DWI Versus Careless Driving

DWI vs. Careless Driving. What's the difference?

I have been asked as an attorney what the difference is between a conviction for a DWI and a conviction for Careless Driving (which started out as a DWI) countless times. The answer is that it depends on what area we focus on. For example, criminal record or driving record? Probation? Enhanceability? Stigma? These types of questions may be endless.

I'll just cover these four areas but if you have more questions about your particular case, you should seek the advice of counsel to review your unique situation and facts. To do so, you can reach me at 651-319-5180, or contact Coodin & Overson, PLLP, online, through our email form.

Record. First, if one is convicted of a DWI, then on a criminal background check, this is what would show. For example, someone convicted of a 4th Degree DWI, the conviction would be reflected on a simple BCA search or a court records search. If someone pleads guilty to a charge that was amended from a DWI to a Careless Driving then a simple background check would only display a conviction for the Careless Driving. However, if someone looks at court records they may be able to see what the original charges were but they would also see the DWI charge was either dismissed or amended.

Probation. Typically probation on a DWI ranges from 1 to 2 years depending on the county. Probation on a Careless Driving is limited to 1 year. If someone pleads guilty to a DWI or an Amended charge of Careless Driving, the conditions of probation are very similar. In both circumstances a judge will typically order that the defendant complete a chemical dependency evaluation, attend a MADD Victim Impact Panel, pay a fine, have no alcohol related offenses, only drive when valid, and have no same or similar offenses during the term of probation.

Enhancement. If someone is convicted of a DWI, then it will be used to enhance the penalty of any future DWI charges within a ten year period. If he or she pleads guilty to Careless Driving instead, it will depend on whether or not there was an implied consent revocation on his or her driving record. For a more detailed discussion on implied consent, see our webpage on the topic. In a nutshell, if the individual's bold alcohol level tested over the legal limit of .08 and the license revocation wasn't challenged or if the revocation was sustained following a challenge, then the revocation of the driver's license can be used to enhance the penalty despite the criminal charge being amended to Careless Driving.

Stigma. One of the biggest advantages in my experience of obtaining a Careless Driving conviction for a client versus a DWI conviction is the stigma attached to a DWI. Although the financial consequences and the criminal penalties may be very similar, not having the DWI label is sometimes the major advantage. Many employers will overlook a Careless Driving conviction in Corporate America as well as employers who hire people that may have significant driving responsibilities as part of their particular job. Additionally, telling friends and family that you got a Careless Driving versus a DWI may simply be easier for others to hear due to the stigma.

--Steven M. Coodin, Esq.