The Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Maryland

When it comes to Maryland law, one letter makes a lot of difference. For example, a DUI and a DWI are two different traffic charges – with two different sets of possible penalties.

To better explain the difference between a DUI and a DWI in Maryland, we’ll review:

What Are DUIs and DWIs?

The Maryland traffic charge most people recognize is a DUI, which stands for “Driving Under the Influence” of drugs, alcohol, or anything that substantially impairs a driver’s judgment.

DUIs are typically charged when law enforcement believes someone’s BAC – or Blood Alcohol Content – is above 0.08%, the legal limit to drive in Maryland.

At a BAC of at least 0.08%, Maryland law enforcement automatically considers a driver to be legally impaired. That’s when you’re “under the influence per se.”

This “per se” charge means prosecutors don’t have to prove that the defendant’s judgement was impaired. With a BAC that high, Maryland law automatically assumes they were impaired.

However, Maryland law enforcement can also charge an individual with a DWI, which stands for “Driving While Impaired.” (In some states, the official name of the charge is “Driving While Intoxicated.”)

A Maryland DWI can be charged when a driver’s BAC registers below the official legal limit, such as at 0.06% or 0.07%.

For a DWI, a prosecutor may be required to demonstrate with evidence that the accused’s judgement was impaired at the time of the stop.

A lesser-known acronym is PBJ – not the sandwich. PBJ stands for “Probation Before Judgement,” which is a possible option for people who do not believe they can win their DWI or DUI case.

A PBJ can penalize the offender without putting an actual conviction on their criminal record, which we'll discuss later.

Consequences to Driving After Drinking In Maryland

Maryland is harsh when it comes to operating a motor vehicle after taking any sort of substance that influences reflexes or judgement, from alcohol to illegal drugs.  

You can even get a drinking charge if you were taking your prescription medication! (Depending on the circumstances, of course.)

However, if you have to be stuck with one type of drinking charge, then there’s definitely a “preferred” option.

Maryland is somewhat unique in that DUI charges are considered more serious than DWI charges.

In many states, drivers charged with DWIs have higher BACs than drivers charged with DUIs.

In Maryland, the opposite is true. DUIs are generally more serious than DWIs. This distinction is usually made on BAC levels measured at the traffic stop itself or shortly afterward at a police station.

Maryland DUI Penalties

A Maryland DUI can bring many consequences, which vary depending on each set of circumstances.

The first time someone is convicted of a DUI in Maryland, they can:

  • End up in jail for up to a year;
  • Paying up to $1,000 in fines; and
  • Have their license suspended for up to six months.

 Upon a second DUI conviction within a two-year period, a person can:

  • Go to jail for up to two years;
  • Pay up to $2,000 in fines; and
  • Have their license suspended for up to nine months.

 The consequences increase on the third DUI in two years. A third offense can lead to:

  • Up to five years in jail;
  • A fine of up to $5,000; and
  • A lost license for up to 12 months.

Maryland DWI Penalties 

DWIs in Maryland are generally lesser offenses than DUIs. A driver charged with a DWI usually has fewer signs of impairment at a traffic stop or registers a BAC lower than 0.08% on a field breathalyzer test.

A DWI’s consequences will change with each case. However, even with the lesser charge, a Maryland DWI conviction can enormously impact a defendant’s life and livelihood.

The first time someone is convicted of a DWI in Maryland, they can:

  • End up in jail for up to two months;
  • Paying up to $500 in fines; and
  • Have their license suspended for up to six months.

Upon a second DWI conviction, a person can:

  • Go to jail for up to one year;
  • Pay up to $500 in fines; and
  • Have their license suspended for up to nine months.

The consequences continue to escalate on the third DUI. A third conviction can lead to:

  • Up to five years in jail;
  • A fine of up to $5,000; and
  • A lost license for up to 12 months.

First Offense Difference between DUI and DWI

Types of Penalties First-Time DUI First-Time DWI
Maximum Jail Time 12 months 2 months
Maximum Possible Fines $1,000 $500
Maximum Possible License Suspension 6 months 6 months

Alternate Consequences for DUIs and DWIs in Maryland 

With so much time spent behind the wheel in the United States, there are more opportunities to be charged – whether innocent or not – with a DUI or DWI.

However, not all DUI or DWI charges in Maryland end official criminal convictions.

Consider the PBJ – the “Probation Before Judgment” acronym we introduced earlier. PBJs allow defendants to avoid criminal convictions on their permanent records.

By entering a time of probation, those accused of DUIs and DWIs can compromise with law enforcement to arrive at a solution that, in the end, is better for the defendant.

Of course, if a defendant does get a PBJ, then they must be extra-careful to avoid breaking any laws – traffic or otherwise – during their probationary hearing. Maryland courts may be harsher on those who break previous agreements with new possible crimes.

All of these guidelines about DUIs and DWIs, of course, will change from case to case. Only an experienced traffic lawyer would be able to say how they would approach each case, and if a PBJ would be possible in a specific situation.

If you’re curious about a real-world DUI or DWI case, you can always schedule a free first consultation with one of our traffic lawyers. Explain your situation and they can offer some initial steps to protect yourself and your family from life-altering criminal convictions for traffic misdemeanors.

[CHECKLIST] If you need a criminal defense lawyer in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.