There are two “parts” to a DUI charge. First is administrative and generally is handled by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The punishment dispensed by the DMV is the suspension of a driver’s license. The second part of the offense is handled within the criminal justice system. Under this system, fines, further loss of license and prison sentences may be imposed. If a defendant pleads guilty or is tried and convicted of a DUI offense, the conviction will remain on his or her record for several years. (Each state has different rules regarding expungement of a criminal charge.) Subsequent offenses result in harsher fines, more penalties and longer sentences.
With regards to the administrative action taken by the state in which the offense occurred, it is important to note that a defendant may lose his or license at the moment he or she refuses to take a sobriety test (including a breathalyzer test) before the case even gets to court. In some states, if a person takes but fails a sobriety test, a license suspension can begin right away. In some states, a license suspension may begin at the moment of arrest, while in other states, the suspension may begin 14 or 30 days following the arrest.