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DWI is a Strict Liability Offense in Arkansas. What Does This Mean?


A DWI is a serious offense. According to Arkansas law, a driver with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 or who is otherwise drunk is guilty of a DWI. A conviction for this offense will have severe, lasting effects. On top of all of what is at stake, a DWI is not your average charge. DWI is a strict liability offense in Arkansas. That makes this 100% more complicated. Retaining a DWI criminal defense attorney from Kevin Lemley Law Partners is your best bet to handle your defense.

Elements of a Crime the State Must Prove

A prosecutor who has laid a charge against aims to satisfy two components of a crime:

  1. Actus reus or “guilty act”—a willing, deliberate commitment on the defendant’s part forming the physical aspect of a crime
  2. Mens rea or “guilty mind”—the mental condition needed by law to find a specific person guilty of a particular crime

Statutes will not explicitly outline that mens rea is required. Instead, statutes might just imply that mens rea usually is necessary. For instance, words like “knowingly” indicate the mens rea requirement. Usually, mental state at the time of the offense is one of the criteria that must be satisfied for the prosecution to get a conviction for a crime. Coupled with that, a person must engage in a voluntary act to be criminally liable. A person would probably receive a lesser sentence than those who are found to have mens rea if it is determined that they did not intend to do a malicious act. Many rules have exceptions, and strict liability is one. Strict liability crimes don’t require the prosecution to satisfy both mens rea and actus reus to secure a conviction.

In Arkansas, a DWI is one such offense.

The Implication of Strict Liability Offenses

Crimes classified as strict liability offenses do not need prosecution to establish the defendant’s mental state as a component of the offense. A court of law will look at your actions and the results, not your mental state at the time of your actions. The act alone is punishable. This seems to fly in the face of the fundamental principle that a crime requires both mens rea and actus reus.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to engage in drunk driving or driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Strict liability offenses are crimes that, in the eyes of the law, are unlawful regardless of the person’s motivations. In cases involving strict liability, defendants will still be found guilty even if they had no criminal intent and were ignorant that their decisions were wrong. Because defendants will be found guilty despite being unaware of one or more elements that rendered their actions or inactions criminal, you can understand why the liability is considered strict. You may genuinely not be at “fault,” as there isn’t even criminal negligence, the lowest level of mens rea, that can be held accountable.

DWI is a Strict Liability Offense in Arkansas

In 2015, the legislature modified the DWI statute in Arkansas to expressly identify DWIs as strict-liability offenses. This change to the law removed the requirement to establish the defendant’s guilty mental state to obtain a DWI conviction.

Today, the AR Code § 5-65-103 (2017) states:

“(c) An alcohol-related offense under this section is a strict liability offense.”

This amendment effectively removed any ambiguity or gray area a defense attorney could impute into the law.

Why DWI is a Strict Liability Offense in Arkansas

Didn’t mean to crash into another motor vehicle? It doesn’t matter. Someone has been gravely injured due to your actions. Didn’t know drinking would result in all this damage? That’s irrelevant. Someone has to be held accountable for this loss. Why do laws like this exist? Laws like these are used either when society is concerned with preventing harm and wants to optimize the preventative value of the offense or to enforce social behavior. Legislating that DWI as a strict liability crime serves to deter people from driving under the influence.

Arkansas Strict Liability Criminal Attorney

This is not your run-of-the-mill traffic charge. A DWI conviction can lead to suspension or revocation of your driver’s license or the installation of an ignition interlock device if you have a prior DWI offense. You’ll need excellent representation if you are charged with a DWI. The team at Kevin Lemley Law Partners will know what to do. Be sure to schedule a consultation with us so we can carve out our options.