In Montana, a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) can be charged when a person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any combination thereof, resulting in impaired driving ability. Montana Code Annotated (MCA) 61-8-1002. While certain levels of breath and/or blood alcohol can be used to infer an impaired driving ability, visible signs of impairment can also be used. And so, Montana provides law enforcement officers with discretion to conduct either or both a chemical and field sobriety test to corroborate their initial observations of impairment. State v. Wirtz, 2013 MT 99, 369 Mont. 356, 298 P.3d 117 (2013).
In plain English, Montana cops can test your breath and blood (with a prior record) and make you do the Hokey Pokey to determine whether you are safe to drive. What's more, courts have held that officers are not required to read you your rights, under Miranda.
This is why it is of the utmost importance to consult with an attorney to determine whether an officer had a legal justification to, first, pull you over and, second, test you. If not, your case may be eligible for dismissal. Read more about choosing an attorney here: Choosing the Best DUI Lawyer.
In Montana, DUI laws not only address driving under the influence but also include provisions for DUI "per se" and actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. These provisions further emphasize the seriousness of DUI offenses in the state.
DUI Per Se: In Montana, a DUI per se charge can be filed against a person whose Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is at or above the legal limit, regardless of whether their driving ability is visibly impaired. MCA 61-8-1002.
- For drivers who are 21 years or older, the BAC limit is 0.08;
- For commercial drivers, the BAC limit is 0.04; and
- For drivers under 21 years of age, the BAC limit is 0.02.
A DUI per se charge is based solely on the BAC level, and a prosecutor does not need to prove that the driver was visibly impaired or unable to safely operate the vehicle.
For marijuana, the legal limit is 5 ng/ml, which is so low that people are often convicted for having smoked or ingested marijuana the day prior to getting pulled over.
Actual Physical Control of a Vehicle: Montana law also extends DUI charges to individuals who are not actively driving but are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence. According to MCA 61-8-1001, a person is considered to be in actual physical control if they have the means to start and move the vehicle, even if it is not in motion at the time they are found to be under the influence. Examples may include sitting in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition, or having the engine running while parked. One person was convicted for simply pushing a motorcycle down a roadway. Turner v. State, 244 Mont. 151, 795 P.2d 982 (1990).
These provisions emphasize that a person can be charged with a DUI in Montana not only for actively driving while intoxicated but also for merely being in a position to control a vehicle under the influence. It is crucial to be aware of these distinctions and understand the specific laws and regulations that govern DUIs in Montana. Always consult the most recent Montana state statutes or consult with a legal professional for the most up-to-date information on DUIs in Montana.
To better illustrate the three ways a person can be charged with a DUI in Montana – driving under the influence, driving over the limit (DUI per se), and being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence – here are some case law examples for each scenario:
- Driving Under the Influence: In State v. Wirtz, 2013 MT 99, 369 Mont. 356, 298 P.3d 117 (2013), the Montana Supreme Court upheld the use of field sobriety tests to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. In this case, the officer observed the defendant driving erratically, swerving across the centerline, and drifting into the bicycle lane. After stopping the vehicle, the officer noted the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, and other signs of impairment. The defendant's performance on the field sobriety tests provided sufficient probable cause for the DUI arrest.
- Driving Over the Limit (DUI per se):In State v. Ceballos, 2012 MT 61, 364 Mont. 361, 274 P.3d 663 (2012), the defendant was charged with a DUI per se after a chemical test revealed a BAC of 0.08%. The Montana Supreme Court held that the BAC evidence alone was sufficient to establish a DUI per se, without the need to prove visible impairment.
- Actual Physical Control of a Vehicle While Under the Influence: In State v. Gopher, 2011 MT 283, 362 Mont. 417, 267 P.3d 49 (2011), the Montana Supreme Court upheld a DUI conviction based on the defendant being in actual physical control of the vehicle. In this case, the defendant was found intoxicated, asleep in the driver's seat of his vehicle, which was parked on the side of the highway with its engine running. The court concluded that the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle and, therefore, could be charged with a DUI.
These case law examples emphasize the different scenarios in which a person can be charged with a DUI in Montana. It is crucial to be aware of these distinctions and understand the specific laws and regulations that govern DUIs in the state. Always consult the most recent Montana state statutes or consult with a legal professional for the most up-to-date information on DUIs in Montana.
Related articles: I Got Pulled Over... Now, What?, "Am I Free to Go?", Choosing the Best DUI Lawyer.