You just got charged for the first time with Driving while Under the Influence, and it’s got you a little shaken up. A million questions are buzzing through your head. Are you going to jail? What happens to your license? What is the procedure? How long does it take? Why are you getting postcards from lawyers you never met? How do you choose the right one? Below are some answers to common questions.
What is the procedure? Once you have been charged with DUI, you will be given a court date for your first court appearance. You will also be given a notice that your driver’s license is suspended by the Secretary of State, usually beginning 46 days after your arrest.
On the first court date, you are best advised to show up with an experienced DUI attorney. The attorney will enter his or her appearance, which tells the court that he or she is your official representative. The attorney will also ask for discovery, which means copies of evidence against you.
If you promptly hire an attorney, that attorney will be able to file a petition against the upcoming suspension of your driver’s license.. Even if the attorney cannot win that petition, you may be eligible to drive with a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device after serving the first thirty days of the suspension..
After evaluating the evidence, the attorney may wish to bring other motions before the court depending on your particular case. Perhaps the police lacked probable cause to stop you, in which case the attorney may petition the court to have the arrest thrown out.
After reviewing the evidence, your attorney can also advise you on whether you have a winnable case or whether you should take a plea bargain. In either case, you will likely be asked to get an alcohol evaluation. In Cook County, only one agency (Central States Institute) is authorized to prepare these reports. Your sentencing may depend on how your evaluation turns out.
If you decide against a plea bargain, your attorney may take your case to trial before a judge or jury.
How long does this take? A DUI court proceeding can take several months. No attorney can get your case finished on the first court date. On average, your case will come before the court once a month. The length of time may depend on whether you take a quick plea agreement or decide to fight the case. While you may want to “just get it over with," be advised that we have seen many second-time offenders who wish they hadn’t rushed to plea out a winnable first-time offense.
Why am I getting postcards from lawyers and how do I choose a good one? Once you are charged with DUI, some counties will sell the list of new DUI defendants to attorneys who request it. These attorneys often send postcards or letters offering services for a seemingly reasonable fee. While we cannot comment on the quality of all these attorneys, many make their living as “plea mills." They may represent you cheaply, but they may not be doing you a service. For the limited fee, they may simply show up once to plea you out in court, and frankly, you could probably manage that on your own.
A quality attorney will likely cost you more. But he or she will review your case for possible defenses, prepare you for your alcohol evaluation and attempt to get rid of your driver’s license suspension. Even if a plea bargain is still the way to go, a diligent attorney, who is respected by the court may negotiate a better plea bargain than an attorney who never tries a case. But be aware that no reputable attorney can ever guarantee a particular outcome for your case.
To help decide if the attorney is a good one, ask them about how they like to handle cases. How well do they know the courthouse and the judges or prosecutors involved? How often do they take cases to trial? Do they provide a lot of good information when you question them? Are they asking you the right questions? It is important that you feel confidence in any attorney you choose.
Will I go to jail? A first time DUI is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Nonetheless, the odds of actually going to jail are limited on a first offense. If you make a plea bargain, you will likely have to take alcohol classes, pay a fine and/or perform community service. If you take the case to trial and lose, your sentence might be harsher but is still unlikely to involve jail. Of course, if the attorney can win your case, you will not have to do any of that.
Can I drive? The Secretary of State automatically suspends your driver’s license when you are charged with DUI. The length of time depends on whether you took the field sobriety tests or breathalyzer. The Secretary of State will mail you a notice that tells you the dates of your suspension. If you hire an experienced DUI attorney promptly, you may be able to get your suspension thrown out. This does not mean that you win your DUI case. Likewise, if you win your DUI, you still might have a suspended license. The Secretary of State and the Court operate on two different levels. A finding in one does not affect the other.
If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email [email protected].
(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)