DUI Charges Below the “Legal Limit”

By Mary Ann


Recently, a visitor to the site asked how it was possible to be arrested and charged with a DUI with a blood alcohol content reading far below the “legal limit”.

Specific DUI laws vary from state to state, but there are at least two possible reasons that someone could be charged with a DUI despite a blood alcohol content of less than .08%.

One is that the driver might be under the age of 21. In many states, the “legal limit” for a driver under the age of 21 is significantly lower than .08%.

FACT: Sometimes Just Having ANY Alcohol in Your System Can Lead to an Arrest

In fact, in some states any trace of alcohol is sufficient to convict an underage drinker of driving under the influence.

Another possibility is that the driver had a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading somewhat lower than .08%, but also showed signs of impairment. The “legal limit” is simply the number above which a driver is automatically guilty of driving under the influence (or some related statute) without any other evidence.

However, many states also allow for a DUI offense and conviction when a driver has a slightly lower BAC reading but also fails field sobriety tests, drives erratically or otherwise shows signs of being impaired.

If you’ve been arrested for DUI and you were below the legal limit, talk to a lawyer about how you may be able to beat your DUI case.

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12 Responses so far

Why is it that if .08 is the legal limit and my breathilizer test read .08 can I still be chargered with a DWI? There was no driving viloation cause I was at the gate of military base. I’m in the air force, and the new Air Force policy states that each installation will follow state law. Which in my case is Oklahoma. I’m confused with the word legal limit. Doesn’t legal means thats
your within the limits still, .09 is breaking the law. I’m so confused with the .08 is the legal limit. Shouldn’t it say that the legal limit is .07? Please help me understand this .08 is the legal limit better. Thanks!

I can’t answer your specific questions about your situation–there are far too many variables in terms of state-to-state law and military enforcement.
You are correct, though, that “legal limit” is something of a misnomer. While in strictly proper grammar, “legal limit” does seem to refer to the highest allowable level, the term is commonly used to refer to the number at which a person can be charged with DUI regardless of other signs of impairment.
It’s only a common means of referring to that statutory cut-off, though, and not a term used in the statutes themselves (at least, not any that I’m aware of). Statutory language usually says something like, “any person who operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or greater commits…”
“Legal limit” is primarily a layman’s term that’s carried over from the days when that number was different from state to state.

I was given a breathalizer at work and it read .041 and .046. I did have a few drinks the night before but none the day of work. I was taken off safety sensitive duties and my company vehicle was removed pending my completion of a counseling course. If the legal limit is .08, why was I considered drunk and repremanded?

i was pulled over for “careless” driving and given field sobriety tests. i was told i failed the tests (it was cold and icy on the side of a highway), then given a breathalyzier. it registered .0024 and .0022. but the officer insisted on a blood test, saying the breathalyzer wasn’t legal. so, i took the blood test, and, wahla, it was.0023. it cost me $50 to get my car out, then i got a bill from the hospital for the blood test ($140). am i responsible for this bill? what can i do to fight it?

My ghusband was in an accident a couple of nights ago. He was driving too close to a big rig (tailgating on the freeway) Anyhow, his friend cut his hand and my husband blew a point 06 (below legal limit) and was charged with a felony DUI–how can this happen?

On the way home from a wedding reception, I was stopped for a right front headlight out. It had just gone out in route to my girlfriends as both head lights were working before getting on the road. Was given 5 field sobriety tests. Video showed no imbalance, no slurred speech, mental faculties intact. Did not take the breathalyzer, blood was taken.
BAC TURNED OUT TO BE —-” .07 “—-
Legal limit is ” .08 ” pretty much everywhere in the U.S.

I drank on an infrequent basis before the stop and I have not had one drink since that evening which was a year ago.

Last week I was convicted of DWI. $715 in court costs & fines, 20 months probation at $50 a month, classes to attend, 100 hours of community service, and a drivers license surcharge for 3 years at $1,000 per year.

I have always felt our legal system was out of control; at times innocent people convicted and at times the guilty let go. I became a statistic last week and the stigma applied to me as such; someone with a drinking problem. Yea, I guess so.

I was just released after serving 2 1/2 years in prison. I was never given a field sobriety test and my blood test showed a 0.064. 2 hours after my blood test, I was given a urinalysis which showed 0.064. One piece of “evidence” was retrograde extrapolation that somehow put my B.A.C. at 0.144 an hour and a half before my blood test. My urinalysis should have disputed that along with the testimony that I didn’t appear intoxicated. Instead I lost everything and more has been added to my conviction after my trial. There needs to be a series of checks and balances so this does not happen to anyone else.

@Cotnna – If your alcohol level was .041 the after you day, you should get your liver checked out. Normal livers can process 1 drink/ hour. You slept and your liver wasn’t processing it or it is very slow.
@Shawn- their extrapolation was most likely done on an what an average liver will process alchol and not on your specific liver. That could be pretty bogas.

mine .01 and the cop decides its drugs. I don’t take drugs. Blood test clean. The laws need to be changed. Not in AZ.
AZ-Arizona can convict on any alcohol level that isn’t a .00.

In Buck County, Pa., there have been about 2000 DUI convictions within the last year or so according to our local paper. The costs range from $4000 to $10,000 depending on your BAC number and other circumstances. This has turned into a big money maker for local governments, lawyers, judges, alcohol rehab centers,etc. IF not for the enormous profits made from DUI, you would have to wonder if police would bother to enforce these laws like they do. Driving past midnight in this area is a high risk because in my own experience, police stalk and tailgate drivers with high beams in an attempt to distract and cause one to swerve. Then they have a reason to pull you over and do their thing. I really feel as though we are moving into the direction of prohibtion again, with a police state like setting evolving in the USA. This being supported by radical zero tolerance thinkers in our own government. Good advice would be for people to buy quality breathalyser testers and know their number before they drive. It is still legal to drive below a .08.

I live in california and my husband said he took a “deal” with the officers that pulled us over because we had too many kids in the backseat. So instead of us being charged with child indangerment he charged him with a DUI but he was .08 which is considered the legal limit.Should he get an attorney.

This is a huge money maker for the gov. They can charge high fee’s based on what is not socially acceptable.

I was up all nite drinkin, probly only had a bout a case of Budwiser and some shots, the next mornin I accidently hit a mailbox and the cops pulled me over and charge me with drunk driven. How can they do this too me. I even slept a few hours before driven. I need a lawyer so I can sue these cops.