Everything You Need to Know When Dealing With a DUI Charge
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
Making the decision to drive under the influence is dangerous, and it can land you in serious legal trouble.
The consequences of a DUI charge can vary by state, but they can often interfere with your financial, professional and personal life. Knowing what to expect can help you navigate the legal system after a DUI charge.
When you get arrested for driving while under the influence, don't resist arrest or argue with the police officers. As with any charge, anything you say to the police officers after your arrest can be used against you. It's best to avoid talking to the police at that time.
The officer might ask you to do a sobriety test before arresting you. While you could theoretically refuse to submit to such a test, doing so could lead to additional penalties. In some states, failure to submit to a blood alcohol content test has the same penalties as a DUI. In some cases, refusing the test can lead to even more serious penalties than a first DUI conviction.
If you're arrested, the officers will take you to the jail, where you'll be booked for the DUI. You'll typically need someone to bail you out of jail, or a judge may release you on your own recognizance.
While the specifics vary in each state, your license usually isn't immediately suspended after a DUI charge. However, you can expect the police officer to take your driver's license. In its place, you'll get a temporary driving permit with an expiration date. This gives you a chance to maintain your driving privileges while you fight the DUI charge.
Losing your license isn't guaranteed, but many states will revoke your license for a DUI conviction. The period typically ranges from 3 months to a year or more, often depending on whether or not it's your first DUI.
DUI charges are heard in a criminal court. While you typically have the right to represent yourself in court, it's often recommended to hire an attorney. You can usually get a court-appointed attorney if you can't afford to hire one yourself.
The consequences of a DUI can be severe, including losing your license, paying a large fine and serving jail time. An attorney can help you avoid those consequences or get them reduced, so they don't affect your life as severely. Paying the attorney fees can be worth it if your lawyer helps you avoid jail or losing your license.
The arraignment in your DUI case is your initial court appearance. It usually happens within days of your arrest. The procedures can vary by jurisdiction, but this court date is typically when the judge reads your charges and informs you of your rights. If you haven't been released from jail yet, discuss your options for being released, including bail, with your attorney before your arraignment.
The arraignment is also when you enter your plea for the DUI charge. Most defendants enter a "not guilty" plea to give them more options. This also gives you time to go over your case with your lawyer and decide on the best approach. However, you can plead guilty if you know the evidence against you is strong or you don't want to fight it in court.
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After you're arraigned, you'll typically go through a preliminary hearing or pretrial conference. In a preliminary hearing, the judge listens to the evidence to determine whether there's enough evidence for your case to go to trial. If there's not enough evidence, the judge will dismiss the case. Otherwise, you'll have to go to trial.
You might also have the option to accept a plea bargain. These negotiations typically happen between your defense attorney and the prosecutor. The prosecutor may offer a deal with specific consequences, which you can accept or reject. If you accept the plea bargain, your case won't go to trial. However, if you reject it, you'll likely face a trial.
A DUI trial is similar to other criminal court cases. After a jury is selected, both attorneys make their opening statements. Witnesses are called to the stand, and evidence is presented. Once both attorneys make their closing arguments, the jury deliberates and makes a decision. If you're found not guilty by the jury, you're free to go. However, if you're found guilty, you'll be sentenced for the DUI.
The consequences can vary based on where you live and whether it's your first DUI. Repeat offenders can often be sentenced to harsher punishments, such as longer jail time, higher fines and having their licenses suspended for longer periods of time.
Possible consequences for a DUI include:
- Jail or prison time — especially if you're a repeat offender
- Suspended license
- Ignition interlock devices requiring you to use a Breathalyzer to start your car
- Treatment programs or classes
- Community service
A DUI can also affect your life in various ways. If you lose your license, you might struggle to get to work or handle your responsibilities. Jail time could cause you to lose your job, and a conviction could affect your ability to get hired at a new job. You'll likely have much higher auto insurance rates after a DUI conviction.
You can appeal a DUI conviction to a higher court if you feel you were wrongly convicted or had an unfair trial. Like the initial procedure, the appeals process can vary by jurisdiction. You typically start by filing a notice of appeal, which has to be completed within a certain period. The appeal usually involves written briefs and oral arguments. The court of appeal will then file an opinion on the case. Having an attorney draft the documents and handle the oral arguments gives you the best chance of winning the appeal.
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