Mississippi. The name evokes images of big old houses with wrap around porches, of long hot summers sipping lemonade, of riverboats adventures, of Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer. For the nostalgia seeker, Mississippi may be a great place to sightsee, but travelers and residents should be careful not to drink and drive. Mississippi takes a no-nonsense approach to driving while intoxicated and the state's strict DUI laws should be understood by anyone planning to spend time in this uniquely beautiful state.
In Mississippi, an arrest for DUI triggers both an administrative case and a criminal case. The administrative case is conducted by the Mississippi driving authority and can result in suspension or revocation of driving privileges. The criminal case is brought in state court and can result in hefty fines, jail time, and other harsh punishments.
The criminal case, like criminal DUI cases in many other states, may be prosecuted based on two possible theories of liability. The first of these is the per se theory. Under a per se theory, the prosecution will put on evidence that the accused's blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit, as evinced by the accused's blood, breath, or urine test(s) administered at the time of arrest. In Mississippi, as in most other states the legal limit is .08% blood alcohol content.
Under Mississippi law, when a person's blood alcohol meets or exceeds the current .08% limit he is deemed intoxicated, or per se guilty of driving under the influence. Although the per se theory does seem to create a clear legal rule, test results are not always reliable and the per se theory alone cannot be used to convict as often as one might think. Even where the prosecution can show that the accused's blood alcohol level met or exceeded the legal limit, intervening factors such as the accused's metabolism, the reliability of the test, or the method of administration may make it implausible or even irresponsible for a court to rely exclusively on blood alcohol test results in convicting a DUI defendant.
When blood alcohol tests cannot be used as reliable evidence because they are unavailable or inconclusive, the prosecution will proceed on a traditional theory of criminal liability. Under the traditional, or common law theory, liability arises from driving under the influence. This theory is a somewhat subjective one, and observations made by the arresting officer are often the primary source of evidence. In a traditional theory case and appearance, speech pattern, driving pattern, and performance on field sobriety tests may all be introduced to prove intoxication.
Whether on vacation, looking for romance at the old Twain place, or just minding your own business in your home state, if you are arrested for DUI in Mississippi you can expect fines up to one thousand dollars, forty eight hours in jail, and a driver's license suspension of up to one full year. Additional offenses cause the punishment to increase proportionately and jail time and fines can add up to years in lost time and thousands in lost dollars. Anyone hoping to avoid the harsh punishment and embarrassment associated with DUI should heed the sage, old advice: don't drink and drive -- it's the only guaranteed protection.