DUI First Offense
Being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is always a serious matter. The cost alone which typically includes DUI bail, fines and lawyer fees of a DUI first time offense can approach $20,000, to say nothing of the time and effort DUI offenders are typically required to devote to DUI classes, alcohol treatment and other programs.
Most first-time DUI offenders are charged with misdemeanors, but if there are "aggravating factors" (prior offenses, injury to others, etc.) you may be indicted for a felony arrest charge, which can involve significant jail time. However, this does not mean the case will necessarily stick. If your rights were violated during the DUI arrest process, for example, you may be able to get the charges reduced, or dismissed altogether. Only a driving under the influence lawyer can tell you for sure.
A variety of factors are taken into consideration by judges when deciding on a DUI sentence. Depending on the state in which the alleged offense took place and the particulars of the case, factors may include:
- State law
- Level of impairment
- Number of DUI offenses (Multiple offenses can result in severe legal penalties for DUI)
- Whether an accident occurred
- Whether the accident caused bodily harm
- The severity of harm caused
- Other "enhancements" (aggravating factors)
- Mitigating factors (things that might reduce your sentence)
Aggravating factors are things you have done that are likely to make your sentence worse. In addition to those mentioned above, some common aggravating factors include the presence of minors; driving under the influence in a school zone; and refusal to submit to breath analyzer tests.
Mitigating factors include any hardship you may have endured, character references, military service and willingness to participate in drug and/or alcohol education, such as DUI classes, as well as treatment.
Your lawyer can help you identify the factors that pertain to your case, explain how they might determine the sentence you receive, and inform you of any actions you can take to help reduce your sentence.
The penalties for a DUI first offense vary from state to state but are similar from a criminal and practical standpoint. They may include any of the following:
- License suspension
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock on your car
- Fines for DUI speak to a lawyer about the possibility of getting fines reduced through community service and/or driving school
- DWI Jail Term
- Public service
- Driving school
- DUI prevention classes
- Substance abuse classes
Most first-time DUI offenders can expect to be charged with a misdemeanor DUI. Unlike DUI second offenses, which can carry a mandatory jail sentence, a first-time misdemeanor DUI charge with no aggravating factors usually involves little or no jail time. What's more, the judge may consider sentencing alternatives, especially if there are mitigating factors in your case. Sentencing alternatives may include community service, driver's license restrictions and mandatory alcohol/drug education and rehabilitation programs.
If there are aggravating factors, you could be charged with a felony, in which case the minimum jail time is generally one year. If you caused an accident in which someone else was harmed, the implications are far more serious. Defendants in fatal DUI accidents may even be charged with criminal charges such as vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide, which can bring lengthy jail sentences even life in prison.
Also keep in mind that civil lawsuits can be filed by those harmed. If you are found liable for negligence that caused harm in a civil lawsuit, you may be required to pay restitution to the victims.
The fact that you have been charged with driving under the influence does not mean you will be convicted. Any number of DUI defenses may be used to get your case dismissed, or at least have the charges reduced. If officers failed to read you your Miranda rights or conducted an illegal search of your car, for example, this is a violation of your rights. A DUI attorney can identify any such factors, help you secure a plea bargain to avoid jail time or maybe even get the charges dismissed. For more information, contact a local DUI lawyer today.
In most states, first-time offenders face some form of administrative license revocation prior to conviction.
Source: Governors Highway Safety Association