The most important step in preparing for a drunk driving/DUI/DWI case is to hire an experienced DUI/DWI attorney. A DUI/DWI conviction can have serious consequences that extend beyond driving issues. Many professions will not permit an individual with a DUI/DWI conviction to work for them.
If an individual is facing DUI charges, it is important that they are familiar with the basics of a DUI case. Intoxication is often determined by blood alcohol content (BAC). All states, except Arizona, have set the legal limit for adults over 21 years of age at .08% BAC. It is important to note that in Arizona a driver can be convicted of driving under the influence if they have any level of alcohol in their body and are even slightly impaired.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be equipped to fight DUI/DWI charges while also protecting their client’s rights. It is important to seek the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible after being charged with DUI/DWI.
An individual will interact with both a court and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). An attorney will be of great value when dealing with both.
If an individual is arrested on a DUI/DWI charge and their BAC is below the legal limit, it is crucial they contact an attorney. A conviction for these charges will have a great impact on an individual’s life, not just their pocketbook. It may raise their insurance premiums and keep them from career and/or education opportunities.
The penalties for DUI/DWI convictions vary by jurisdiction. They may include:
- Driver’s license suspension and/or revocation;
- Steep fines;
- Jail or prison time;
- Home confinement;
- Installation of an ignition interlock device; and/or
- Community service.
An attorney will be familiar with the possible penalties in their area. They can also provide advice on what a court will consider when determining punishment. Factors may include:
- The defendant’s prior conviction history;
- If injury and/or death occurred as a result of the DUI/DWI;
- Whether property damage occurred;
- Whether the individual was driving a commercial vehicle;
- If the driver was 21 years of age or over at the time of arrest; and
- Whether or not a minor was present in the car at the time of arrest.
In many cases, the sentence for a drunk driving offense depends on whether or not the offender has a previous offense. A first-time DUI/DWI offense is often considered a misdemeanor offense.
The second DUI/DWI offense can be a felony charge. The defendant may face a year or more in prison as well as the possibility of having their driver’s license revoked. In most cases, if convicted, the individual must re-apply for their driver’s license at the end of a revocation period.
In some cases, an individual who is convicted of DUI/DWI will be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. This device is wired to the ignition and functions as a breathalyzer. The driver must blow into the ignition interlock device for the vehicle to start. If the device detects a BAC of 0.2% or higher, the vehicle will not start.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Gather Before I Meet with My DUI Lawyer?
It is important to gather any documents an individual thinks is relevant to their case prior to a legal consultation. This includes any correspondence received from a prosecutor’s office.
There may also be reports regarding the individual’s BAC that are important for the attorney to review. This may come from a police report or a hospital report, if the individual was tested at a hospital.
It is also important for an individual to make a list of any questions they may have for their attorney. This can include things such as:
- What defenses may be available in the case?
- What are the possible punishments for conviction?
- Is the case eligible for a plea bargain?
- Is there any possible way to get the case dismissed?
- Any other questions the client may have.
What Makes a DUI Defense Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
It may be more difficult to mount a defense in a DUI/DWI case because of DWI per se laws. This is where an attorney’s assistance becomes so valuable. Pursuant to per se laws, if an individual has a BAC of .08% or above, they are considered legally intoxicated and can be convicted of DUI/DWI. For individuals under the age of 21, driving with any amount of alcohol in their bloodstream is illegal.
Individuals who drive commercial vehicles are held to a higher legal standard. They can be charged with DUI/DWI if their BAC exceeds .04%. This also applies to individuals who drive for ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft.
It is difficult to argue against evidence in these types of cases. That is where an attorney becomes so helpful. An attorney will know how to invalidate the evidence, if possible. They can also attempt to negotiate to have the charges lowered.
Even if there is no evidence of per se intoxication, an individual may still be charged with DUI/DWI. A DUI/DWI conviction can occur even if the individual’s BAC was less than .08%. The arresting officer must provide the court with evidence of the individual’s impairment, including:
- Visible weaving;
- Slurred speech; and/or
- Failing a field sobriety test.
These pieces of evidence may be argued against in court. For example, if an individual is prescribed medication that causes them to slur and/or be off-balance, that may preclude a DUI/DWI conviction based on the officer’s observations.
A lawyer can also help a defendant attempt to make a DUI plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement in which a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense than what they were charged with. A plea bargain can help a defendant avoid costs associated with going to trial but the defendant must admit guilt and accept a conviction.
For example, a defendant may be able to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for an agreement to pay fines, complete an alcohol diversion program, and/or do community service. An experienced attorney will know how to negotiate with the prosecution and can often obtain a reasonable outcome for their clients. If an individual’s BAC was near the legal limit, a reduced charge is crucial for avoiding the serious consequences associated with a DUI/DWI conviction.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Drunk Driving Cases?
Some “do’s” for drunk driving cases include:
- Do: Hire an attorney ASAP. A DUI/DWI conviction can ruin your life and even chances for future employment.
- Do: Tell your attorney everything. There may be a fact that you do not realize is important that can be the difference between winning and losing your case.
- Do: Hope for the best but understand there may be consequences. DUI/DWI is a serious offense. Any time you get behind the wheel, even slightly intoxicated, you are a danger to yourself and other innocent drivers. Be prepared to face some type of consequence.
Some “don’ts” for drunk driving cases include:
- Don’t: Try to handle your case alone. DUI/DWI is a serious charge with serious consequences. A regular citizen will not know the ins and out as well as tips and tricks to obtain the best outcome, but an attorney does.
- Don’t: Lie about any aspect of your interaction with law enforcement and/or arrest. These days, nearly every aspect of an encounter with law enforcement is recorded and often includes audio recording.
- Don’t: Keep any information from your attorney. If you know you have a previous conviction, even if it is in another state, this is information your attorney needs. You can bet the prosecution will dig as deep as possible, so you need to even the playing field by keeping your attorney informed.
When Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Drunk Driving Case?
If you have been arrested for DUI/DWI or any other driving while intoxicated charge, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney and/or a DUI/DWI attorney as soon as possible. Often, these specialties will overlap. A lawyer will advise you of your rights, build the best possible defense for your case, and represent you during any court proceedings.
A lawyer may also be able to negotiate with the prosecution in your case. It may be possible to lower the charges and/or obtain a favorable plea bargain, especially if this is your first offense.
As noted above, the penalties may be severe for a DUI/DWI conviction, especially if this is not your first offense. It may affect every aspect of your life, as most people drive to get to work, school, and many other daily activities. It is in your best interest to have a lawyer on your side to ensure your life is not totally turned upside down.