What Percentage of DUI Cases Are Dismissed?

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Driving under the influence is a serious charge that can affect numerous facets of everyday life. It comes as no surprise that many people charged with this crime try to search for options to get it dismissed, but how often does this work? How many cases get dropped, and how many go through? Are there dangers to letting those with DUI charges walk away, or are the numerous cases inflated by an overzealous justice system?

What Is a DUI?

The criminal definition of a DUI defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "1. The act or crime of driving a vehicle while affected by alcohol or drugs; 2. An arrest or conviction for driving under the influence; 3. A person who is arrested for or convicted of driving under the influence".

Charges for driving drunk go back to over a century ago when a London man named George Smith was arrested for driving under the influence in 1897.

The first instance of a US state implementing a DUI law in America was in New York in 1910. California was the next state to follow, and not long after that, additional states began creating their own DUI laws. While the 1910s started the movement of DUI charges, many of these laws were vague, not have a clear definition of drunk driving. Changes would occur in the following decades as vehicles and technology would advance.

There were many differences in how a DUI charge was enforced from its inception to a more modern era. Technology like the breathalyzer was developed in the 1950s, with some precursors showing up as early as the 1930s. The government had the legal drinking age increased from 18 to 21 in the 1970s, and additional serious charges were often lumped together with DUIs.

A DUI is a legal charge brought upon someone caught driving under the influence. Some people may assume that a DUI is a charge given to those only under the influence of alcohol but, you can be charged with a DUI if you operate any motor vehicle under the influence of any drugs that inhibit your driving ability.


At first glance, a DUI and a DWI charge are virtually identical, which is often the case, with definitions of both nearly identical, with the DWI acronym meaning “driving while intoxicated or impaired.” The differences only arise when you look at them on a state-by-state basis. Four other acronyms are used by different states for similar charges, OUI, OWI, OWVI, and DUAC.

Often the differences between all of these charges are minute, with the main distinctions being the states where these charges come from and the terminology used. OUI means operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and OWI means Operating While Intoxicated. States that use OUIs are Maine and Massachusetts, while states like Indiana and Iowa utilize OWIs to charge drivers.

OWVI is an acronym for operating while visibly impaired, while DUAC stands for driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration. These two charges are again nearly indistinguishable, the main difference being the terminology behind them and what states use them.

For example, in South Carolina, DUAC is used to charge drivers with a BAC above 0.08 percent. OWVI charges are used in Michigan if you are visibly impaired by a controlled substance and try to operate a motor vehicle.

The consequences of receiving any of these charges are often similar across the country, with punishments including a monetary fine and suspension of a driving license for an extended period. Certain states have more severe consequences, such as lengthier suspension periods or heftier fines. Upon repeat offenses, all drunken driving charges only grow in their severity.

What Amount of DUI Cases get Dismissed?

A relatively minuscule amount of DUI and other related offenses are dismissed in a court of law. As mentioned above, technology has drastically evolved where it is often near impossible to deny the evidence collected by law enforcement. Body cam footage, breathalyzers, and even on-site sobriety tests to confirm whether or not a driver is impaired can all help cement this charge in a court of law.

DUIs are also a crime not viewed with much sympathy from the voter base, encouraging a judge who may want to pursue reelection to minimize the number of dismissals they give. DUIs are also often considered to have weaker punishments compared to other crimes, as drunk drivers will likely only have to pay a fine and lose access to their driving privileges.

An offender will also have to serve jail time on top of a monetary fee and loss of license privileges.

Like the numerous acronyms used for drunk driving charges, DUI dismissals vary from state to state, with the common theme being how rarely they occur. The likelihood of getting a DUI dismissal is incredibly low, but there are instances where a DUI has to be dismissed.

To start, if an illegal stop was made by an officer, then any DUI charges after the stop are void. This is because traffic officers are required to have a reason to stop a driver. If no reason is there, then it is an illegal stop. Another reason for a DUI dismissal is a poorly administered field sobriety test.

If a poorly administered field sobriety test is conducted, a dismissal can be pursued. This can be due to untrustworthy test results or not meeting police standards

A driver should also be aware of their constitutional rights. If a DUI leads to a violation, dismissal is possible. Officers must follow regulations when making arrests, and if they fail to do so, the charge will have to be dismissed. Finally, if there is a lack of well-documented evidence, the case against the driver is dropped.

All of that noted these instances of DUI dismissals are rare as California prosecutors obtained a 90 percent conviction rate in 2006, meaning that defendants only had a ten percent chance of getting their case dropped. North Carolina had about 21 percent of DWI cases dismissed in the fiscal year of 2013-2014, an abnormally high rate compared to other states across the country.

Simply put, the overall percentage of DUI dismissals in America seems to range from 10 to 20 percent. Multiple states are very strict with their DUI laws, and so are the officers that enforce them. It makes sense that the overall amount of dismissals is so low. This should be the case, as it could help discourage potential drunk drivers and repeat offenders from getting back on the roads while intoxicated.

How To Pursue Dismissing a DUI Case

As evident above, pursuing a DUI dismissal is a difficult and sometimes impossible task. More often than not the best solution is to simply have a lawyer argue for reduced fines and punishment, a far more feasible option than outright dismissal.

However, if there is a case to be made from one of the reasons above (illegal stop, lack of evidence, etc), then dismissal is not an impossibility. If the defendant feels like any of those options apply, they can seek to get the case dropped. This does not mean that the defendants are non-guilty of the charge brought against them, simply that at some point in the process, the case for dismissal became viable.

Should You Worry About DUI Dismissals?

With the small amount of DUI and other types of drunk driving charges dropped, there is very little need to worry about DUI dismissals. Allowing a drunk driver back on the road, free of any consequences, is never a good thing. They will either be charged again or scared straight from driving under the influence.

If you wish to be more proactive about decreasing DUI dismissals, pay attention to local elections and judges. If you feel a judge is too lenient on drunk drivers, it likely would not be difficult to pressure them to be more strict or simply vote them out. If you are worried about the safety of yourself and other drivers due to DUI dismissals, check online to see how your state compares with the rest of the country.

Some states may prove to be more dangerous for drivers because of their comparatively lax DUI laws and the amount of DUI charges they hand out. It is best to stay informed and, if possible, avoid areas with high DUI rates.

The Conclusion on DUI Dismissals

Simply put, DUI dismissals and others of their kind are often rare and seldom occur because the defendant was non-guilty, as these dismissals come from incompetence in the judicial system and law enforcement. Very little is to be concerned about these dismissals due to their rarity, and thankfully DUI laws seem to only grow stricter over time, helping keep the roads clear.

If there is a violation of a driver's rights in the process of a DUI stop or a lack of sufficient evidence, then it is understandable why a dismissal must occur. While this may mean a dangerous driver may walk away, it is better not to infringe on the rights of the citizens, and we can rest assured that it is at least not a common occurrence.


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