A DUI/DWI (Driving Under the Influence/Driving While Influenced) is a serious driving violation which can carry hefty financial and long-lasting legal consequences. While the intent of this article is not to provide free legal advice, it will outline the general proceedings and potential consequences of receiving a DUI/DWI ticket or being involved in a DUI/DWI accident.
Legal advice will be state specific and is best sought after by consulting with a lawyer familiar with DUI/DWI cases in your state. An experienced DUI/DWI lawyer might be able to get your case dismissed completely, or get your sentence reduced if you are convicted. A lawyer can determine if your constitutional rights were violated and if the arresting Officer followed protocol.
WHEN YOU GET PULLED OVER BY A POLICE OFFICER FOR DUI
If an Officer has reason to suspect there is a problem, he/she may pull you over to investigate and make sure you are not driving under the influence. In some cases, you may have swerved to avoid a pothole or maybe you took your eyes off the road for half a second to change the radio station and you weaved over the double yellow line. Regardless of the circumstance an Officer is required to pull you over and execute several tests to ensure your safety and the safety of other drivers.
FIELD SOBRIETY DUI TESTS
The first sets of tests, called Field Sobriety Tests, were developed to test your coordination and balance. They are the Horizontal Eye Test, the Walk and Turn test, and the One Leg Stand. Each of these tests is designed so that a sober person will be able to pass without a problem.
While they do not provide the Officer with a specific blood alcohol level, they do allow the Officer to pass judgment on your ability to operate a motor vehicle. Some individuals, such as those with a physical handicap or the elderly, will naturally be unable to perform these tests and an Officer will then rely on the Breathalyzer to make his/her decision to arrest you.
HORIZONTAL EYE TEST BY OFFICER FOR DRINKING AND DRIVING
During the Horizontal Eye Test the Officer will ask you to follow his/her finger using only your eyes and not moving your entire head. A sober person (assuming no physical or age impairments) will have no problem with this exercise, but someone who is intoxicated will display abnormal eye jerking. Based on his/her findings the Officer will shine a light into your eyes and check pupil dilation.
WALK AND TURN DUI TEST
The next test will be the Walk and Turn. There needs to be a flat surface for the Officer to request this test, and you must demonstrate the ability to walk at least nine heel to toe steps before turning around and returning to the Officer. Again, if the road surface is not flat and the Officer cannot draw a straight line on it for you to follow, this test should not be performed because the outcome will be skewed in favor of your arrest.
ONE-LEG STAND DRINKING AND DRIVING TEST
The One-Leg Stand also requires a level surface. You will be asked to stand on one leg for a short period of time with both hands at your side, and then you will have to switch legs. It is important that all these tests are performed since a physical or age impairment may skew one or all of the outcomes.
Once the Officer determines you are intoxicated based on these tests you will be asked to take the Breathalyzer test. You will breathe into the Breathalyzer and it will compute your blood alcohol level. In all states you are considered legally intoxicated if your blood alcohol is 0.08 or higher, and only 0.02 if you are under the age of twenty-one. If you fail the field sobriety tests and the Breathalyzer you will be read your rights and arrested. You must remain in jail until someone posts bail and you receive a court date for sentencing.
LEGAL ORDER OF PROCEEDINGS INVOLVING DUI TICKETS:
1. Preliminary Hearing 2. Arraignment 3. Trial by Jury
After the initial arrest, you will be given a Preliminary Hearing date so that a judge may review your case and determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case against you. Very rarely is there not sufficient evidence against you and the next court date will be for your arraignment. During the arraignment you will hear all the charges against you and be asked to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”.
SEEK AN EXPERIENCE DUI LAWYER
It is imperative for you to have an experienced DUI lawyer to guide you through the proceedings and help clarify the severity of charges brought against you. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you can request a trial by jury if you believe you are innocent and do not accept the options offered during the arraignment.
Requesting a trial by jury can be very complicated since witnesses and experts will be called upon to testify for and against your case. If you choose to take this route your attorney should have appropriate experience in DUI cases to help reduce your sentence or have your case dismissed altogether.
CONSEQUENCES OF A DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
There can be serious consequences for being issued a DUI ticket and these consequences will increase in severity depending on how many similar offences you have had and if your violation included a DUI accident. A DUI ticket is considered a misdemeanor and will stay on your permanent driving record forever, while a death resulting from a DUI accident is considered manslaughter and is a felony.
Punishment for driving under the influence is mainly state specific, although the following are generally included in your sentence:
1. Fines: Each state will differ in the dollar amount of your ticket. In Texas, a first-time offender may pay up to $2000 and repeat offenders may face fines up to $4000. In Florida, first time offenders are subject to a maximum $500 fine and repeat offenders may pay up to $1000.
2. Suspended License: Most states will suspend your license for up to one year for the first offense, and states such as Connecticut will revoke your license after the third offence. It may be possible to obtain a Conditional License for commuting to work but this is conditional on your individual case.
3. Adding Points to Your License: This will invariably increase your insurance premium for a period of time determined by the individual companies.
4. Drug Programs/Classes: Most states will require a twelve-hour DUI education course for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders sentenced to parole may also be required to complete a 30-day drug rehabilitation program.
5. Community Service: You may be required to perform community service as part of your sentence. Some states, such as Texas, put a limit on the number of hours required. In addition to the mandatory fifty hours of service, Florida offers the option of paying ten dollars for each additional hour required to satisfy the sentence.
6. Some states are now using an ignition interlock device which require the driver to breathe into the device prior to starting the vehicle. Failing this Breathalyzer will lock the ignition in your car and you will be unable to drive it for a period of twenty-four hours.
In addition to seeking a lawyer with DUI experience, if you have valuable assets such as your house or stocks and bonds then you may also seek professional asset protection for your estate and belongings. An accident caused from drinking and driving may have civil consequences and, consequently, severe financial loss of your personal and family’s estate. For further assistance please seek a qualified attorney and estate planner specializing in asset protection such as Estate Street Partners.