Summary of Kentucky DUI Law.
This summary of Kentucky law pertains to the criminal offense of Driving Under the Influence or DUI.
Motorists in Kentucky can be charged with five different DUI violations. Kentucky’s different types of DUI are:
(1) operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol;
(2) operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration;
(3) operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of any other substance which impairs driving ability;
(4) operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of a combination of alcohol any substance which impairs driving ability; and
(5) if under 21 years of age and operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration.
The Kentucky DUI laws cover operating or physical control of a motor vehicle “anywhere” in the state, which includes private property.
“UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL”
Before 1986, to get a DUI conviction in Kentucky a prosecutor only had to prove a motorist was “under the influence of alcohol.” This type of case is pursued even if no drug or alcohol content test result exists from a blood, breath or urine test. Most cases in which a suspected impaired driver refuses a chemical test of his or her blood, breath or urine are prosecuted as “under the influence” cases.
Cases in which the driver does not test above the legal limit can be prosecuted as “under the influence” cases. Whenever a driver has taken a blood, breath, or urine test, the prosecutor may attempt to introduce the result. To “help” the prosecutor prove “under the influence” driving, the legislature permits a prosecutor to benefit from certain presumptions about any alcohol concentration if proven in court. Motorists who have an alcohol concentration of less than 0.05 are presumed NOT under the influence of alcohol. There is no presumption one way or the other if a person’s alcohol concentration is 0.05 and above but less than 0.08. However, the prosecutor can attempt to refute the “presumption” by other proof (e.g., a collision, atrocious driving, disregard for the safety of others, slurred speech, etc.).
What is the definition of “under the influence?” In Kentucky, the Judge, prosecutor and defense attorney cannot define “under the influence” to a jury. Kentucky appeals courts have ruled jurors do not need the definition. Jurors, the appeals courts reason, are smart enough to figure it out.
“PER SE” DUI
In the mid-1980s, political action groups determined “under the influence” wasn’t good enough because juries were still acquitting defendants charged with DUI. These groups influenced the legislature to pass what they thought were more stringent DUI laws. Because there are few active groups advocating sanity in criminal laws and no elected official wants to appear “soft” on crime, the political action groups seized the issue.
Thus, illegal alcohol content laws were passed. This law is also known as the “per se” DUI offense. It would be more accurate to call this driving with an unlawful blood, breath or urine alcohol level. To prove this type of DUI, the prosecution need not prove any unsafe driving or “under the influence” condition. The offense is committed simply by having an unlawful alcohol concentration level and “operating” or being in physical control of a motor vehicle.
Effective October 1, 2000, the prohibited “alcohol concentration” for persons 21-years-old or older is 0.08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath or 100 milliliters of blood. For persons under age 21 at the time of the arrest, the “per se” limit is only 0.02 grams.
When there is a blood, breath or urine test result “in evidence” there are two separate ways the prosecution may seek to prove a DUI case: (1) by proving “under the influence,” utilizing the test result, if any, (and the presumptions discussed above) or proceeding on other evidence in the case, such as divided-attention exercises, smell of alcohol, etc., or (2) by proving the person was driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration. This method of proving DUI-alcohol requires a blood, breath or urine test. In refusal cases, the prosecution usually can only pursue and prove an “under the influence” DUI-alcohol case since no chemical test result is available to prove the alcohol concentration. Despite the fact that persons under arrest for DUI may refuse to take a chemical test of their blood, breath or urine for many reasons other than fear of failure, Kentucky courts have ruled the act of refusal, for whatever reason, is admissible in court.
DUI-“Other substance or combination of substances”
You can be prosecuted for a DUI involving drugs even where a physician prescribes the drugs. Generally, these cases often involve “other” substances (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.) in the driver’s blood system. The prosecutor is required to prove impairment caused by the drugs in your system. Mere proof of the presence of a substance or its metabolites is not sufficient to render a conviction.
Legal Limits of Alcohol
An alcohol content reading of 0.02 or higher is the level for per se (legally DUI) intoxication for persons under the age of 2l at the time of the arrest that is accused of violating the DUI law. This means if you are under 21 years of age and submitted to law enforcement’s test and the result was 0.02 or higher, you may be accused of driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration, plus be accused of DUI “under the influence” based on other evidence (including manifestations of impairment, driving conduct, or other evidence).
An alcohol concentration reading of 0.04 or higher is the level for per se (legally DUI) intoxication for persons accused that were stopped while operating a commercial vehicle. This means that if you submitted to law enforcement’s test and the result was 0.04 or higher, you may be accused of driving a commercial vehicle while having an unlawful blood alcohol level. If a driver is stopped in a commercial vehicle and the prosecution’s test reveals ANY alcohol, a 24-hour out-of-service order will be issued.
An alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more is the level for per se (legally DUI) intoxication for persons who are age 21 and older and accused of violating Kentucky laws. This means if you submit to testing and yield a result over .079, you will be accused of driving with an unlawful blood alcohol concentration. No evidence of bad driving or visible signs or manifestations of impairment is REQUIRED to obtain a conviction for this type of DUI.
Other than the two methods of proving DUI-alcohol for the various “types” of vehicles or drivers, Kentucky law also provides for prosecution of other types of “impaired” driving. A person can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of (1) any other substance or combination of substances which impairs one’s driving ability (prescribed or non-prescribed) and (2) the combination of alcohol and any other substance which impairs one’s driving ability. Depending on the type of evidence available (i.e., from a blood or urine test), a prosecutor can proceed on any or all of these “types” of DUI.
“Repeat offender” status for DUI cases is determined in Kentucky based upon a ten-year “lookback” period. This status is used for purposes of increased mandatory minimum punishment. This “lookback” period has nothing to do with how long a DUI remains on your record. Whenever the 10-year “lookback” period is discussed, the method of counting is from THE DATE OF ARREST for the previous DUI offense (not the disposition or plea date) to the DATE OF ARREST in the current case to determine if more than ten years have expired.
The counting of “first”, “second”, offense etc., relates to the number of offenses within the 10-year “look-back” period. This determines the minimum punishment that must be assessed if a guilty verdict or plea is entered.
DUI First Offense
Fine: $200.00-$500.00 (plus a statutory service fee of $325.00 and other miscellaneous costs.)
Jail: 48 hours to 30 days. Under Kentucky law for a first offender, either a fine or jail must be assessed, the penalty not assessed can be suspended, probated or subject to conditional discharge or early release. For example, a judge can impose a fine of between $200.00 and $500.00 plus 48 hours in jail and probate or conditionally discharge the jail term.
Community Service: In lieu of a fine or imprisonment or both, an offender can apply to the judge for permission to enter a community labor program for not less than 48 hours nor more than 30 days.
License Suspension: For Kentucky residents 21 and over when convicted, a District Judge can impose a license suspension between 30 and 120 days. A hardship license is available if the suspension is more than 30 days. Drivers under 21 will be suspended for 30 days to six months and are eligible for a hardship license after 30 days. After the license suspension and completion of alcohol treatment, drivers may be reinstated. Any non-resident driver’s home state licensing agency (DMV, DPS, etc.) will receive notice from the Kentucky Department of Transportation if any license suspension or case disposition (conviction or plea) occurs in Kentucky and the non-resident’s license is involved. In almost all cases, a guilty plea or guilty verdict in a DUI in Kentucky will cause a suspension to occur in the non-resident’s home state. A “not guilty” verdict or other non-DUI disposition of the case will prevent such consequences. These suspensions can be lengthier and reinstatement more onerous. This puts a premium on winning the case or obtaining a non-DUI disposition.
Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Treatment: Ninety days.
DUI Second Offense
Fine: $350-$500 (plus a statutory service fee of $325.00 and other miscellaneous costs.)
Jail: seven days to six months. A fine and jail time are imposed for all second offenses within ten years. At least 48 hours of the sentence must be served consecutively.
Community Service: Not less than ten (10) days or more than six (6) months of Community Service is optional in all cases.
Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Treatment: One year.
License Suspension: 12 months to 18 months. The District Judge may grant a hardship license after 12 months.
DUI Third Offense
Fine: $500-$1,000 (plus a statutory service fee of $325.00 and other miscellaneous costs.)
Jail: Thirty (30) days to twelve (12) months. At least 48 hours of the sentence must be served consecutively.
Community Service: Not less than ten (10) days or more than twelve (12) months of Community Service is optional in all cases.
License Revocation: 24 months to 36 months. The District Judge may grant a hardship license after 24 months.
Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Treatment: One year.
DUI Fourth Offense
Fine: $1,000-$10,000 (plus a statutory service fee of $325.00 and other miscellaneous costs.)
Jail: Class D felony. One to five years. At least 120 days of the sentence must be served.
License Revocation: 60 months. No hardship license.
Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Treatment: One year.
DUI Under 21 years of age if alcohol concentration is greater than 0.02 and less than 0.08
Fine: $100-$500 plus court costs.
License Revocation: Thirty (30) days to six (6) months.
Community Service: Up to twenty (20) hours in lieu of a fine.
Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Treatment: Ninety days.
The DUI law in Kentucky establishes a list of six aggravating factors, which, if present, double the mandatory minimum jail sentence that must be imposed and which cannot be probated or conditionally discharged. Aggravating factors only act to enhance minimum jail sentences. Aggravating factors do not enhance fines, fees, and license suspensions.
The aggravating factors are:
Operating a motor vehicle in excess of thirty (30) miles per hour above the speed limit;
Operating a motor vehicle in the wrong direction on a limited access highway;
Operating a motor vehicle that causes an accident resulting in death or serious physical injury;
Operating a motor vehicle while the alcohol concentration in the operator’s blood or breath is 0.15 or more as measured by a test or tests of a sample of the operator’s blood or breath was taken within two (2) hours of cessation of operation of the motor vehicle;
Refusing to submit to any test of one’s blood, breath or urine requested by an officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person was operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle in violation of the DUI laws;
Operating a motor vehicle that is transporting a passenger under the age of twelve (12) years old.
Mandatory minimum jail sentences for a DUI with an aggravating factor are:
First Offense: Four days;
Second Offense: 14 days;
Third Offense: 60 days; and
Fourth Offense: 240 days.
The aggravating factors do not apply to under-21 DUIs. There is no prohibition on dismissal by the prosecution of the aggravating circumstance to avoid the minimum mandatory sentence. For a first offense, the aggravating factor must be present at the time of operation of the motor vehicle. This excludes imposition of the mandatory minimum jail sentence for refusals since refusals cannot occur at the time of operation of a motor vehicle.
DRIVING WHILE YOUR LICENSE IS SUSPENDED
First Offense Driving on a DUI Suspended License
The penalty for a first offense of driving on a DUI suspended license is not more than ninety (90) days of jail time and the fine is not more than $250.00. The District Judge shall suspend the driver’s license for six months. If you are driving DUI while DUI suspended, the violation is a Class A misdemeanor with not more than 12 months jail time and a fine of not more than $500.00. The license suspension is one year.
Second Offense for Driving on a DUI Suspended License
The penalty for a second offense driving on DUI suspended license is up to twelve (12) months of jail and the fine is not more than $500. The driver’s license suspension is one year. If you are driving DUI while DUI suspended, second offense, it is a Class D felony with one to five years jail time and a fine of not less than $1,000.00 or more than $10,000.00. The license suspension is two years.
Third Offense or more for Driving on a DUI Suspended License
The penalty for a third offense of driving on a DUI suspended license is a Class D felony with between one and five years of jail time and a fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000. The driver’s license suspension is two years. If you are driving DUI while DUI suspended, third offense, it is a Class D felony with one to five years jail time and a fine of not less than $1,000.00 or more than $10,000.00. The license suspension is five years.
Driving on a DUI suspended license now includes driving on an under-21 DUI suspension, refusal, pretrial and interlock device suspensions.
Multiple DUI offenders: Surrendering License Plates or Ignition Interlock Devices
All persons convicted of second or greater DUI offenses must have one or the other disabling option imposed by the Court. The Court may impound the license plate or plates of all motor vehicles owned, solely or jointly, by the offender. The suspension of the plate or plates shall not exceed the driver’s license suspension time. Family members or others may apply to the Court for a hardship exception. Before or after impoundment, the vehicle can be transferred to a joint owner or sold.
In lieu of impounding plates, the Court can order the installation of an ignition interlock device that prohibits starting a vehicle if the driver’s breath alcohol level is over 0.02. This option begins after the period of driver’s license suspension. This option is obviously more costly and restrictive and will probably not be widely utilized.
If you are operating or in physical control of a motor vehicle anywhere in Kentucky, you are deemed to have given your consent to one or more tests of your blood, breath, or urine for purposes of determining alcohol concentration. This is called the implied consent law. At the testing site, at the time a chemical test is requested, you shall be informed that: (1) a refusal may be used against you in court as evidence and will result in revocation of your driver’s license; if you refuse and are subsequently convicted of DUI you will be subject to a mandatory jail sentence which is twice as long as the mandatory jail sentence imposed if you submit to the tests; and if you refuse you will not be able to obtain a hardship license. If you submit to the requested tests, you have the right to a test or tests of your blood performed by a person of your choosing within a reasonable time and at your expense. You must be advised of this right and specifically asked, “Do you want such a test?” Remember you must submit to all requested police chemical tests, except a portable breath test, before you have the right to an independent test.
Even if you are acquitted of the DUI at trial, the court shall impose the appropriate license suspension for refusing to submit to a chemical test. For a DUI first offense refusal, a driver’s license shall be suspended for 30 days to 120 days. For a DUI second offense refusal, a driver’s license shall be suspended for 12 months to 18 months. For a DUI third offense refusal, a driver’s license shall be suspended for 24 months to 36 months. For a DUI fourth offense refusal, a driver’s license shall be suspended for sixty (60) months.
Prosecutor’s duties regarding amending charges of DUI
In Kentucky, there is an anti-plea-bargaining statute. Many people think their DUI charge can be resolved with an easy amendment of the charge to reckless driving. In most cases, the prosecutor is prohibited from amending a DUI charge to reckless driving. When an alcohol concentration for a driver over 21 is above 0.08, for a driver under 21 is above 0.02 or when the defendant refuses to take an alcohol concentration test, Kentucky law states a prosecuting attorney shall not agree to the amendment of the charge to a lesser offense and shall oppose the amendment of the charge at trial, unless all prosecution witnesses are, and will continue to be, unavailable. The prosecutor cannot amend the alcohol concentration unless uncontroverted scientific evidence is presented that the test results were in error.
Pre-Trial License Suspensions
Prior to trial the Court shall at arraignment or as soon as it has information suspend the license of the accused if the accused: (1) refused a chemical test, (2) has been convicted of one or more DUIs or has had his license suspended on one or more occasions for refusing to take an alcohol concentration test in the ten years preceding the arrest; or (3) was involved in an accident that resulted in death or serious physical injury to a person other than the accused. The accused may ask for a review of the suspension and the Court shall conduct a review within thirty (30) days of the filing of the motion.
Ignition Interlock Device Become Mandatory
In 2016, the legislature imposed the use of the ignition interlock device as a penalty for a DUI conviction. The statute that controls is KRS § 189A.340. How long the interlock device is imposed is as follows:
- First offense, alcohol related, aggravated DUI–6 months;
- Second offense, alcohol related–12 months; and
- Third and subsequent offenses, alcohol related–30 months.
I WANT MY LAWYER!
If arrested for DUI, you now must be afforded an opportunity to attempt to contact a lawyer. The opportunity is for not less than ten minutes or more than 15 minutes during the observation period prior to a breath test or at the hospital prior to blood or urine testing. Failure to contact a lawyer during this time does not excuse you from the obligation to take the chemical test.
On July 15, 2010, the legislature modified Kentucky’s DUI statute (KRS 189A.010). Two key modifications became effective. First, the aggravating factor of operating a motor vehicle while the alcohol concentration in the operator’s blood or breath is 0.18 was reduced to 015. See KRS 189A.010 (11)(d). Second, it is now per se unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while the presence of a controlled substance, as listed in this statute, is detected in the blood, as measured by a scientifically reliable test, or tests, taken within two hours of cessation of operation or physical control of a motor vehicle. See KRS 189A.010 (1)(d).
Kentucky Court of Justice: http://courts.ky.gov
DUI Laws in Kentucky sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Transportation:
List of Kentucky approved alcohol treatment programs: