Legal Alcohol Limit in Kentucky

February 19th, 2024 by Attorney Dan Carman

Most people know that if they are stopped in Kentucky while driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) greater than the legal limit of 0.08%, they can be charged with a DUI. If you are convicted, the penalties are severe, including fines, license suspension, and even jail time. In addition, you will have a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life, affecting your prospects for education, job opportunities, government benefits, and social relationships.

In addition, there are other situations where you may be charged with a DUI even if your blood alcohol level is under the legal limit.  In all cases, with DUI charges taken so seriously in Kentucky, it is a good idea for anyone arrested for a DUI to get help from an experienced DUI defense attorney, who knows how to best combat these charges and fight for your rights and your freedom

When You Can be Charged with a DUI

If you are pulled over by a police officer who suspects you were driving with a BAC over the legal alcohol limit or were otherwise intoxicated, the officer has a number of ways of determining whether you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Under Kentucky’s implied consent law, if you are operating a vehicle on Kentucky highways, you have provided consent to a test of your breath or blood. The most well-known method is the breathalyzer test, where you breathe into a device that determines blood alcohol content (BAC). If your BAC is more than 0.08, you will be considered to be legally intoxicated. The allowable BAC is 0.02 if you are under 21 , and the legal limit is .04% for a commercial vehicle driver. While you can refuse to take the test, there are consequences of a refusal, including a pretrial license suspension beginning at your arraignment for the period of time the license would have been suspended upon conviction and, if this is your second or subsequent DUI offense, double the mandatory minimum jail time if convicted.

If your level registers lower than the legal limits on a breath test, it is presumed that you are not under the influence of alcohol. If your BAC is between 0.05% and 0.079%, it is not presumed that you were under the influence of alcohol, but that level could be used against you in determining your ultimate guilt or innocence if there is additional evidence.

An officer can still charge you with a DUI if other evidence suggests you were intoxicated. For example, if an officer reasonably suspects you are intoxicated, you could be asked to perform several field sobriety procedures. These include the Walk and Turn, One-Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, among others. The officer will also be looking for additional evidence of intoxication, such as slurred speech and bloodshot or watery eyes.

If the officer has enough evidence, you will be taken to a detention center or police station and be given a breath test on the Intoxilyzer 5000EN, which provides a more accurate reading of your BAC, and you may also be given a blood test. If these tests show that your BAC exceeds the legal limit, you will be subject to the same processes as you would with a positive breathalyzer test.

Punishments for a DWI/DUI

In Kentucky, the abbreviations DWI (driving while intoxicated) and DUI (driving under the influence) refer to an individual who drives under the influence of alcohol or any substance(s) which impair driving ability. Other substances can include illegal drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and/or inhalants such as glue, gasoline, and spray paint.

Although most first-time DUIs are charged as misdemeanors (less serious crimes), if convicted, a person will still face undesirable penalties. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, punishments are as follows:

First offense within a 10-year period
  • $200 to $500 fine
  • 2 to 30 days in jail
  • Up to 90 days in an alcohol or substance abuse education or treatment program
  • 30- to 120-day license suspension
  • Possible 48 hours to 30 days of community labor
  • $250 service fee
  • If aggravating circumstances are present, 4 days’ imprisonment
Second offense within a 10-year period
  • $350 to $500 fine
  • 10 days to 6 months of community labor
  • 7 days to 6 months in jail
  • 1 year of alcohol or substance abuse treatment
  • 12- to 18-month license suspension
  • $250 service fee
  • If aggravating circumstances are present, 14 days of imprisonment
Third offense within a 10-year period
  • $500 to $1,000 fine
  • 30 days to 12 months in jail
  • 1 full year of alcohol or substance abuse treatment, and the program shall provide an assessment of the individual’s alcohol or other substance abuse problems at the start of the program
  • 24- to 36-month license suspension
  • $250 service fee
  • If aggravating circumstances are present, 60 days of imprisonment
Fourth and subsequent offenses within a 10-year period
  • Class D Felony
  • Minimum term of 120 days’ imprisonment without probation
  • 60-month license suspension
  • 1 year of alcohol or substance abuse treatment
  • $250 service fee
  • If aggravating circumstances are present, 240 days of imprisonment

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) penalties

Driving a commercial motor vehicle with any measurable or detectable amount of alcohol in your system results in a suspension of your CDL, with a 1-year suspension for a DUI conviction. A commercial driver convicted of a DUI in any motor vehicle will be suspended for one (1) year, pay a $50 reinstatement fee, and pass the written and vision tests before starting over with a permit. After holding a valid commercial learner’s permit for fourteen (14) days, the driver will be required to pass all applicable skills tests before obtaining a commercial license.

Defenses if Accused of a DUI or Over the Legal Alcohol Limit

Being arrested and charged with a DUI doesn’t mean you’ll be found guilty. Breathalyzer machines may work incorrectly; evidence may be handled improperly, and mistakes can be made by the police or prosecution in protecting your rights and dealing with your case. An experienced Kentucky DUI lawyer knows how to look for these mistakes and use them as a basis for your DUI defense.  Depending on your individual situation, your lawyer may be able to challenge the legality of the traffic stop, question the accuracy of the BAC testing equipment, or dispute the validity of field sobriety tests. Your lawyer can also negotiate with prosecutors to reduce charges or penalties or have your case dropped altogether, and explore options for diversion programs or alternative sentencing that could mitigate the impact on your life.

The skilled Lexington DUI defense lawyers at Dan Carman, PLLC are fully prepared to fight for your rights and your freedom. We know how to gather and examine evidence such as the police reports, recordings, and testing logs. We know your rights and the rules and regulations police officers must follow for a DUI, and how to use mistakes they make to build your case. We look for weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, negotiate to get you the best deal possible, and take your case to trial if necessary.

We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the circumstances of your DUI and determine the best way to help, so call Dan Carman today at (859) 685-1055 to get started with your defense.

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Attorney Dan Carman

Attorney Dan CarmanFocusing on criminal matters, Mr. Carman is admitted to practice law in all Courts of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, and the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. He is a member of the American, Kentucky, and Fayette County Bar Associations. Mr. Carman also worked as a prosecutor, as well as a legal assistance attorney. Attorney Dan Carman can help you with any criminal defense matters you may need including; DUI, drug, and weapons charges, trespassing, traffic violations and more. [ Attorney Bio ]