If you have been charged with a DUI (driving under the influence)—in some states also called a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or OUI (operating under the influence)—here are the top ten things to know about your situation:
Don't talk about your case with someone who is not your lawyer or a lawyer you are considering retaining.
Anything you say can be used in court if you go to trial, including what you say when you are first pulled over on the road and anything you say to court officials, police officers, or jail staff after arrest.
Laws differ significantly from state to state, and you need legal counsel that understands local laws.
Do not choose a private lawyer who does not specialize in DUIs, or who does not specialize in DUIs in your state. Get free consultations from multiple attorneys before choosing one.
If you meet your state's requirements for a public defender, you can receive legal defense free of charge.
Typically, you must have a very low income and few or no assets to qualify. You may be required to show that you cannot afford the typical fees for a private lawyer to defend you. Public defenders typically have considerable experience with DUIs since they are common charges, but they also have large caseloads.
A first-time DUI charge, where no one was hurt, is typically a misdemeanor criminal charge.
In cases where someone was injured or killed, the charge is typically a felony DUI, with associated higher fines, longer prison sentences, and other consequences. If you are charged with felony DUI, legal counsel is especially important.
Fighting a DUI charge and paying fines for a DUI conviction are costly.
Figure on at least $2,000 for a private lawyer who will research your case and represent you prior to trial. A trial can add up to $10,000 or even more to the cost of your defense. Fines range from $500 to $2,000, and if you go to court and lose, court costs can also be hundreds of dollars.
Get a copy of the police report and read it closely.
Make sure your lawyer has a copy of this police report, without which it is impossible for them to advocate effectively for you. Be a part of this evaluation and don't be afraid to address points from the report with your lawyer to find out how they can affect your case.
There might be opportunities to bargain your case before going to trial.
Most DUI cases never make it to trial, because the defendant accepts a deal or pleads guilty due to overwhelming evidence. The prosecutor may offer you a less severe sentence if you agree to plead guilty and avoid trial. In addition, your lawyer or public defender may be able to negotiate a reduction in charges depending on the evidence in your case. Of course, if you and your lawyer agree that the evidence in your case supports your innocence, you may want to go to trial.
The judge can revoke your driving privileges or have an ignition interlock installed on your car, even after a first conviction.
Most states have laws allowing them to suspend your driver's license on a first conviction, for a period of time ranging from a few days to a year. Some states permit the judge to limit your driving privileges, allowing you to drive only to and from work, for example. Many states also have ignition interlock laws for a first conviction, which may be at the judge's discretion or may be mandatory.
If you've been convicted of a DUI in the past, the consequences are more severe.
You may be subject to harsher fines, more jail time, and longer periods of license suspension or ignition interlock use for subsequent convictions. Even if the conviction no longer appears on your driving record, some states require that judges consider prior DUIs in sentencing.
Having a DUI conviction on your record can have long-term consequences.
This charge remains on your driving record for at least five years, will increase your insurance costs significantly, and can even affect your ability to get hired in certain types of jobs. Take all the time you have to understand the charges, the police report, and the local laws, with the assistance of legal counsel, before making any decisions.
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