An arrest for Driving under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) can be scary and stressful, but knowing what to expect from the legal process can help in dealing with a DUI charge. DUI laws are governed by state law, so details may differ depending on where you were charged and also whether you are a minor, but what follows is a general overview of what you need to know if you’re facing DUI charges for a first offense that didn’t involve either bodily injury or death. In an average year, over one million drivers will be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. After a motorist is arrested on suspicion of a DUI, it’s up to the district attorney’s office to file charges against the defendant. The exact nature of criminal charges related to drunk driving depends on a number of factors, including the defendant’s prior convictions, the severity of the offense, the level of intoxication, and whether the offense caused injury or death.
DUI Charges and Penalties
• Determining Intoxication: DUI laws are aimed at preventing motorists from getting behind the wheel in an impaired state. And law enforcement officers in every state use similar tools to enforce DUI laws and detect impairment—things like DUI checkpoints, field sobriety tests (FSTs), breathalyzers, and blood tests. But when it comes to how impairment is defined, there are commonalities and differences among the states.
• Drugs and Alcohol: Generally, DUI laws apply whether the driver’s impairment was due to alcohol or some other substance. So, you can be charged with DUI for driving while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two. And it typically doesn’t matter if the drug ingested was illegal, over-the-counter medication, or prescribed by a doctor—if the motorist was impaired, lawful use generally isn’t a defense to DUI charges.
• “Per Se” Intoxication: All states have “per se” DUI laws. Generally, these laws make it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. (But how many drinks it takes to hit the legal limit vary depending on a number factor.) The only exception being Utah, which currently has a per se limit of .05%. Some states also have drug per se DUI laws. In states that have these laws, motorists can be convicted of DUI for having a certain amount of drugs their bodies. Per se drug DUI laws typically apply only to illegal drug use. So, if you have a prescription for a medication, you can be convicted of DUI only if you’re actually impaired.
• Impairment: DUI laws in every jurisdiction also prohibit driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances. However, impairment DUI laws differ in how they define impairment. In some states, a driver is considered impaired if affected even to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol. But in other states, the alcohol or drugs ingested must have a substantial effect for the motorist to be guilty of DUI.
Depending on the circumstances, a DUI can be either a misdemeanor or felony—meaning the potential penalties will differ significantly based on the facts of the case. Penalties will also differ depending on the state in which the crime is charged. Nevertheless, DUI convictions will typically bring one or more of the following penalties.
• Prison or jail: It’s very common for someone convicted of a DUI to have to serve at least some time in jail. Misdemeanor charges generally can result in up to a year in jail, while a year or more in the state prison is possible for anyone convicted of a felony DUI.
• Fines: In addition to incarceration, someone convicted of DUI will also likely have to pay a fine. Fine amounts differ widely, ranging from a few hundred dollars for first-time misdemeanor convictions to up to $10,000 or more for a felony conviction.
• Probation: In many DUI cases, the judge sentences the offender to complete a term of probation. Probation usually lasts at least 12 months, but terms of probation of up to three years or more are also possible. While on probation you must agree to abide by a range of court required conditions. If you fail to meet these obligations, the court can impose additional penalties. Probation conditions differ but might involve meeting regularly with a probation officer, agreeing to submit to random drug and alcohol testing, completing a substance abuse program, and not committing crimes or drunk driving offenses during probation.
• License suspension. A DUI arrest—even if you’re never convicted in criminal court often leads to an administrative license suspension from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Depending on the circumstances, administrative suspensions typically range from three months to several years. And if you are ultimately convicted of DUI in court, the judge will likely impose a license suspension of about the same length. However, the suspensions are often allowed to overlap—meaning the motorist doesn’t have to complete the cumulative total of the two suspensions.
Obtain Legal Advice from a Local Attorney
Even though DUI charges are fairly common in any jurisdiction, these crimes can be very complicated and involve questions about evidence, procedure, and legal precedent. Because each state has a slightly different DUI law, anyone charged with this crime needs to speak to a local criminal defense attorney. These lawyers will not only be experienced with the relevant laws but will also have experience with area courts, prosecutors, as well as the procedures local police use when investigating DUI crimes. You need to speak to a local defense attorney as soon as you are charged with any DUI crime. If you delay, even a short amount of time, this can seriously affect your case and your ability to defend against the charges. Most people who get arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) would ideally like to avoid being convicted. A DUI conviction generally leads to severe consequences (that might include license suspension, jail time, and fines) and can affect your employment and educational opportunities. However, the probability of getting a DUI charge dropped depends on the specific circumstances of your case. In most cases, a complete dismissal of a DUI charge isn’t going to happen. But there are often ways of eliminating or minimizing some of the consequences of a DUI.
Plea Negotiations with the Prosecution
Most DUI cases are resolved through the plea-bargaining process. Plea bargaining typically involves the defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a DUI charge in exchange for less severe penalties than could result otherwise. In some cases, negotiations with the prosecutor could result in dismissal of a DUI charge altogether. But the chances of this happening are generally slim. Sometimes police will arrest a person for a DUI and the prosecutor decides there’s insufficient evidence to pursue charges. But once prosecutors decide there is enough evidence and file a DUI charge, it can be tricky to convince them to change their minds. However, the likelihood of getting a DUI charge dropped is probably better in cases that involve significant mitigating factors. For example, factors like:
• having no prior DUIs or criminal convictions
• having a low blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
• being under the influence due to prescription medication, and
• Being a product citizen.
Ways of Avoiding a Criminal Conviction
For many people, one of the most troubling issues with a DUI is having a criminal conviction on their record. Some states have programs—typically, for first offenders—that allow DUI offenders to avoid a DUI criminal conviction if they abide by certain conditions. These programs might be referred to as “DUI diversion,” “DUI court,” or some other name. But they generally require the participants to complete some sort of drug and alcohol education or treatment and agree to drug or alcohol testing for a period of time. For participates who successfully complete their program, the court dismissed the DUI charge—meaning, there’s no criminal conviction.
Statute of Limitations for DUI Charges
DUI charges often have a specific time limit to try and attempt to convict the individual arrested by police for suspicion of the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving. The timeframe often depends greatly on the state, but it could extend based on special consideration by the judge or the factors of the case such as when the evidence is still in the process of collection. It is important to hire a lawyer to help with DUI charges. These are often simple misdemeanor charges, but some charges may elevate to the felony level depending on the case factors. The lawyer may help mitigate the damage of these charges and extend the time of the case to the point that the charges may exceed the usual statute of limitations. The general time may restrict prosecution to two years from the original date of arrest. However, some states have less or more time to ensure the courts may attempt to convict the person. Some states will only have one year from the date of arrest to file charges in the courts and proceed with the case. These time limits may exceed if the prosecution does not have the sufficient evidence to proceed with the DUI charges. Others may not charge the person until there is enough valid information about the situation and all factors. These limits usually only apply to non-felony DUI charges. If there are any other crimes that occur at the same time or aggravating factors, the charges may rise to the felony level. At this point, the time limit may disappear or extend significantly.
Waiting to File Charges
Generally, the prosecuting lawyer will file the charges with the first court date for DUI matters. However, there are other times when this prosecuting legal professional will need to wait. This may occur from analysis of blood panels, urine samples or when the blood alcohol level is close to but below the 0.08 percent limit. Some prosecutors become busy with backlogged cases and paperwork. Upon the first court date, the defendant will learn if the lawyer filed the charges or if there is an update waiting for a later time. This update may arrive by mail when or if the prosecutor will file charges for the DUI.
The DUI Case and the Mistake
There are many defendants that believe the statute of limitations passes because the prosecution failed to take the person to court in the time limit for the state. However, this statute only applies to charges filed not prosecuting the matter. The mistake does not understand that the case may still proceed in the future. The lawyer may not take the person to court for the case in the time limit, but he or she may already file the charges within the one- or two-year restriction. Failure to appear in court when necessary based on updated information could lead to a warrant for arrest or other penalties.
The Lack of Statute of Limitations
Some states may not run on a timeframe to pursue a DUI charge against a person. The laws of the state may protect the law enforcement agencies in arrests and help to progress the case through a prosecutor that provides him or her sufficient time to take the person to court. In the states that disregard this concept, the person may face charges filed immediately or wait until multiple years pass before getting an update about the possible court case for the DUI. In some cases, one state may require another to use certain penalties when the convicted person moves.
The Possible Consequences of the Conviction
Some simple consequences of the DUI conviction include the temporary loss of a driver’s license through suspension, fines and jail time. Others may increase to ignition interlock systems that require the person to breathe into the machine before driving. If the person behind the wheel does not have a BAC lower than the limit and in some cases much lower than the 0.08 percent, he or she cannot drive until the BAC decreases or a certain amount of time passes.
Reasons DUI Criminal Charges May Be Dismissed Before Trial
Driving under the influence (DUI) charges can be dismissed before the actual trial begins. Sometimes, the prosecution may dismiss the case on their own because of known defects in their case. Usually, DUI cases are dismissed because of persuasive criminal defense lawyer arguments and motions. Defendants should regularly plead not guilty to DUI charges because often the police failed to follow proper procedure, the district attorney doesn’t have the evidence needed to prove a conviction, or the prosecution knows there’s a reasonable likelihood of acquittal if the case does go to trial. The prosecutor is the main person who drops or dismisses the charge. Judges can authorize dismissals too. The end result for the client is that he/she is free to continue their life without worrying about a criminal record or a court case.
Common reasons charges are dismissed in DUI case
Each criminal case is different. DUI cases generally depend on the police following proper procedures and on the results of any chemical tests.
DUI charges should be dropped:
• If the police did not have proper grounds to stop your vehicle. The police can stop you if they reasonably believe you have committed a traffic violation such as speeding or running through a red light. They can also stop you if they see that your driving poses a danger to others – such as weaving in and out of lanes. If you were following the laws and driving with the flow of traffic – then normally the police don’t have the right to stop you.
• Illegal searches and seizures. Police cannot search your vehicle for signs of alcohol containers or evidence of drinking unless they have probable cause or unless they obtain a warrant. Most offices don’t obtain warrants in DUI arrests – so whether they had probable cause to search the vehicle is a critical issue. Illegal searches and seizures violate the Fourth Amendment.
• Illegal field sobriety tests. There are specific field sobriety tests officers should give and specific ways they should give them. If the tests are invalid, the arrest may be invalid.
• Illegal chemical tests. While drivers generally consent to blood or breath tests, officers still need to explain what rights a suspect has. Testing machines must be inspected regularly. The chain of custody of the test and test results can’t be broken before trial.
• Failing to advise you of your right to speak with a lawyer. Defendants are entitled to be told they can speak with an attorney after they’ve been arrested.
• A stop or search was unconstitutional or illegal for other reasons. For example, roadside sobriety checkpoints are supposed to alert drivers to where the roadblocks will be ahead of time.
When you need legal help with a DUI in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506