It is well-known that alcohol-impaired drivers are the largest “preventable” factor in traffic accident fatalities in the United States. Despite the enactment of “zero-tolerance” anti-DUI laws in every state of the country, we are still confronted with statistics such as:
- On an “average” day, it is estimated that there are 3,200 DUI-related arrests.
- Over the course of such an “average” day, 28 people are killed in DUI-related accidents.
Given numbers such as these, it is understandable that local and state law enforcement agencies feel pressured to vigorously enforce existing DUI/Impaired Driver laws. Sadly, this means that there will always be cases where a driver finds themselves subjected to a DUI arrest that is not made in accordance with the established principles of criminal law.
Make no mistake, we humans are notorious for judging others based on the nature of the crime that someone has been charged with rather than whether those charges are supported by the alleged “facts” of the case or if the available evidence confirms or refutes those “facts.” It is for these reasons that anyone who is arrested on a criminal offense of “driving under the influence” of alcohol (DUI) or “driving while impaired” (DWI) be given the opportunity to defend themselves in an open court and to be represented/advised by a qualified attorney. On this page, we will present our advice on how to handle a DWI/DUI charge beginning with a free DUI consultation with a local attorney.
Misdemeanor or Felony DUI?
One of the first questions asked of an attorney during a free DUI consultation is usually “Is there a mandatory jail time for the first DUI offense?” followed closely by “Is a drunk driving a felony?” Fortunately for those who have been wrongly accused of DUI, the answer to both questions is “No.”
Each state has the authority to enact its own laws that define what a DUI conviction means as far as qualifying as either a “misdemeanor” or a “felony” DUI, as well as the DUI penalty that may be imposed by a court.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding an arrest, and on each state’s DUI laws, a DUI charge can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. During your free DUI consultation you will learn that a misdemeanor-level charge can be filed against you for:
- A first time DUI, meaning that this is the first time that you have been charged with DUI.
- A DUI charge that is associated with a “minor” traffic offense such as making an improper U-turn, speeding, or if you were involved in an accident that did not result in serious injuries or major property damage.
- Having an open container of an alcoholic beverage in your vehicle.
- Since each state has its own “implied consent” law, refusing to take a field sobriety test or a “breath test” can result in a DUI conviction if that charge can be supported by other evidence.
In the United States, a first time DUI penalty can result in 1) up to a year in jail, 2) a fine of up to $1,000 or more, 3) a term of supervised probation including the mandatory installation (at your own expense) of an ignition interlock device, mandatory completion of a driver training and education program or 4) any combination of these punishments that is allowed by state law. In addition, a misdemeanor DUI conviction is enough to cause you to lose your commercial driver’s license (CDL) or to prevent you from obtaining such a license in the future.
Although the potential punishments for a misdemeanor conviction may seem harsh, they pale when compared to what you will face if you are convicted of a “felony DUI” charge. As your lawyer will explain during your free DUI consultation, you will likely be charged with felony drunk driving in situations where:
- This is your 2nd DUI offense (or even more) and you have been convicted on a previous DUI charge, even if you have complied with all the terms imposed by the court as a part of your sentence.
- You were driving while your license was suspended or in revocation.
- You are under the minimum age (usually 21 years old) to purchase or possess alcohol in your state.
- You are also charged with a “major” traffic offense such as reckless driving, attempting to flee from the police, an accident resulting in major property damage or in an injury that required medical treatment.
- If there was a fatality in an accident that is related to your DUI charge, you can expect to be charged with (at least) manslaughter or even vehicular homicide.
- If a passenger in your car is legally considered to be a child (usually, anyone younger than 18 years of age), in some states you can also be charged with child abuse or reckless endangerment of a child in addition to DUI.
As is the case with a misdemeanor DUI conviction, the punishment for a “felony DUI” conviction varies from state to state. Again generally, a felony DUI can result in 1) from 1 to 10 years in prison, 2) a fine of several thousand dollars, 3) long-term or even permanent loss of your driver’s license, or 4) any combination of these punishments that is allowed by the prevailing state law. Additionally, having a DUI conviction on your record is sometimes enough to make you ineligible for certain types of federal student loans or financial aid and could also be used to deny you a federal or military security clearance and make you ineligible for enlistment in the armed services.
The First Step in Your Defense: A Free DUI Consultation
From the information presented above, you should realize that a DUI conviction can cause life-changing consequences in both the near and far term. Considering these potential consequences, it is always in your best interests to arrange a free DUI consultation with an experienced DUI lawyer as soon as possible after you are arrested.
Fortunately, practically all attorneys whose practice includes defending those who charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) have a policy of offering a free DUI consultation to all potential clients. Such a free DUI consultations are designed to provide you with an understanding of the charges against you as well as the options that may be available in preparing your defense. Regardless of the course of action developed during your free DUI consultation, you are not obligated to retain the services of that individual DUI defense lawyer until you are satisfied that he or she will provide you with a vigorous defense of the charges made against you.
During your free DUI consultation the attorney will ask you a series of questions that, when answered truthfully and to the best of your knowledge, will allow him or her to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of any evidence that will be used against you as well as the likelihood that a defense against those charges will be successful. During the course of your free DUI consultation, you will be asked to describe the circumstances of your arrest such as:
- When and where you were arrested.
- The reason that the arresting officer gave for stopping you.
- What you had been doing in the hours prior to the arrest.
- Whether you were given a “field test” such as being asked to walk heel-to-toe, count backward from a certain number, or to “blow up the balloon.”
- If you were later given a blood test or a “Breathalyzer” machine test. Depending on your answers to these and other questions, an attorney will be able to form a preliminary opinion on the best course of action that should be followed.
At the end of your free DUI consultation, the DUI attorney will advise you of his or her opinion regarding the most effective way to defend yourself against the type of DUI charge that you are facing. Since each case is unique in its circumstances, it is impossible to predict the success of any defense to a given charge based on a DUI lawyer’s previous “won-lost” record and any reputable DUI defense lawyer will make certain that you understand this point.
To recap, a conviction on a charge of “driving under the influence” or “driving while impaired” can have serious personal implications for years to come. We therefore strongly suggest that anyone accused of such an offense seek the advice of a DUI defense lawyer during a free DUI consultation as soon as possible after being charged with that offense.