Connecticut prohibits operating a vehicle while under the influence (OWI) of drugs or alcohol. (Some people also refer to the offense as "driving under the influence" or "DUI.")
But at what point does alcohol consumption amount to being under the influence? And does "operation" require actual movement of the vehicle? This article outlines how these terms are defined, the requirements for a conviction, and the possible penalties an offender might face for an arrest or a conviction.
To convict a driver of OWI in court, prosecutors must prove the driver was operating a vehicle:
In other words, an OWI conviction can be based on BAC or alcohol impairment.
While most OWI violations involve a moving vehicle and a traffic stop, neither of these elements are essential to a conviction. Even if the offender is sitting in a stationary vehicle, he or she can still be considered "operating" and be guilty of OWI.
Connecticut courts have held "operation" to include any intentional act or use of any mechanical or electrical agency that alone or in sequence will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle. In other words, actual movement of the vehicle isn't required.
Under Connecticut law, any driver who lacks—to an appreciable degree—the ability to properly operate a vehicle due to drugs or alcohol is "under the influence." In court, the investigating officer may testify as to the driver's physical impairments like stumbling or unsteadiness. And an expert witness can be used to explain how certain drugs can affect a driver's mental abilities.
Connecticut prohibits driving under the influence of any drug, including prescription medication. Holding a physician's prescription for an intoxicating substance is not a defense to intoxicated driving.
The penalties for an OWI conviction generally vary based on the number of prior convictions the driver has in the last ten years.
The chart below outlines the range of jail time and fines for a first, second, and third OWI conviction in Connecticut.
48 hours to 6 months
120 days to 2 years
1 to 3 years
$500 to $1,000
$1,000 to $4,000
$2,000 to $8,000
For repeat OWI violations, the driver must complete a drug and alcohol evaluation prior to sentencing. The court will review the evaluation results and can order the offender to complete treatment or other rehabilitation programs.
Completion of the treatment program can also be required for a suspended driver to reinstate driving privileges.
An OWI that involves minor passengers will generally result in increased jail time and a Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigation. The minimum jail requirement for a first-offense OWI, second-offense OWI, and third-offense OWI are increased to 30 days, 180 days, and two years, respectively.
Judges generally place OWI offenders on probation as part of the sentence. While on probation, offenders must comply with certain requirements (such as treatment and maintaining sobriety). Failure to comply can result in additional jail time.
Generally, offenders must serve the minimum required jail penalty before being placed on probation.
For OWI convictions, the judge can order up to 100 hours of community service as part of the sentence. For first-offense OWIs, this 100 hours can replace the mandatory 48-hour jail sentence. For a second or subsequent offense, the 100 hours of community service is mandatory as part of probation.
Victim impact panels are meetings where people who have been injured or lost loved ones due to impaired driving can talk about the dangers of OWI. The judge can order attendance at a victim impact panel as part of an OWI sentence.
Under Connecticut statutes, a felony is simply any conviction that results in at least a year in jail. So, depending on the amount of jail time imposed, a second or subsequent OWI conviction can be a felony.
Impaired driving can result in a separate felony charge if it resulted in the loss of life. An OWI that causes a fatality can be charged as second-degree manslaughter, which carries one to ten years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines, and a one-year license suspension, followed by a two-year IID (ignition interlock device) restriction.
An OWI will typically lead to license-related penalties. These penalties vary depending on the number of prior OWI-related incidents (qualifying priors include OWI convictions and test refusals) within the last ten years as well as the driver's cooperation with testing.
License-related penalties can result from an OWI arrest and/or conviction.
Connecticut's "implied consent" law generally requires all drivers who are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to submit to breath, blood, or urine testing when requested to do so by an officer. If the officer suspects a driver of drug use, the officer may also request a "nontestimonial drug influence evaluation." This evaluation consists of a series of observational tests that help the officer determine if the driver has consumed drugs.
When a driver refuses to take a chemical test or the nontestimonial drug influence evaluation as required by the implied consent law, the officer will seize the driver's license, which will automatically be suspended for 45 days. Following the suspension period, the driver will be required to install an IID for a certain period of time. The IID requirement will be for:
Also, prosecutors can use the fact that a driver refused testing in court while trying to prove an OWI charge.
If a driver submits to testing and produces a BAC that's at least .08% or if the nontestimonial drug influence evaluation shows drug use, the officer will seize the driver's license, which will be automatically suspended for 45 days. Following the suspension, the driver must have an IID for:
A test result showing drugs or excessive alcohol will likely be used in court to prove the impairment of the driver.
All OWI convictions result in driver's license suspension. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend the driver's license for a first or second offense OWI for 45 days. However, a third or subsequent OWI conviction will result in total license revocation.
After the suspension, the convicted driver will generally be required to have an IID for one year for a first offense and three years for a second offense.
Drivers subject to both criminal and administrative suspensions are only required to complete the longer of the two. In other words, a test failure suspension won't stack with an OWI conviction suspension.
Suspended and revoked drivers can generally apply to the DMV to reduce the suspension period. The granting of a reduced suspension is generally conditioned on the installation of an IID.
A driver whose license was revoked for a third or subsequent OWI can apply for reinstatement after two years of revocation. If approved, reinstatement requires a series of treatment requirements and an IID for at least 15 years.
In Connecticut, drivers who are under 21 years of age are prohibited from driving with a BAC of .02% or more. Drivers who are caught violating this rule will face both criminal and administrative penalties.
A driver convicted of UUD can face the same criminal penalties as a standard OWI, including jail, fines, probation, and treatment requirements.
Just as with an OWI chemical test request, an underage driver arrested for UUD will generally be asked to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. An unlawful refusal or a BAC test result of .02% or more will result in license-related penalties.
For a test failure, the driver's license will be suspended for 45 days followed by an IID requirement of one year for a first offense, two years for a second offense, and three years for a third offense. A test refusal will be penalized as a standard test refusal.
Drivers facing a first-offense OWI or UUD can possibly get the charges dismissed by completing the state's Pretrial Impaired Driving Intervention Program.
This program generally requires the payment of fines, completion of treatment, sobriety monitoring, and attendance at a victim impact panel. But drivers who complete the program can get the OWI charges completely dismissed and sealed.
While some states allow OWI charges to be dismissed or pleaded down, Connecticut prohibits the dismissal or reduction of an OWI charge without an evidentiary basis. If you've been arrested for driving while under the influence in Connecticut, you should get in contact with a qualified OWI attorney in your area. An experienced OWI lawyer can help you understand how the law applies in your case and advise you on how best to handle your situation.