State laws contain provisions detailing the legal process and potential consequences of driving under the influence. There is some variation among the specific types of charges brought against individuals as well as allowable punishments under the law. In general terms, however, all states take DUI convictions very seriously and levy harsh penalties against offenders.
Some of the types of consequences that may be brought against people who are found guilty of driving under influence include:
- Fines – All states issue fines for DUI offenses; though amounts vary, it’s common for fines (with surcharges and fees) to total thousands of dollars.
- Jail time – In addition to any time spent in jail after a DUI arrest, it’s common for people to be incarcerated for a period following a conviction. Probation and community service are also common.
- Loss of driving privileges – States typically suspends or revoke the driver’s license of any motorist who is convicted on DUI or DWI charges.
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) – To regain driving privileges after a DUI offense, motorists commonly must install an ignition interlock device – a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if alcohol has been consumed.
- Substance abuse education/treatment – People convicted may have to attend classes or treatment programs geared toward preventing future abuse of alcohol or another drug.
The severity of DUI penalties is largely determined by whether a person has prior convictions. A person just above the legal limit who is arrested for the first time, for example, is likely to be charged with a misdemeanor and avoid significant jail time; a repeat or serious offender, on the other hand, may face felony charges and a prison sentence.
Aggravating circumstances can factor into the punishments that are ultimately handed down by a court. For example, motorists may be charged with felony-level DUI if BAC levels far exceed the legal limit of .08 percent, a license suspension is in effect at the time of an arrest or children are in the car when a person driving while intoxicated.
The Impacts Of Driving Under The Influence Cases
The potential consequences of driving under the influence extend far beyond state-mandated punishments called for under the law. Depending on a person’s profession, it’s possible to be fired from a job. Commercial drivers are routinely dismissed from their duties given the nature of their work. People working in professions and organizations valuing a high-character workforce are also fired much of the time.
Losing driving privileges can obviously have a huge impact on a person’s life, potentially making it hard to meet household responsibilities. Whenever a driver’s license is ultimately reinstated, car insurance premiums can also shoot upward in the aftermath of a DUI or DWI offense.
Barring extraordinary circumstances, a DUI will stay on a person’s record forever. Unfortunately, it can seem like the person, the financial and professional fallout of a driving under the influence conviction also lasts that long.
The DUI Legal Process
An arrest for driving under the influence can be traumatic. Being processed in a police station and spending some amount of time in a holding cell – which most alleged DUI offenders go through – is often a truly harrowing ordeal.
The truth is that most people who are arrested for intoxicated or impaired driving simply haven’t before found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Coming to terms with the fact that DUI charges will be filed can only be a somber realization.
Unfortunately, of course, the hardships don’t end there. The legal process that follows an arrest for driving under in the influence is typically bewildering. No one plans, after all, on being arrested on suspicion of DUI or DWI. When the unthinkable happens, stress and uncertainty are inevitable.
Navigating A Complex Area Of The Law
While confusion and trepidation are to be expected after a DUI arrest, it’s at exactly at this time that you must stay composed and aware of what’s in your best interests. Much of the time, how well a person navigates the DUI legal process directly influences the outcome of a case. Put another way, taking the right steps now can increase the odds of favorable outcome weeks and months in the future.
A critical prerequisite toward effectively proceeding after a driving under the influence arrest is to be informed about the legal process. Case stages may include:
- Arraignment hearing. In this hearing, the state’s charges against you may be read aloud before the court. You will then have the opportunity to enter a plea – typically guilty, not guilty or no contest. Most often people plead not guilty at this early juncture given that this plea can be changed later, whereas it may be impossible to change from a guilty plea.
- Preliminary hearing. It is in this setting that evidence from a DUI or DWI arrest will be shared by the state. This may include such elements as BAC test results, a police officer’s statements, and eyewitness testimony. Fully accounting for this evidence will be a critical aspect of preparing a defense.
- Filing of pre-trial motions. At this stage in the process, it is possible to challenge whether the various items of state-collected evidence may be used against you in a trial. It may be possible to challenge the results of a BAC test, for example, on grounds that the equipment was defective or that an officer did not administer the assessment properly.
- Trial. This is typically the final stage of driving under the influence cases in which you have the opportunity to mount a defense against the charges resulting from a DUI arrest. Typically a jury will ultimately either side with the state and issue a guilty verdict or proclaim you innocent.
While this is a big-picture look at a DUI trial, each of these steps involves many detailed procedures that require diligent preparation. Given that they feel unprepared to grasp the intricacies of DUI laws court requirements, most people charged with driving under the influence hire a lawyer to guide them through the legal process.
An attorney will start by gaining a full understanding of the facts at play in the DUI arrest. This is likely to involve interviewing a client, reviewing the police report and speaking with any witnesses. This work will serve as the foundation for identifying appropriate defense strategies.
Upon settling on the legal options that are most likely to be effective in a case, a lawyer will go about the work of compiling all evidence, consulting expert witnesses and others who can be of benefit to your case. As might be expected, this involves much preparation.
Understanding The Charges Against You
The precise trajectory that a driving under the influence case takes, of course, will depend in large part upon the charges filed. Dictated by the laws of a given state, there is a wide range of potential charges that could be brought against an individual.
Some states designate driving offenses as DUI – driving under the influence – while others opt for DWI – driving while impaired. There is no uniform use of these and related offenses; for instance, some states have separate DUI and DWI charges and others designate all substance-related driving offenses under one term. Similarly, some state laws outline offenses specific to the use of illegal drugs and others don’t.
Understanding the distinguishing factors in various forms of driving offenses involving alcohol and other drugs can be difficult, which is why most people rely on the help of an attorney to navigate the legal process following an arrest.
Civil Case Proceedings Beyond A Criminal Court
In addition to criminal court proceedings, a parallel administrative process concerns driving privileges. People convicted of DUI offenses typically have a driver’s license suspended or revoked. Driving sanctions vary between states, though the process is typically administered by the department that issues licenses.
State attempts to remove driving privileges usually begin well before any final outcome in a DUI case. In fact, the clock on losing driving privileges can start almost immediately upon arrest. People alleged to have driven under the influence may have as little as 10 days to take steps to contest a suspension or revocation.
There is an urgent need to act quickly to contest the loss of driving privilege. It’s critical to act immediately in the aftermath of a DUI arrest to get an administrative hearing scheduled. In this setting, it may be possible to have a suspension or revocation eliminated or at least shortened.