Mississippi is one of the most car-dependent states in the country. Indeed, data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2021 show that around 83% of Mississippians drove alone to work. Additionally, 7.8% carpooled. These figures add up to over nine out of 10 commuters using cars as their mode of transportation.
The state’s dependence on cars suggests that DUI accidents are likely. In 2021, 140 fatalities involving vehicle operators with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 were recorded. The number of deaths represents a 13.6% decrease from 2020, when 162 people died.
To further curb this trend, Mississippi oversees multiple programs. One of these is an initiative that employs former or current prosecutors as traffic safety resource prosecutors. These individuals train law enforcement personnel on DUI-related topics like occupant restraint and vehicular homicide. Another way that the state enforces drunk driving laws is through checkpoint stations, especially during holidays like Labor Day and Christmas.
This article guides victims of DUI accidents and helps them understand when to press claims against responsible parties. It also contains information on the maximum damages one can receive from Mississippi courts. In addition, it explains how the state’s dram shop and social host laws work.
General DUI Laws in Mississippi
It is unlawful for individuals in the state to operate vehicles under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Likewise, someone in actual physical control of their vehicle could face DUI charges. If they are sitting behind the steering wheel with their key inside the ignition lock, this may constitute physical control.
Law enforcement officers in Mississippi use two types of tests to determine whether someone is intoxicated. The first, called the field sobriety test, consists of three standard procedures. These are the walk-and-turn, the one-leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The second one refers to procedures that utilize urine, breath, or blood samples. For the last test, warrants must be obtained by the police officer before withdrawal. They also cannot draw blood themselves but must direct qualified professionals. Under state law, those qualified to perform blood tests include doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, and EMTs.
Chemical tests are performed to find out the BAC level of suspected individuals. If their BAC is 0.08, they are automatically, or “per se,” charged with DUI. The limit is even stricter for commercial drivers, at 0.04.
Aggravated DUI is named so because it refers to accidents caused by intoxicated drivers that result in severe injuries for victims. Under state law, cases involving permanent disfigurement or disability and death are factors that constitute aggravated DUI.
Applicability of DUI Laws to Cyclists
Mississippi sees bicycles as vehicles. The state applies traffic laws to cyclists, and they possess all the duties and rights applicable to other vehicle drivers. Some provisions are inherently inapplicable to bicycle users; nevertheless, these bikers may be charged with DUI. E-bike users should note that the state imposes rules of the road for them, similar to traditional bicycle users.
Underage DUI Laws in Mississippi
In 2021, around 14% of fatal vehicle crashes in the Magnolia State involved drivers ages 15 to 20, according to federal data. A different study, this time from the CDC in the same year, found that among high schoolers surveyed in Mississippi, 4.4% drove after consuming alcohol within the past 30 days.
The state maintains various laws to keep these trends under control. An example is the zero-tolerance policy. Individuals under 21 cannot operate vehicles if their BAC level is between 0.02 and 0.08. In addition, Mississippi bans minors from possessing and consuming alcohol.
However, there are some exceptions. People under 21 but at least 18 can hold and drink alcohol as long as they obtain consent from legal guardians or parents in their presence. Also, those who are serving in the military and are at least 18 can enjoy alcoholic beverages on military bases that allow such drinks. Meanwhile, individuals under 21 working in licensed establishments that serve alcohol can possess alcohol if it is part of their job.
DUI-adjacent Laws in Mississippi
Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in a Vehicle
Mississippi legalized medical marijuana in 2020. It was only in 2023, though, that residents in the state were able to purchase the drug for healthcare use. Individuals qualified to buy cannabis concentrate may purchase one gram daily. Meanwhile, purchases of cannabis flowers are limited to only 3.5 grams per day or three ounces per month.
Patients need ID cards to buy and consume the drug. The Mississippi State Department of Health issues these cards. Note that one cannot smoke marijuana in vehicles. One should also not operate a car while intoxicated from the drug.
In addition, the state is one of 31 where recreational marijuana is decriminalized. But this is not the same as legalization. Mississippi does not convict first-time offenders with less than 30 grams of the drug. However, subsequent offenses involving the same quantity are misdemeanors. Individuals can also face penalties of a maximum of 90-day jail time and up to $1,000 in fines. They may additionally need to deal with a six-month license suspension.
Boating Under the Influence
Under the Alcohol Boating Safety Act, operating vessels while under the influence of intoxicants is illegal. If a resident of Mississippi is caught with a BAC level of at least 0.08, this is considered at first appearance, or “prima facie,” as evidence of boating under the influence (BUI). If you are suspected of BUI, you may be stopped by law enforcement personnel, such as officers of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Other individuals authorized under state law to arrest intoxicated boat operators are Department of Marine Resources officers.
Those convicted of BUI deal with a variety of penalties. First-time offenders face fines between $250 and $1,000, a maximum jail time that lasts for 24 hours, or both. They also need to complete a course about boating safety. Those convicted for the third time, however, contend with higher penalties. These include jail time ranging from 30 days to one year and fines between $800 and $1,000.
Operating a vessel while intoxicated is a misdemeanor. Like car drivers, boat operators commit felonies once they cause permanent disfigurement or disability to someone. It also becomes a felony in cases where the victim dies.
Open Container Laws
Mississippi is the only state that does not have open container laws. This fact does not make things easier for alcohol enjoyers, though. In fact, they have to contend with laws that vary per city. For instance, Jackson prohibits open containers for drivers within the city premises. Meanwhile, Gulfport allows the carrying and consumption of open containers inside a designated Social District. Similarly, Oxford permits the practice so long as it occurs during sponsored events in areas designated and fenced off by city officials.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Mississippi?
Drivers in Mississippi convicted of DUI have to deal with various consequences. The severity of these depends on the individual’s circumstances. For instance, first- and second-time DUI offenses are misdemeanors. The state, meanwhile, considers third and subsequent offenses felonies.
Type of DUI offense
Type of criminal charge
Length of incarceration
Between $250 and $1,000
Maximum jail time that lasts 48 hours
Suspended for 120 days
Between $600 and $1,500
Maximum jail time that lasts between five days and six months
Revoked for one year
Between $2,000 and $5,000
Maximum jail time that lasts between one year and five years
Revoked throughout the driver’s incarceration period
Mississippi takes into account someone’s prior out-of-state convictions involving DUI within five years to determine their penalties. Under state law, convictions in other states, U.S. territories, or federally recognized Native American tribes will be considered.
First-time offenders can become eligible for non-adjudication. To put it differently, a Mississippi court may elect not to provide a final judgment regarding a DUI case. Those who qualify for non-adjudication must undergo an education program that teaches alcohol safety. They must also deal with a 120-day license suspension and install an ignition interlock device. The latter allows offenders to maintain their driving privileges.
Once the individual completes the program successfully, they no longer need to face standard DUI penalties. If they commit another DUI, the non-adjudication record will be considered a previous DUI conviction.
Aggravated DUI Penalties
The consequences of aggravated DUI are inherently harsh. These penalties include imprisonment under the Mississippi Department of Corrections for 5 to 25 years. The convicted individual also needs to install an ignition interlock device if it is part of their post-release supervision or probation conditions. This device must be present in their vehicle for up to five years.
Penalties for Minors
The consequences of underage DUI in Mississippi are less harsh than those of standard DUI. Those convicted for the first time need to pay a $250 fine and face a 120-day suspension of their license. The penalties increase for those caught for the second time to a $500 fine and license suspension that lasts a year. Third-time offenders deal with steeper penalties, including a $1,000 fine and a two-year license suspension.
Similar to a standard DUI, an underage DUI conviction may require offenders to install ignition interlock devices.
Implied Consent Penalties
Individuals suspected of DUI who refuse chemical tests face a 90-day license suspension. The length is one year if the driver has a record of previous DUI convictions. Note that evidence of refusal is admissible as evidence in a DUI case.
Those whose licenses were suspended may request ignition interlock device installation for their vehicles.
Dram Shop and Social Host Laws in Mississippi
Mississippi limits the liability of dram shops and social hosts in DUI accidents. The state generally considers the consumption of alcohol, not its provision, as the proximate cause of DUI-related accidents.
This view does not entirely mean claims against these businesses and individuals are impossible. Mississippi permits lawsuits against at-fault parties if they force people to drink alcohol. The state also allows actions against those falsely claiming their served beverage does not contain alcohol. Additionally, dram shops and social hosts could be in trouble for providing alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals.
Another situation where businesses may be held liable is if they sell alcohol to those under 21. This violation is the most common one observed by the Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control. Those who are caught must contend with various penalties. These consist of fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and a maximum three-month suspension of their permit. Meanwhile, businesses that violate state law four or more times within 12 months from the first offense deal with harsher consequences. These include fines between $2,000 and $5,000, as well as suspension or even revocation of their permit.
Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Insurance
Given that lawsuits are possible, dram shops must obtain insurance to protect themselves from litigation-related costs. One way to understand how much rates might cost in Mississippi is through a grade that describes the liability situation alcohol vendors face in the state. The Insurance Services Office provides a grade ranging from zero to 10, with 10 meaning vendors are strictly liable for alcohol-related negligence.
Mississippi has a grade of four. Those aiming to purchase liquor liability insurance in the Magnolia State can receive lower rates than in other states.
Social hosts may also obtain liability insurance. This policy helps them cover alcohol-related accident costs from events like corporate fundraisers.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Mississippi?
Individuals hurt by DUI accidents should prove four elements to recover damages from liable parties. The first element is “duty.” It refers to the responsibility of care a driver owes to others. The second is “breach,” which occurs when the defendant violates their duty of care. The third is “causation.” The victim must illustrate how the at-fault party’s actions — like driving while intoxicated — caused injuries. Lastly, the fourth element is “damages,” which refers to the harm the plaintiff suffered from the defendant. Those who demonstrate these elements definitively may receive full compensation for their DUI-related injuries.
However, in some cases, the plaintiffs themselves contributed to the accident. Mississippi law allows victims to recover damages from defendants in such situations, even if the former is 99% responsible for the incident. However, the final worth of the plaintiff's recoverable damages diminishes depending on their share of the accident.
To illustrate, let’s say an individual was hurt in a collision involving an intoxicated driver. The accident resulted in damages worth $10,000. During the trial, the court learned that the victim was not wearing a seatbelt and was texting while driving. Given the victim’s behavior, the judge determined that the plaintiff’s percentage of responsibility for the accident was 70%. This share of blame then decreases the victim’s damages by $7,000. Their final award, ultimately, is $3,000. This behavior described above — not wearing a seatbelt — is unfortunately typical in Mississippi, with over one-fifth traveling unbuckled and more than half using their phone while behind the wheel.
Types of Damages
There are two types of damages plaintiffs can receive from defendants. The first is compensatory damages, which repay a victim for economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are objectively verifiable and include costs like medical bills, vehicle repair expenses, and lost wages. Meanwhile, non-economic losses are subjective. These may consist of emotional distress and mental anguish.
The second type is punitive damages. These are given to plaintiffs as a way for courts to punish defendants. DUI victims must prove, through convincing and unmistakable evidence, that the liable party committed acts of gross negligence or actual malice. Additionally, punitive damages may be awarded for plaintiffs hurt by actual fraud.
Caps on Damages
There are no caps on economic damages in Mississippi. The state does limit non-economic damages, though. DUI accident victims can only obtain a maximum of $1 million to cover losses like emotional distress.
The Magnolia State also caps punitive damages. Its value depends on the defendant’s net worth. For example, victims may receive a maximum of 2% of the defendant’s net worth if it is valued at $50 million or less. If the liable party is worth between $50 million and $100 million, punitive damages should not exceed $2.5 million.
The Statute of Limitations in Mississippi
Victims of DUI accidents in Mississippi have three years to press claims against liable parties. These legal actions must be filed within three years from the date of the accident. Similarly, the three-year window applies in wrongful death cases.
In some situations, the statute of limitations is shorter or longer than three years. Claims against negligent governmental entities, for example, must be filed within one year from the date of the injury. Meanwhile, if the victim is a minor, the state does not allow them to press claims until they turn 18. In such situations, the deadline cannot be extended for over 21 years. The same principle also applies if the plaintiff is of unsound mind. They may bring a claim against the defendants after they recover from their mental incapacity. Still, the timeline cannot be drawn out to more than 21 years.
Resources for DUI Defendants and Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Mississippi
MHSP has been promoting travel safety among Mississippi residents and helping law enforcement organizations in the state since 1938. It operates the Salvage Inspection Division, which examines vehicles that are potentially unsafe due to damage from collisions, hailstorms, floods, or fires. The agency also handles the division named Collision Reconstruction Analysis on State Highways, or CRASH, which conducts thorough investigations of major traffic accidents. Another area that the agency oversees is crash reports. Mississippians hurt in DUI accidents may obtain a copy of their report online.
The organization provides multiple services for Mississippi residents involved in drunk driving accidents. One area is the victim impact panels. These are classes where DUI accident victims or their families meet with violators of the state’s drunk driving laws to tell stories about how such incidents have impacted them. One can view a map of in-person panels near them through the organization’s website. It also allows individuals to check whether they are eligible for online victim impact panels through its eligibility verification page. Another way the organization helps those affected by DUI is through a 24/7 hotline that takes calls from Mississippians seeking assistance in preparing victim impact statements. One can reach MADD Mississippi at 1-877-623-3435.
The agency counsels multiple state government entities on criminal and civil law matters. It handles various areas, from Medicaid fraud to human trafficking. The agency also operates the Bureau of Victim Assistance, which can help DUI accident victims or their eligible family members obtain compensation for crime-related expenses. Note that the program does not cover benefits from workers’ compensation programs, Medicare memberships, or insurance policies. It also cannot reimburse a victim’s non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, as well as costs related to stolen or damaged property. One may email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions about claiming the victim’s compensation.
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