The Difference Between a Simple, Aggravated, and Per Se DWI

There may be nothing worse for a driver than seeing the red and blue lights of a police car twinkling behind you. You may hope that the car changes lanes and goes around, but as it moves over to the side with you, the realization that you are getting pulled over becomes overwhelming.

If you have been enjoying time with friends and had a few beers, you may start to wonder if the officer will know. After a brief exchange, the officer asks you to get out of the car and go through field sobriety tests. Soon, you find yourself taking a breathalyzer and being charged with driving while intoxicated. The officer starts using other terms you don’t know. What is the difference between these classifications of DWI? Find out what makes a simple, aggravated, or per se DWI charge stick.


In a situation where you have not been drinking, but you may have ingested or smoked something that makes you buzzed, you may get charged with simple DWI. In this category, an officer has enough evidence that you are not acting rationally, and there is a level of impairment; however, they do not have proof in the form of a breath test to back it up. A blood test may be requested, but that may take some time. To prove a simple DWI, the prosecution must have evidence that you displayed the effects of drugs, such as erratic driving, swerving over lines, speeding, or even driving too slow. The officer’s exchange with you can also be proof of your impairment and go towards prosecuting you.

Per Se

When charged with a per se DWI, law enforcement has evidence of your intoxication. This may come in the form of an admission of guilt on your part, and/or a breathalyzer showing you have a BAC of .08 or higher. In some states, a per se charge can stick without anything but a breathalyzer result of .08.


An aggravated DWI is the most severe and comes with harsher penalties in most states. If you are charged with this, it means one or all of the following occurred:

  • You refused to submit to a breath test
  • Your test showed a BAC of 0.16 or higher
  • Your driving caused an accident
  • You committed other traffic incidents while under the influence

A DWI lawyer, like a DWI lawyer in Fairfax, VA, can help you sort out how best to defend against any of these charges. Remember, the laws in your state may vary from others, so getting a professional’s opinion is of the utmost importance.

Thanks to May Law, LLP for their insight into the differences between different types of DWI crimes.