a DUI or sobriety checkpoint is a law enforcement tool used to deter impaired driving habits that endanger public safety and ensure that motorists comply with the state's road safety laws. By setting up such roadblocks on highways or roads, the police can temporarily, but legally, detain a driver to determine if they are intoxicated past the legal limits, and check their license, registration, and proof of insurance.

Alabama law enforcement agencies set up DUI checkpoints throughout the year, and the law does not limit where and when these DUI checkpoints can be held. It may be possible to find hotspots for DUI checkpoints in a county or city from local news reports or find those details on a county or city's official website.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

The legal terms "DUI" and "DWI" refer to offenses that involve operating a vehicle (including a boat and airplane) while under the influence of impairing substances. In jurisdictions where both acronyms are used, one can be used in place of the other or used to differentiate between the penalties an individual can incur for drunk or impaired driving. Usually, in those regions, a DWI is the more severe offense.

In Alabama, there are no such distinctions. Traffic offenses where an individual drove or operated a vehicle after consuming illegal amounts of alcohol or other impairing substances are known as DUIs. Rather than creating a DWI statute, the state imposes criminal and administrative penalties on offenders according to the number of convictions obtained and the severity of an offense. This way, people with more than one conviction or whose crimes led to fatalities or serious injuries incur harsher penalties.