Getting arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) can happen to anyone. Even a good person can make a single bad decision and can get charged with DUI. Unfortunately, the penalties for DUI are very severe. If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI, the best thing you can do is hire a DUI lawyer.
In this article, we’re going to teach you some general information about DUI law. This information will help when you meet with a DUI lawyer at an initial consultation. We’re also going to explain different ways that a DUI lawyer might be able to help your situation. Finally, at the end of the article, we link to our guide which lays out the specific steps to take on how to get a lawyer.
General Information On DUI Law
Before we proceed, you need to know that the information in this section is only general information about DUI law. It is not legal advice and it is not even specific advice. Instead, it is general information to help you prepare for a consultation with a DUI lawyer. At the consultation, the lawyer can give you legal advice on your specific situation.
In every state, the laws for DUI will vary slightly, However, they all come down to two core requirements:
- Driving (or operating) a motor vehicle
- Being under the influence
Driving or Operating a Motor Vehicle
In general, state prosecutors do not have a hard time proving this part of the test. When a police officer pulls someone over who was driving, that is proof itself. In other instances, the driver might just admit they were driving (even though they don’t have to) which is then used against them by the prosecutor.
A less common situation is where an individual was behind the wheel but had not been driving. Here is an example: someone stumbled out of the bar, got behind the wheel, and fell asleep with the keys still in their pocket. What do you think? Were they driving the vehicle? The answer depends on the state law of the state where it occurred. In some states, it is illegal to even sit in the driver seat while intoxicated! Whether it is illegal in your state is where a lawyer can help sort out the law to create the best defense.
Being Under the Influence
The second part of this test is where hiring the best lawyer can really pay off. The state prosecutor will try to prove that the operator of the vehicle was under the influence by showing that either their blood alcohol content (BAC) was above a specific threshold or that there is enough evidence collected which proves they were impaired.
The term blood alcohol content (BAC) refers to how much alcohol is present in someone’s body. Measuring BAC requires some sort of chemical test which can include a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test. In order to show someone is under the influence, the test must come back with a BAC above 0.08%. Although this can be lower for truck drivers, and even as low as 0.02% for people under 21. The exact requirements depend on state law and your DUI lawyer can advise on your specific situation.
Measuring someone’s BAC isn’t the only way to establish being under the influence. The other way is by collecting different types of evidence. Evidence can include a field sobriety test such as saying the alphabet, counting backward from ten, walking on a yellow line, or other tests required by the police officer.
In most instances, a first-time DUI offender is only charged with a misdemeanor. But if the DUI has what they call “aggravating circumstances” then it could turn into a felony with more severe consequences. Here are some examples of aggravating circumstances:
- Multiple DUI convictions during a certain time period
- Blood alcohol content over a certain threshold (ex., 0.10%)
- Someone was injured or killed from the DUI
- DUI occurred during a suspended license
- Presence of a minor in the vehicle with the driver
First-Time Offender Penalties
Here are some example of first-time offender penalties. But these often do not apply when one or more of the aggravating circumstances listed above exist.
Jail time is often required for first-time offenders. Some states establish a maximum or minimum amount of jail time. The amount of jail time can start as low as a few days and go as high as a year, depending on state law.
Fines are another requirement for first-time offenders. The amount of the fine varies by state but often ranges from $250 to $1,000.
License suspension is a pain point for many first-time offenders. Virtually every state will suspend their license. Suspensions can be as short as 90 days or as long as a year. Some states do offer a “hardship license” which allows
Mandatory treatment is another penalty imposed by many states for a first-time DUI offender. Treatment can involve some type of support group for a given duration, such as six months.
Each state can set additional penalties depending on the circumstances surrounding the DUI. These can range from community service to an ignition lock which requires a BAC test each time to turn on the car.
How a DUI Attorney Can Help
There are many ways in which a lawyer can help with a DUI charge.
Help Determine the Best Option
Here are four different options that a lawyer could recommend in regards to a DUI charge:
- Negotiate a plea deal with the prosecuting attorney
- Plead guilty as charged
- Trial by judge
- Trial by jury
Your lawyer will look at all the evidence and apply the relevant law in the state to recommend the best course of action.
Help Negotiate Plea Deals
A lawyer can also help in the negotiation process. The prosecutor is looking for a win. If the prosecutor can rack up a conviction fast, then they might be more inclined to bargain then to drag the process out at trial. A lawyer that has experience in DUI law is equipped to compare the evidence to the law and determine whether a plea deal is the best option.
Argue the Stop was Invalid
A police officer needs reasonable suspicion to pull someone over for a traffic stop. The standard requires a police officer to have a bit more than a hunch that a traffic violation or crime has occurred. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause. But it still must be based on facts the police officer can articulate.
In some states, a police officer might have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver if they do one or more of the following:
- Drive outside their lane
- Fail to stop at a stop sign
- Fail to use a turn signal or yield when required
- Drive erratically or very abnormally
- Fail to observe traffic laws
- Broken lights or failure to turn on lights at dusk
Argue Lack of Operation
Lack of driving or operation was already discussed above. It covers situations where someone is sitting behind the wheel but not driving. Your lawyer will know what the state law says and what is needed to argue a lack of operation in your state.
Argue a Chemical Test is Invalid
It’s not common that a chemical test is invalidated, but it does happen. The following list is a general overview of things that can invalidate a chemical test. Your DUI attorney will know more about these and how to apply them to the specific facts in your case.
- Consuming certain foods or drugs prior to the breathalyzer
- Not enough time for the alcohol to absorb
- The sample was taken too long after the arrest
- Transportation of the sample was improper
- Broken chain of custody
- Storage of the sample was improper
- Sample became contaminated
- Someone unqualified took the sample
Argue Failure to Give an Implied Consent Warning
In some states, if a BAC test is refused, a police officer must explain the consequences of refusing to take the test. This is another area that a lawyer can use their experience to determine the law of the state and how it applies in a specific set of facts.
Argue You Weren’t Under the Influence
In situations where the tested BAC wasn’t over the legal limit, a lawyer might be able to identify other reasons why someone’s appearance or behavior were suspect to the police officer.
Argue Police Procedures Weren’t Followed
The police are trained to follow certain procedures. These procedures aren’t laws but rather internal procedures and training policies. If your lawyer can show that the police didn’t follow their own procedures, then it might help convince a jury that the police don’t know what they are doing.
Argue Other Defenses
There are many other potential defenses that might arise giving a specific fact pattern or set of circumstances.
How To Get A DUI Lawyer
If you’ve come this far, then you should have enough general information about DUI law to assist a lawyer in advising you about your specific situation. Also, you should have a general idea about how a DUI lawyer can help your situation.
But before you start searching for a local DUI lawyer, there is one more step you should take. We highly recommend reading our guide about how to get a lawyer. In the guide, you will learn many things about how to get a lawyer. Here is an example of what you will learn:
- How to find a lawyer experienced with DUI law.
- How to research the lawyer’s background.
- Questions to ask before an initial consultation.
- Questions to ask during an initial consultation.
- Observations to record about the lawyer
- How to decide whether to hire the DUI lawyer.
Once you read this guide, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer to help with your DUI needs.