Will I Get a DUI Even if I Only Have One Drink?

A .08 BAC results from several drinks for most people, but Oklahoma law allows authorities to arrest and convict drivers after just one drink.

Although most people do not reach a .08 BAC level until they have had several drinks, under Oklahoma law, it is possible to be arrested for and convicted of DUI after having just one drink. An illegally-high blood alcohol content level is only one way to be convicted of DUI in Oklahoma. Drivers are legally intoxicated if they have any amount of a Schedule I substance (such as heroin or cocaine) in their bodies or if they are impaired due to alcohol, any drug, or some combination thereof.

The broad nature of this law is bad news for Oklahoma drivers. The good news is that sub-.08 BAC cases are rather difficult to prove in court. That is especially true given the high burden of proof, which is beyond any reasonable doubt. So, if you only had one drink and face DUI charges, a Ponca City criminal defense attorney can probably help.

Oklahoma’s BAC Levels

The BAC limit is usually .08, but that is not always the case. Oklahoma has a “zero tolerance” law for minors. If drivers are under 21 and they have any amount of alcohol in their systems, even wine from communion, they could be arrested and convicted.

More importantly, Oklahoma law contains some rather unique sub-.08 presumptions. A BAC below .05 does not indicate intoxication. Significantly, this BAC level does not legally indicate sobriety, either. So, officers can still arrest such people, but without a presumption of impairment, these cases are quite difficult to prove.

If the driver’s BAC was between .05 and .79, that level is basically a rebuttable presumption of intoxication. Any additional evidence could be enough to establish intoxication as a matter of law.

The field tests, which are discussed below, mean a lot in sub-.08 cases. In court, officers always testify that the defendant “failed” the tests. In non-presumption cases, jurors might overlook technical failures, such as lifting a leg at slightly the wrong angle. In a presumption case, such tick-tack failures might be enough to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Circumstantial Evidence

Oklahoma has a per se DUI law. A BAC level above the legal limit establishes intoxication as a matter of law. The extent of impairment, or the lack thereof, is irrelevant. However, in other cases, Kay County prosecutors normally must use circumstantial evidence from the DUI field tests.

Some officers have defendants perform unapproved tests, like Rhomberg’s balance test. This is the closed eyes, head back, and arms extended balance test. These test results might only be admissible for limited purposes.

The following three tests carry more weight with a judge and/or jury, because the National Traffic Safety Administration has endorsed them:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The DUI eye test looks for evidence of nystagmus, a condition also known as lazy eye. The test itself is fairly accurate. But alcohol is not the only cause of nystagmus. In fact, it’s not even the leading cause. So, even though it is an approved test, some Kay County judges only admit HGN results in limited situations.
  • One Leg Stand: As mentioned, many officers claim defendants failed this test because of rather meaningless technicalities. 
  • Walk and Turn: People with any mobility impairments cannot complete the WAT, which is also known as the heel-to-toe walk, whether they are drunk or sober. Improper footwear, such as flip-flops or cowboy boots, also affects this test. Finally, it is much easier to walk an actual line, like a parking lot stripe, than an imaginary line.

At the scene and at the stationhouse, defendants have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests. This refusal will probably result in an arrest, but it also deprives the state of evidence to use at trial.

Contact a Tenacious Attorney

In Oklahoma, one drink may be enough to cause a DUI conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Ponca City, contact Boettcher, Devinney, Ingle & Wicker. Convenient payment plans are available.

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