Being charged with drunk driving such as a DUI or DWI (Driving Under the Influence or Driving While Intoxicated, respectively) is a very serious offense. If you are found liable of drunk driving, it will include a hefty fine, significantly impact your ability to drive (with a suspended or revoked license), increase your insurance rates and could even include jail time.
A guilty court verdict can further affect your employment options, financial future and ability to travel internationally. However, by following this advice instead of panicking, you will begin the preparation for the best possible outcome. The following Do’s and Don’ts are a series of actions you should take that will help you survive this legal and emotional crisis.
Do write down everything about your DUI or DWI arrest
The prosecution will focus on the following three factors in your court trial:
- how you were driving when you were pulled over
- how did you look and act during their initial questioning and during any field sobriety tests
- your field sobriety test results and chemical blood or breath test results.
To help you remember the events of your arrest for the DMV administrative hearing and the court trial, refer to this list of 17 questions you should answer.
Do remember you are innocent until proven guilty
Many people who are charged by the police with a drunk driving or driving while under the influence charge, based on a failed field sobriety test and/or a chemical blood or breath test believe they are guilty. This is not always the case. In a court of law, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof rests on the prosecution who will need to prove 100% guilt beyond a reasonable doubt unanimously to all jurors.
Your lawyer’s responsibility in the court trial is to present the circumstances that create reasonable doubts as to the field sobriety test and/or chemical test. Believe it or not, there are many valid defenses. You could, in fact, be completely innocent. So relax and don’t automatically assume you are guilty.
Do hire a qualified and experienced DUI defense lawyer
Do not represent yourself. Given the fact that you’re being penalized with heavy fines and that your driving privileges and freedom are at stake, you should find a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer to defend you. Do not hire your family or business lawyer. Lawyers who defend those charged with drunk driving have specialized expertise and knowledge of the complex nature a DUI defense. In seeking the right lawyer, you should hire someone who has a track record of successfully defending DUI or DWI cases. A DUI attorney will review your case, identify defense possibilities and associated outcomes, and will take every opportunity to minimize or even dismiss the charges and help you keep your driver’s license.
Do learn what will be the consequences of a guilty conviction
The consequences of a guilty verdict for drunk driving are specific to each state. A conviction can include suspension of your driving privileges or a fine, jail time, or participation in an alcohol program. The court will decide the appropriate punishment based on a number of factors including:
- Is this your first conviction? Is there a probation violation?
- The facts of the case, e.g. blood alcohol content level, was there an accident, dangerous driving involved and so on
- Your behavior during and after the arrest
Be sure to spend a considerable amount of time with your lawyer understanding the various defense options, outcomes and personal consequences.
Do contact the DMV to request an administrative hearing
When charged with drunk driving, there are, in fact, two actions against you: the court case and a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) case. Like the court case, the DMV case is different in every state and you need to request a private hearing with the DMV to prevent your license from being suspended. In many states you can prevent a suspension of your license by requesting a DMV administrative hearing. This hearing can occur months from the date of the arrest, which means you can keep your license and the legal right to drive in the meantime. Furthermore, an experienced attorney can present options such as a “restricted” license, allowing you to drive to work. So it’s very important you understand the DMV rules and processes for your state and react quickly. If you have hired a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer, they will be able to guide you through the DMV process.
Do not assume you are guilty if your BAC is over .08%
A blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 percent is the legal standard used to charge a person with a DUI or DWI. A content of .08 or greater does not, however, automatically result in a conviction for a DUI. There are numerous factors that can be utilized in your defense, including when your blood alcohol content level was obtained relative to the time you were initially pulled over, the maintenance and accuracy history of the breath machine and so on. While the blood alcohol content is the most critical part of the state’s evidence, you are still innocent until proven guilty and the state has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that all proper procedures were followed.
Do not discuss your DUI arrest with others
Absolutely do not discuss your DUI arrest with anyone except your lawyer. Discussing the DUI with work colleagues can have a serious negative impact on your employment and future opportunities at the company. If anyone from your place of work does ask you, politely refer them to your lawyer and make it clear that you are unable to discuss the situation at work.
Discussing your arrest with your family can also create significant stress among loved ones and any advice they provide should be passed by your lawyer first. Remember, anyone you have spoken to about your arrest for drunk driving can be called into court by the prosecution and required to testify against you based on what you have said to them.
Do not talk to police without your lawyer
As part of their investigation the police may ask to speak with you after your arrest. You are not obligated nor required to speak to the police and you should never meet with the police without your lawyer present. If the police approach you and ask to speak with you, be polite but decline their request and instead give the name and telephone number of your attorney. Immediately tell your lawyer who will follow up with the police on your behalf. Your lawyer will arrange and attend any subsequent meetings with the police and will advise you on answering their questions.
Do not drive if your license is suspended
If you driver’s license is suspended you must not operate a vehicle. If you do and you are caught, this can have serious consequences on your first DUI charge and will result in another arrest that will cost you even more money and time to defend.
Do not drink and then drive
Avoiding a DUI arrest is easy. Do not drive after you have been drinking. While this seems obvious, it is more crucial after you have been charged or convicted with a DUI. A second DUI arrest and conviction will lead to greater punitive results than your first DUI conviction.
Being arrest and charged with a DUI can be an emotional and stressful event that will take time and money to address. If charged, you need to act quickly and hire a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer. You or your attorney should promptly contact the DMV to ensure your driver’s license is not suspended. Document what happened leading up to and immediately after your arrest. Understand the consequences of a DUI conviction in your state. Above all, do not assume you’re guilty because you have been charged with a DUI — even if you failed the field sobriety test and/or the chemical blood or breath test. Do not let the situation consume your life. You will get through this difficult time and remember you are innocent until proven guilty.