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Dry county? Does that mean harsher penalties for drinking?

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2024 | Alcohol Charges

Living in the United States, you’ve likely heard of “dry counties” – areas where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. Arkansas has a significant number of dry counties, and it’s natural to wonder if these areas have stricter penalties for alcohol-related offenses like driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The concept of a “dry county” conjures images of a stricter legal environment surrounding alcohol. But does this actually translate to harsher punishments? Like many things in law, the answer is nuanced.

What is a dry county?

A dry county is a jurisdiction where the sale and public consumption of alcohol is prohibited. This means there are no liquor stores, bars or restaurants selling alcoholic beverages within the county limits. These counties often have a long history of temperance movements or religious beliefs that disapprove of alcohol consumption. It’s important to remember that dry counties don’t necessarily mean alcohol is completely illegal. Residents may still possess alcohol for personal consumption, following specific regulations.

Penalties: State vs. county

Arkansas state laws primarily determine the severity of penalties for alcohol-related offenses. These laws dictate the punishments for charges like DWI, public intoxication and underage drinking. DWI penalties in Arkansas follow a standardized structure.

The severity of the charges and repercussions depend on factors like blood alcohol content (BAC) level and number of prior offenses. So, regardless of being in a dry or wet county, the baseline penalties for these offenses remain the same throughout the state. However, dry counties often have additional local ordinances that can add consequences on top of the state-mandated penalties. In some cases, violating a dry county ordinance alongside a state charge could lead to a harsher sentence.

The big picture: Does prohibition work?

There’s an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of dry counties. While some believe the restrictions deter alcohol consumption and related crimes, studies suggest otherwise. In fact, some research indicates that dry counties might have higher DWI death rates as residents travel to neighboring areas to purchase alcohol and then drive back intoxicated.

State laws primarily dictate penalties for alcohol-related offenses. Dry counties might add their own ordinances with additional consequences, but the core charges and punishments remain consistent within a state. If you get arrested for a DWI in a dry county, it can help to seek legal counsel to learn more about the penalties you may face and how to build a solid defense.