Editor’s Note: The following article is from Total DUI and has been reprinted here with permission.
It may happen to the best of us: One moment of poor judgment, and we find ourselves in hot water with the law. This article will give you a basic timeline of what can happen to you when you are faced with being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), assuming that you have not been charged with vehicular manslaughter, felony drug possession, or extensive property damage/injury. Keep in mind, though, that each DUI case will vary based on the specific circumstances and the applicable state laws.
Immediately After Your Arrest
Every state has set the limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) at .08% for you to be considered under the influence, also known as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), and Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII). All 50 states outlaw drinking under the age of 21. More than two-thirds of them give the arresting officer the right to suspend your license on the spot, should you fail a breathalyzer or if you refuse to takea DUI test.
In most states, based on your BAC level at the time of arrest, your driver’s license may be automatically suspended until you get a DMV administrative hearing. Some states offer a temporary restrictive license until the hearing. Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia have administrative license suspension laws (ALS).
These laws vary by state, and many states have a much lower limit or a zero-tolerance law for underage drinking. You can find out more by reading your state’s website (look for the .gov in the address) or by talking with an experienced lawyer.
10–25 Days Later
The administrative hearing: The administrative hearing, also called the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) hearing in some states, may be set up within a reasonable time of your arrest to discuss the suspension of your license per ALS. Some states charge a fee for this hearing, and some states allow the hearing to be conducted over the phone.
In the administrative hearing, most states will decide on whether to suspend or revoke your license based on your prior driver’s record, usually within the last 5 years. Your license suspension may then follow a step-down schedule. For example, the state of Missouri will suspend your license for 30 days if you have no prior alcohol-related infractions. After the 30 days, you will be given a 60-day restricted driving privilege. These are pretty standard terms, but they do vary from state to state.
Keep in mind that this hearing does not relate to the court trial that will come later. If your license suspension is upheld, you may petition the court to further review the decision in effort to forgo or lessen your license suspension.
If the DMV finds in your favor during the administrative hearing, it does not affect the trial that is to come. You may still be found guilty of a DUI by the court.
The arraignment: An arraignment fills you in on your legal rights and lets you know exactly what charges you face. Your lawyer will help you decide what you want to plead and set up the next court dates and bail or release conditions.
Pretrial conference and/or suppression hearing: The pretrial conference will allow your lawyer, if you are represented, to meet with the district lawyer and discuss and negotiate your plea. He or she will submit any evidence for your case.
Should your lawyer at any time feel that your constitutional rights have been violated, he or she may file motions to suppress evidence against you. This process may also be called pretrial motions. If your case is dismissed or you work out a plea bargain at this point, you will not have to go to trial.
Trial: Many DUI trials may involve a jury deciding if you are guilty or not, after the jury and a judge examine all the evidence and testimonies from witnesses. The attorneys involved in the case will question each potential jury member before the trial to select an impartial jury.
Sentencing: If you are found guilty, the judge will then set a sentencing hearing. You may face jail time, community service, fees, alcohol and/or driver’s classes, as well as requirements for an ignition interlock device.
The SR-22: Depending on what state you are licensed in, you may need to purchase SR-22 insurance and carry the SR-22 certificate with you in your vehicle, along with your vehicle insurance card. This is a special insurance that you purchase after getting a DUI (or other major driving infraction) and offers proof that you are able to pay for any damages you may cause while driving. Most states require you to carry an SR-22 for 3-5 years after your license suspension, and you may face re-suspension if you fail to keep it during that time period.
Keep in mind that most states are linked to the national registry, so even if you are driving outside of your home state, your information is forwarded.
Some states, such as Washington, may allow you to carry a Certificate of Deposit or liability bond in lieu of an SR-22, though the amounts required are excessive (e.g., in Washington, the amount required is $60,000).
If you are found guilty, your sentencing will give you a plan to follow. If you comply with all the requirements, you may then be able to apply to have your full license restored.
Because laws and processing vary from state to state, you may want to confer with a lawyer practicing in the state in which you received your DUI. Legal issues can be scary, but you do not have to be a victim to your fears or to a lack of knowledge of the law. You can look for a lawyer to walk you through the process. Certain resources, such as Total DUI (as well as the NMA’s attorney listings) may help you find one in your area. Follow the court’s orders and do everything you possibly can to ensure that you or anyone you know never drives after drinking.