It's illegal to operate a motor vehicle in Connecticut while "under the influence" of drugs or alcohol or with an "elevated" blood alcohol content (BAC). Operating "under the influence" means that the operator's ability to drive is "affected to an appreciable degree." An "elevated" BAC is .08% or higher for drivers 21 and over and .02% for operators under age 21.
An arrest for operating under the influence (OUI), sometimes called "DUI," triggers two separate proceedings. The driver will typically be prosecuted in criminal court ("criminal proceedings"), and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will start "administrative proceedings" that can lead to license suspension and an ignition interlock device (IID) restriction.
The criminal and DMV penalties increase in severity if a driver has prior OUI arrests and/or convictions. This article, however, focuses solely on the penalties for a first offense.
"Criminal penalties" are those imposed by a judge in court. Generally, a first OUI carries:
However, this summary doesn't tell the whole story. Here are more of the details.
Misdemeanor. In Connecticut, an OUI is a crime—a misdemeanor, to be specific.
Prison. A typical first-offense conviction includes a six-month prison sentence. However, in most cases, the defendant doesn't actually spend six months in prison: The sentencing judge usually "suspends" the majority of the prison time. There's a mandatory minimum of 48 hours in jail that the judge can't suspend. But the law gives the driver the option of performing 100 hours of community service in lieu of serving 48 hours in jail. Most drivers opt for the community service alternative.
Fines. Most first-offense OUIs resolve with the minimum $500 fine. However, on top of the fine, there are court costs. These costs are presently less than $100, but periodically go up as the legislature looks for ways to raise revenue. (However, the actual costs of a first DUI can be quite a bit more.)
License suspension & IIDs. As stated above, the criminal penalties include a license suspension of 45 days and an IID mandate. The driver must pay $175 to restore the license after the 45 day period. Additionally, the driver must pay a $100 IID processing fee. IIDs must be leased, another monthly fee, and installed in every car the individual drives. Each month, the driver must bring the IID to a service location to be tested. Fortunately, this testing is covered under the monthly lease fee.
Probation. The sentencing judge has the discretion to establish the length of the offender's probation. But one should expect a 12-to-24-month term. The automatic, undisclosed probation fee is $200.
The judge can and will impose numerous conditions of probation. For example, the judge must refer all offenders for an alcohol and drug abuse evaluation and possible treatment. The sentencing court also has the authority to impose additional conditions—such as community service—and usually does. An offender who violates terms of probation runs the risk of having to serve all or a portion of the 6-month "suspended" prison sentence.
An OUI arrest—even without a conviction in court—can lead to administrative consequences imposed by the DMV. These consequences include a 45-day license suspension followed by a six-month IID requirement. If the offender was under 21 at the time of the offense, the IID mandate runs a full year. And drivers who refuse to submit to BAC testing in violation of Connecticut's "implied consent law" must have an IID for a year, regardless of driver age.
You may have noticed that the criminal and administrative penalties include license suspension and IID restrictions. Fortunately for OUI offenders, the DMV doesn't run the criminal and administrative suspensions periods consecutively. The periods are permitted to overlap but it's the longer of the terms that controls. Also, if the driver has successfully served the DMV-imposed 45-day suspension and paid for IID installation, the DMV won't require a second 45-day suspension once notice of the court conviction reaches the DMV.