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Overview of Alabama's Current Driving Under the Influence Law

Posted by Erik Fine | Apr 03, 2020 | 0 Comments

     The purpose of this blog is to give the reader a brief overview and basic understanding of what the DUI laws in Alabama are currently.  As all criminal statutes in any state, the details and specific requirements of the written law are subject to change in the state legislature.  The information contained in this particular blog is in no way intended to give the reader a complete and detailed understanding of Alabama's DUI laws.  Defending DUI cases in Alabama requires a high degree of understanding and experience in navigating all of the "ins and outs" of the DUI law and cannot be thoroughly and effectively explained in a simple blog post.

     Alabama's DUI statute, Section 32-5A-191(a), codifies five (5) separate and specific types of Driving Under the Influence circumstances.  The prosecution must be specific under which particular subsection of the code they are prosecuting.  Each separate codified type of DUI has specific circumstances that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Alabama's DUI stature reads as follows:

32-5A-191(a) states "A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle while:"

(a)(1)   There is 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in his or her blood;

(a)(2)   Under the influence of alcohol;

(a)(3)   Under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving;

(a)(4)   Under the combined influence of alcohol and a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving; or

(a)(5)   Under the influence of any substance which impairs the mental or physical faculties of such person to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving.

     It is the burden and responsibility of the prosecutor to specify under which subsection of the DUI code that they will prosecute the case.  It goes without saying that the arresting police officer has the responsibility of charging the accused under the proper and correct subsection at the time of the arrest.  However, the prosecutor can actually change the subsection of the DUI code that the officer has charged the accused under and proceed with prosecuting the case as long as certain procedural statutory and constitutional provisions are met.  This is an area where an experienced DUI legal practitioner can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.

32-5A-191(a)(1)

     When a defendant is arrested and charged under this section of the Alabama DUI code, the prosecutor has two factors that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to successfully convict.  The prosecutor must first show that a person was in actual physical control of a vehicle.  The second factor that the prosecutor must prove is that at the time of the offense, the driver had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.08g/210L or greater.  Under this section of the DUI code, the state DOES NOT have to prove that the driver was operating his or her vehicle in a dangerous or reckless manner.  The law is broke by being in actual physical control of a vehicle while the driver has a BAC of 0.08 or greater.  The typical DUI Detection and Driver's License Checkpoint is the most common scenario for this type of DUI charge.

32-5A-191(a)(2)

     DUI charges under this section are reserved for driving under the influence of alcohol and alcohol only.  First, the prosecutor must prove that the accused was in actual physical control of a vehicle.  Second, that the accused was too impaired by alcohol to operate his vehicle in a safe manner.  In these types of DUI violations, results of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and the actual probable cause for the traffic stop are fertile areas for an experienced DUI defense lawyer to attack at trial.

32-5A-191(a)(3)

     A person charged under this subsection of the DUI law in Alabama is being accused of being under the influence of a controlled substance to the degree that he or she is not capable of driving their vehicle in a safe manner.  A prosecutor must prove that the defendant was in actual physical control of a vehicle, and was under the influence of a controlled substance to the degree that he or she wasn't able to drive in a safe manner.  Again, the interpretation of the SFSTs and the toxicology results will be the battlefield where the case will most likely be won or lost.

32-5A-191(a)(4)

     Individuals arrested under this provision of the DUI law in Alabama are accused of operating a vehicle under the combined influence of a controlled substance AND alcohol.  Again, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was in actual physical control of a vehicle and was under the influence of a controlled substance AND alcohol to the degree that he or she was incapable to safely operate their vehicle.  Not surprisingly, the probable cause for the traffic stop, the interpretation of the SFSTs and all toxicology reports will be where this kind of case will ultimately be decided. 

32-5A-191(a)(5)

     People charged under this provision of the DUI code are accused of driving under the influence of "some other impairing substance" not specified in the code.  This is akin to a "catch all" provision of Alabama's DUI law.  It means that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was in actual physical control of a vehicle and that he or she was under the influence of some substance, other than a controlled substance or alcohol, to the degree rendering him or her incapable of safely operating the vehicle.  Think of this as the "Robitussin DUI."  One need not be a lawyer to see the pitfalls, hazards and difficulties of proving such a case.       

Click here to read a blog I wrote about Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

About the Author

Erik Fine

Attorney Erik D. Fine, A.A., B.S., J.D. Mr. Fine, an Alabama native, is a graduate of Mountain Brook Public Schools. He received an athletic scholarship to play baseball at Kansas City Kansas Community College from which he graduated with an Associates Degree in Law Enforcement in 1989. It was i...

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