How Bad Is Your First DUI?
by Blair Matyszczyk, Attorney
Your first driving under the influence charge can turn into a bad experience because of where you live. Your offense can be treated with serious criminal charges in one state but you could receive less serious charges in a different jurisdiction. Regardless of where you live, your first DUI charge can have negative outcomes simply because you will have to devote substantial time to defend yourself in court.
You may live in a jurisdiction that historically treats DUI cases with punitive sentencing. If you live in a jurisdiction with comprehensive DUI diversion or treatment programs, you may be able to resolve your first DUI with less trouble. In either case, you’ll probably a DUI lawyer standing next to you in court.
The seriousness of any DUI offender’s situation is always dependent on the specifics of their case. The way your case is handled can be the difference between minimal change after a first DUI conviction and a serious penalty like jail time.
Understanding the Elements of a DUI Offense
Before considering the consequences and severity of your first-time DUI charge, you should have a solid understanding of what it means to be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). DUI and DWI charges are similar nationwide, with only minor differences. Generally, a DUI or DWI charge means the following:
- You were driving or in physical control of a vehicle at the time you were stopped or pulled over by law enforcement
- Your blood-alcohol content (BAC) was .08 or more at the time you submitted to a breathalyzer test (.08 is a legal limit in most states)
- You failed a field sobriety test
- You exhibited physical signs of intoxication, which legally permits police officers to exercise discretion to test you to determine if you were driving under the influence or intoxicated while in control or operating a vehicle
State laws vary, so be familiar with your state’s DUI laws and confirm their procedures and penalties in your jurisdiction.
With any criminal matter, you are innocent until proven guilty. However, most DUI charges are resolved through plea deals rather than a guilty or not guilty decision in court. Generally, without clear and convincing evidence to disprove the prosecution’s claims, a DUI charge is likely to be resolved with a negotiated plea resulting in some degree of guilt for the accused.
Whether you are facing a DUI charge for the first time or not, you have to defend yourself against the allegations brought against you and choose sooner rather than later whether you want to plead guilty to obtain a reduced penalty. While criminal penalties are always bad, they are likely to be much less harsh for first-time DUI offenders compared to a second or subsequent offense.
Predictable Consequences of a First-Time DUI Conviction
If you elect to resolve your first-time DUI charge with a guilty plea, you may be able to avoid having a DUI conviction with jail time on your record. For example, some jurisdictions may allow you to plead guilty to a less-serious traffic offense, and in exchange, you will receive penalties that do not involve jail time. Examples of non-jail time sentences include the following:
- Higher costs for car insurance
- Routine drug or alcohol testing
- Driving restrictions (such as driving only to and from work, school, the grocery store, church, the doctor’s office, etc.)
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), which requires you to blow into a breathalyzer machine before you will be able to start your car
- Payment of a court-ordered fine
- Mandatory counseling or participation in a substance abuse program
- Community service
Many jurisdictions offer first-time DUI programs to help divert people from the criminal justice system if involved in a DUI.
Do I Need a DUI Lawyer for a First-Time DUI Charge?
You should consult with a lawyer about your first-time DUI charge if your jurisdiction does not offer programs that incentivize plea bargain outcomes with reduced sentencing. After consulting a lawyer, you may find you have grounds to dismiss your DUI charges or have reasonable options to plead guilty to a lesser offense and obtain a lesser sentence. Consultation should include a thorough case evaluation so your DUI lawyer can formulate your best defense.
Affordable legal representation is available if you’re involved in a DUI incident.
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