DUI stands for driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. A conviction for DUI can have extremely serious penalties, including high monetary fines and jail time. Moreover, if you sustain a DUI conviction, you may lose your driver’s license for some time and suffer ongoing collateral consequences throughout your life.
Given the serious nature of potential penalties in a criminal DUI case, you should have a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney on board, representing you at every stage of your legal matter.
One of the best ways to avoid penalties in a DUI case is to avoid a conviction in the first place. However, if you ultimately incur a DUI conviction, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and help you minimize the legal penalties and collateral consequences you receive. Your lawyer can do this by recommending a lighter sentence to the judge or negotiating with the state prosecutor handling your case.
Potential Penalties for a DUI Conviction
A conviction for DUI can result in very serious legal and administrative penalties. First, to incur a penalty for a DUI charge, the state prosecutor must satisfy their legal burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If and when that happens, a sentencing judge will impose penalties according to the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as statutory minimums and maximums.
A driver who sustains a DUI conviction can receive any of the following legal and administrative penalties:
- Jail time
- High monetary fines
- Required participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program
- Restitution to the accident victim if they caused a collision in which others suffered personal injuries and damages
- Community service
- Participation in the ignition interlock program
The ignition interlock program is a way to help ensure that drivers do not become repeat DUI offenders. First, a defendant driver must pay to install the ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle. This is a portable Breathalyzer device that the driver must blow into once they get into their car. If the device detects any amount of alcohol on their breath, the vehicle will not start.
In addition to initial installation costs, the driver must pay ongoing maintenance fees while the device is in the vehicle. Many judges will require participation in the IID program as part of a defendant driver’s probation.
It is also important to keep in mind that repeat DUI offenders typically receive higher penalties than first-time offenders. However, even a first-time offender can receive some jail time in addition to a high monetary fine.
A judge imposes DUI penalties at a sentencing hearing. A knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer can represent you at your hearing and argue for a fair penalty on your behalf.
Sometimes, your lawyer can negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your case. For example, if you are a first-time offender, a prosecutor might be willing to reduce your charge to reckless driving in exchange for a guilty plea. The prosecutor may also offer you a term of probation in exchange for pleading guilty. If you successfully complete the probationary terms, your conviction might go away.
However, by agreeing to a plea deal, you give up certain legal and constitutional rights, including your right to a trial by jury and your right to appeal. Depending upon the circumstances, your lawyer can help you negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor in your criminal case.
Common Collateral Consequences That DUI Offenders Face
In addition to these potential legal consequences, convicted DUI offenders may also experience ongoing collateral consequences. First, a convicted offender may have trouble finding or keeping a job. This is especially true if the individual works as a commercial vehicle driver, such as for a large trucking company.
Employers hiring drivers often check driving records and criminal records before making hires. If they find out that a prospective employee is a convicted DUI offender, they may think twice about hiring that individual for a job, or hiring them might go against safety standards.
Employers may also terminate a driver if they incur a DUI charge, especially while on the job. Commercial drivers can lose their licenses quickly following a DUI conviction, which can derail their entire careers. In this way, a DUI conviction can significantly affect your financial future if you need a clean driving or criminal record to work.
A DUI conviction may also affect where an individual goes to school. Colleges and universities typically check applicants’ criminal records before making admissions decisions. If the admissions committee discovers that an applicant has a record of DUI convictions, they may not admit the applicant to their college or university. Moreover, if an already admitted student receives financial aid or scholarships, the educational institution may cut those funds if the individual incurs a DUI conviction.
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney in your area can help you avoid or lessen the collateral consequences that come with your conviction.
DUI Legal Standards
A police officer can pull a vehicle over if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that a driver is violating a traffic law no matter how minor. Therefore, in theory, an officer can pull a vehicle over when a driver exceeds the speed limit slightly, has a taillight out, or fails to use a turn signal appropriately. Moreover, an officer may use a minor traffic violation as a pretext to pull a vehicle over for suspected drunk driving.
Similarly, if the driver exhibits the classic signs and symptoms of drunk driving, such as weaving in and out of a traffic lane or engaging in other erratic driving maneuvers, the police officer can pull the vehicle over.
Moreover, when a police officer speaks with the driver, the officer may detect various telltale signs of alcohol intoxication, including alcohol on the driver’s breath, slurred speech, a glazed expression, and bloodshot eyes. When an officer observes one or more of these characteristics, they may ask the driver to complete one or more field sobriety tests or ask the driver to undergo chemical testing, such as a Breathalyzer test.
Field sobriety tests aim to determine whether or not a driver is impaired. Common field sobriety tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the heel-to-toe test, where a driver must walk in a straight line. If the driver is unable to complete a field sobriety test successfully, that failure may act as probable cause for the officer to lawfully arrest the driver for DUI.
In most situations, a driver is legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Commercial vehicle drivers, including semi-truck and tractor-trailer drivers and minor drivers under 21 years of age must follow stricter standards. When a driver’s BAC exceeds the legal limit, a police officer may arrest the driver for DUI.
After an arrest, the police officer may ask the driver whether they had anything to drink or how much they had to drink. In general, you should never answer any questions that a police officer asks you after your DUI arrest other than general identification questions. Instead, you should immediately insist upon your Fifth Amendment right to the presence of legal counsel during any police questioning. If you assert this right, the police officer must stop asking you questions until an attorney is available.
You should not begin answering these questions again until a lawyer is either present with you on the phone or in person. If a police officer or investigator asks you an improper question while your attorney is present, your lawyer can promptly object, thereby preserving and protecting your legal rights.
Legal Burden of Proof in Criminal DUI Cases
In any criminal case, including one that involves DUI, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. This is the highest burden of proof in the justice system: to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.
Although the defendant driver does not need to prove anything, their lawyer can assert one or more legal defenses on their behalf in court. Raising a solid legal defense at trial may prevent the state prosecutor from proving the necessary elements of their case. As a result, your DUI charge might be subject to a complete dismissal.
A knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer in your area can determine if you’re eligible to raise a defense to your DUI charge and if so, can aggressively advocate for you during all criminal court hearings and proceedings. Your lawyer can advance the appropriate defense on your behalf and work to obtain a complete dismissal of your DUI case. If a judge dismisses your case, you will not incur any legal penalties or consequences due to your DUI charge.
Defending against a DUI Charge
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney in your area can help you raise the appropriate legal defenses to your criminal charge. The defense(s) that you may be eligible to raise in court will depend upon the circumstances surrounding your arrest and other related factors.
First, you might allege that the police officer engaged in an unlawful traffic stop. According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have a legal right to be free of unnecessary and unreasonable searches and seizures. This includes unwarranted traffic stops.
Police officers may pull a vehicle over if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a crime even a minor one. However, they may not engage in random traffic stops. If you can demonstrate that the police officer stopped your vehicle randomly, you may be eligible to raise the Fourth Amendment as a defense in your case. Moreover, if the traffic stop was unlawful in the first place, then any Breathalyzer evidence that the officer later obtained may be inadmissible at your trial.
A defendant driver may also allege that the Breathalyzer equipment which the police officer used to measure the driver’s BAC was defective in some way. Breathalyzer machines, like other pieces of equipment, sometimes malfunction. If an expert can demonstrate that the Breathalyzer machine in your case provided an inaccurate BAC reading, then your DUI case may be subject to dismissal.
Moreover, you might allege that a police officer violated your Fifth Amendment constitutional rights. According to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have a right to be free of self-incrimination.
Before questioning a defendant driver, the officer must give them an opportunity to request the presence of legal counsel during questioning. If a driver requests that an attorney be present during questioning, and the police officer continues questioning them, the court may suppress any subsequent incriminating statements.
Finally, a defendant driver might state that their poor performance on a field sobriety test resulted from an adverse medical condition. For example, individuals with poor eyesight or bad balance may not complete a field sobriety test correctly, even while sober. Moreover, environmental conditions, like the weather, roadway conditions, and the time of day, may affect a driver’s field sobriety test performance.
A knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer in your area can determine if you’re eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses in court. If so, your lawyer can raise the appropriate defense(s) on your behalf at trial and work to obtain the best possible result for you in your criminal case.
Contact an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney Near You Today
If you or someone you love recently sustained a DUI conviction, you should always have an experienced attorney representing you from the beginning of your criminal case until the end. Your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your arrest and determine your best legal defenses, then aggressively advance those defenses for you in court.
Likewise, your criminal defense attorney can represent you at all legal proceedings, including your initial appearance, criminal court trial, and sentencing hearing. If the court convicts you, your lawyer can advocate for your legal rights at a sentencing hearing and help you receive a fair penalty.