Utah officially uses the term “driving under the influence” (DUI) instead of “driving while intoxicated” (DWI). However, some people still use DWI and DUI interchangeably to refer to drunk or drugged driving. Utah’s DWI laws prohibit all motorists from operating a motor vehicle:
• with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05% or more, or
• while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
A driver is considered “under the influence” if “incapable of safely operating a vehicle” as the result of ingesting alcohol, drug or any other substance. Utah has a not-a-drop law that makes it illegal for motorists who are under the age of 21 years to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
Getting a DUI Without Actually Driving
In Utah, a motorist can get a DUI even without actually driving. In addition to driving or operating a car, a person may not be in “actual physical control” of a car while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or with a BAC of .08% or more. The gist of this law is to keep roads safe from even the potential danger that an intoxicated driver creates when getting behind the wheel. Utah courts apply a totality of circumstances test to decide whether a particular driver is in actual physical control of the vehicle. Some factors courts consider include:
• where the driver was seated in the car
• whether the driver had the ignition key
• whether the driver was touching the steering wheel or other operating controls, and
• whether the driver was asleep or awake.
Determining actual physical control is fact-specific. No two situations are exactly alike. It’s best to consult an experienced DUI attorney to see if you’ve been properly charged with an actual-physical-control DUI.
Plea Bargaining in Utah DUI Cases
The best case scenario if you’re charged with a DUI in Salt Lake City Utah is the prosecution ends up dismissing the charge. But unless the court throws out evidence that’s critical to prove the charge, the prosecution is unlikely to agree to a dismissal. But in some cases, a reduction to an “impaired driving” charge is possible. An impaired driving charge is just an alcohol-related driving offense without the mandatory jail, fines, and license suspensions that come with a DUI conviction. In the United States, Utah has some of the most stringent DUI laws. According to state law, a motorist is considered drunk if they have a BAC of .05% or more, or if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol to a level that is unsafe to drive. For those motorists under age 21, Utah has a “not a drop” law, meaning these drivers can be charged with DUI and can lose their driver’s license privilege up to the time they turn 21 years old. The can also be charged with other alcohol related charges if there is any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
Driving After DUI
When you are charged with DUI, one of your first concerns will be if you are still allowed to drive while your case plays out in court. In most situations, this will depend based on a variety of factors. Under current state law, even a first DUI offense may call for a 120-day suspension of your driver’s license and the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID).
When you are facing these charges, it will be crucial to work with an experienced Salt Lake City Utah DUI attorney. By doing so, your attorney can work with prosecutors to plea bargain your case down to lesser charges, or possibly even have the charges against you dismissed. If you are given reduced charges such as impaired driving, the good news is that you will not be subjected to the mandatory fines, jail time, and license suspensions that are usually with DUI convictions. In the United States, Utah has some of the most stringent DUI laws. According to state law, a motorist is considered drunk if they have a BAC of .05% or more, or if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol to a level that is unsafe to drive. For those motorists under age 21, Utah has a “not a drop” law, meaning these drivers can be charged with DUI and can lose their driver’s license privilege up to the time they turn 21 years old. They can also be charged with other alcohol related charges if there is any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Should you be facing these circumstances, do not hesitate to contact an attorney. Prosecutors usually have a standard first-offense plea offer. In other words, they offer everyone with a standard first DUI the same plea deal which is typically at the lower end of the allowable first-DUI sentence. Generally, an offense is considered a “standard first DUI” if the offender has no prior DUI convictions and the offense didn’t involve any aggravating factors such as accidents, injuries, or a particularly high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
In theory, the standard offer is the same regardless of whether the defendant is represented by a private attorney, public defender, or no attorney at all. So, it would seem that hiring an attorney in a standard first DUI case might not be worth it. This conclusion certainly holds true in some cases. However, in practice, the standard offer is frequently just a starting point. Experienced DUI attorneys can often whittle down the standard offer by pointing out weaknesses in the prosecution’s case or bringing mitigating factors to the prosecutor’s attention. An attorney’s familiarity with local practices, the district attorney, and the judge can also help with these types of negotiations. Accepting a standard offer might also be unadvisable in cases where the defendant has viable defenses. However, an unrepresented defendant is unlikely to know whether there are any such defenses. So, prior to accepting a plea deal, it’s a good idea to at least get a lawyer’s opinion.
Generally, all criminal defendants have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford to hire your own lawyer, the court will appoint one for you. Appointed attorneys are normally from a public defender’s office. Public defenders handle a large number of criminal cases, including lots of DUIs. So, most public defenders are quite familiar with DUI law and defenses. Public defenders are generally well acquainted with the district attorneys and judges and know their tendencies knowledge that can be beneficial for plea bargaining. Public defenders also tend to have good trial skills because they take a lot of cases to trial. However, being represented by a public defender has its downsides. Public defenders have large caseloads. So, some defendants feel like they and their case don’t get enough attention. And you don’t get to choose your public defender you get who you get. Public defender representation is also limited to criminal court. A DUI arrest normally leads to two separate proceedings: “administrative per se” proceedings with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a criminal court case. Generally, defendants who have a public defender will have to deal with the DMV proceedings on their own.
When you hire a private DUI lawyer, it’s typically to represent you in DMV proceedings and criminal court. Having the same attorney work on both aspects of your case can lead to better outcomes, including a shorter license-suspension period. Most defendants see the price as the major drawback with private lawyers. Hiring a private DUI lawyer will generally cost you between $1,000 and $5,000. If your case goes to trial, it can be even more expensive. (And there are cases where spending the money for a private lawyer won’t get you a more favorable outcome than had you gone with the public defender.) However, hiring a private DUI attorney (assuming you can afford one) can be well worth it. Of course, when you’re retaining an attorney, you get to decide who that attorney will be. Attorneys who specialize in DUI cases often have an in-depth understanding of DUI law and defenses that other attorneys don’t have. In some cases, this expertise can lead to more satisfactory results perhaps, a better plea bargain or dismissal of the charges altogether. Having a private lawyer can also minimize the time you have to spend in court. In some areas, public defender clients must personally appear for all court dates. With private counsel, on the other hand, you usually won’t have to be present for routine court appearances. For many people, especially busy professionals, not having to miss work to come to court is a significant perk. Another benefit of hiring an attorney is you’ll typically get more one-on-time than you would with a public lawyer. Most people feel more comfortable with their case when they get all their questions answered and concerns addressed.
You Need an Attorney to Go to Trial
Though you’re entitled to represent yourself in a DUI trial, it’s almost never a good plan. The learning curve for trial practice is steep and usually comes only with considerable experience. A lack of legal knowledge and trial skills will put you at a severe disadvantage in court. And judges typically have little patience for self-represented defendants who don’t know the rules of court. The bottom line is you don’t want to try a DUI case on your own—if you’re going to trial, you should have an attorney.
Pleading Guilty to DUI
Most people who are charged with driving under the influence (DUI) don’t take their case to trial. Generally, trial is the way to go only if you have a decent shot at winning. If the jury finds you guilty at the end of a trial, the time and money (assuming you hire an attorney) you’ll have spent fighting your case will have been for nothing. You’ll end up in the same position or worse than if you had pled guilty or no contest—in other words, resolved your case with what’s often called a “plea deal” or “plea bargain”—at the beginning of the case. But, of course, for the average person, it’s difficult to know whether you have a real chance of beating a DUI charge at trial. However, an experienced DUI lawyer can normally tell you how strong the government’s case is and whether you have any viable defenses.
When Do You Plead Guilty or No Contest?
The first court date in a DUI case is normally the “arraignment.” At the arraignment, the judge normally asks whether the defendant plans to hire an attorney or wants a court-appointed lawyer. Defendants who have their attorney situation resolved on that first day will typically enter a plea to the charges. Otherwise, the judge might set a new court date for the defendant to come back with an attorney and enter a plea to the charges. In either scenario, the defendant’s initial plea is normally “not guilty.” For defendants, there’s usually no benefit to pleading guilty at the first court appearance. Generally, plea deals a prosecutor offers on the first day are the same or worse than offers that come later. So, it’s typically best to initially plead not guilty and get a new court date a few weeks out or so. This additional time will give your attorney the chance to review the prosecution’s evidence and come up with a legal strategy. Even if you ultimately decide to make a plea deal, this investment of time by your attorney often pays off anyway. With a good understanding of the facts of your case and some legal research, your attorney might be able to get you a better deal by pointing out problems with the prosecution’s case and possible defenses to the charges. Prosecutors who have doubts about their ability to prove a DUI at trial are more apt to offer plea bargains favorable to the defendant. So, in many DUI cases, the defendant ends up entering a guilty or no contest plea at the second or third court date. However, it’s possible for a defendant to enter one of these pleas at any point prior to the jury’s verdict. Prior to pleading guilty or no contest to a DUI, your attorney is supposed to go over the consequences of your plea with you. By entering your plea, you’ll necessarily be giving up a number of constitutional rights. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to cross-examine the witnesses against you, and the right to a jury trial. In court, you’ll likely have to sign a form that specifies the terms of your plea agreement such as fines, jail time, and the charge you’re admitting to and indicates you understand you’re giving up various constitutional rights. Oftentimes, these forms have boxes to initial next to a description of each constitutional right you’re waiving by entering the plea. The judge handling your case will typically ask you whether you signed the form and understand the consequences of your plea. Once satisfied that you know what you’re getting into, the judge will ask how you want to plea to the charge. You then respond “guilty” or “no contest,” depending on which one you agreed to. When you plead guilty or no contest to a DUI charge, the judge will find you guilty and the court clerk will enter a conviction. This conviction is exactly the same as a conviction resulting from a guilty verdict at trial. Generally, DUIs are misdemeanor criminal offenses. But if the offender has multiple prior DUI convictions or the current offense involves aggravating factors like deaths or injuries, a DUI can be a felony.
The DUI process is highly complex and technical, and not geared toward making things easy for the offender. The average person even the average attorney cannot reasonably be expected to understand everything that is involved in a successful DUI defense.
Arrest, Testing, and Charges
The roller-coaster ride of a DUI case begins when an officer arrests you for suspicion of driving under the influence. The officer will then take you in for a blood or breath test to verify your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If your chemical tests comes back with a BAC of .08 or above, a charge of driving with a BAC over .05 will be added. If you refuse to submit to a chemical test, a “refusal” allegation will be added to your charges, and your license could be suspended for 1 year. After the testing phase, you will be booked and (depending on the circumstances and your criminal history) released on bail or a promise to appear in court. The arresting officer will prepare and submit a report to the prosecutor, who will either decline to file charges or charge you with DUI.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law 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