This article is not in any way intended to be a source of legal information, a substitute for legal information, or an attempt to advise individuals regarding how to legally fight a DUI. Individuals should absolutely not drink and drive. Individuals should designate a driver or seek alternative forms of transportation, such as cabs or public transpiration, when they are consuming alcohol at clubs, restaurants, concerts, parties, etc. Any individual arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol should consult with an attorney regarding any actions they should take in order to remediate the situation.
The figures regarding the number of individuals who drink alcohol and operate motor vehicles are relatively staggering, even though they have declined slightly over the last several years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- Fatalities due to driving under the influence of alcohol have fallen significantly over the past 30 years.
- Still, in the United States it is estimated that 28 people die every day in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. This is an overall average; some days the figure is higher, and on some days, it is lower.
- Alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents claim over 10,000 lives a year.
- The cost of mixing drinking and driving is over $52 billion a year.
The national organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) provides additional statistics collected from governmental sources.
- In 2015, there were three times as many males (508,633) arrested for drinking and driving offenses as there were females arrested for these offenses (167,327).
- It is estimated that an individual who is pulled over for a DUI offense the first time has already driven at least 80 times while intoxicated.
- In the United States, an injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident that involves the use of alcohol occurs every two minutes.
These figures do not appear to be so surprising when organizations, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), consistently report that approximately 140 million Americans over the age of 12 use alcohol at least once every year, and approximately 14 million Americans may qualify for a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.
The above figures imply that individuals who regularly use alcohol eventually drive. The best way to fight a DUI is not to get one; however, if one is arrested for suspected driving under the influence of alcohol, there some general rules to follow, expectations one should have, and strategies that attorneys might adopt in the defense of the individual. For more information, refer to FindLaw, DrivingLaws, or FreeAdvice: Legal.
What to Do if You Are Stopped while under the Influence
This article will repeatedly make the case that if you are going to use alcohol, you should not drive at all. Unfortunately, a large number of individuals do not heed this advice. There are some general rules one should follow if one has been drinking alcohol and is stopped by a police officer while they are driving.
- Pull over. Pull over at a safe place. Officers begin making observations immediately when they suspect that someone has been drinking and is driving. Anything a person does goes into the report. Be safe, pull over in a safe spot, and turn off the engine.
- Be calm. Do not make any suspicious movements. Again, officers are observing everything a person does. Do not make any suspicious movements like trying to hide open alcoholic beverages or drugs. The best policy is to keep one’s hands on the steering wheel.
- Be polite. Be cooperative and polite. Arguing with the police officer will not help one’s situation. If an individual is hostile, combative, rude, etc., officers are more likely to arrest them even if their blood alcohol level is not above the legal limit. On the other hand, do not be too talkative or complimentary. This can also arouse suspicion.
- Only provide minimal information. Do not incriminate yourself, but tell the truth. You are required to give the officer your name, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, but you are not required to tell the officer if you have been drinking, how much you have been drinking, etc. One way to answer these other questions and still be polite is to simply say something like, “I am sorry officer, but I have been advised not to answer any further questions.”
- In most cases, refuse sobriety tests. In most states, individuals are not under legal obligations to perform a field sobriety test or to take a handheld breathalyzer. Refusal of these requests may result in a suspended driver’s license; however, if one is intoxicated and they refuse these tests, the only information the police officer has in court is the police officer’s subjective interpretation of the individual’s state at the time of the arrest. Providing the police officer with objective data (even though field sobriety tests and handheld breathalyzers are unreliable) does not help one’s case. On the other hand, if you have only had one or two drinks over the course of an hour or more, you will most likely pass these tests. In most cases, police officers pull over individuals who are driving erratically and most likely would fail these tests. The general rule of thumb is to refuse them unless you are absolutely certain you are not intoxicated. Refer to general blood alcohol level charts to get an understanding of where the number of drinks you consume will reflect on a breathalyzer test before going out.
- Take the tests at the police station. The chances are good that if you refuse field sobriety tests and a handheld breathalyzer, the officer will arrest you and take you to the police station. You are obligated by law in most states to take tests while at the police station. The best-case scenario is to take the breathalyzer test and not take the blood test because attorneys can challenge the reliability of the breathalyzer test in court, but a blood test that reflects that an individual is over the legal limit is pretty much a conviction. In most cases, take the breathalyzer test at the police station.
- Be cooperative at the police station. While at the police station, you will most likely be detained for short period until you can post bail. Be cooperative, follow instructions, and keep to yourself.
After you are released from jail, record everything you can recall. Immediately upon release, it is extremely important that you write down everything you can recall about the arrest. Things to include are:
- What you were drinking and how much you had to drink
- How long after you stop drinking you were pulled over
- What you were doing and where you were before you got into the car
- Where you were pulled over
- How the officer treated you and what the officer said
- How you responded to the officer’s instructions
- Whether you were read your Miranda rights if arrested
- When and where you took the chemical test
- How long after you stopped drinking that you took the chemical test
- Get an attorney. It is extremely important to get legal representation before attempting to fight a DUI. Get a qualified and experienced attorney who regularly handles these cases and discuss the issue with them.
What You Can Expect
If a person is charged and/or convicted of a DUI offense, there are general things to expect.
- You will be arrested by the officer who pulled you over. Expect to be arrested, taken to the police station, booked, and placed in jail until you can be bonded out. Typically, individuals are in jail until they sober up and can post bond. In some jurisdictions and depending on the offense, this may require an appearance before a judge. In others, there are standard procedures that allow the officers in the jail to accept bond.
- You will end up in court. Unless there are unusual extenuating circumstances, you will have to make a court appearance and will be required to plead guilty or not guilty to the offense.
- Expect some type of suspension on your driver’s license. In most states, individuals who are convicted of DUI receive some type of suspension on their driver’s license.
- You will pay. Expect fines, attorney fees, court costs, towing fees, storage fees for your car, therapy fees, counseling fees, etc. etc. This is going to cost a large amount of money even if it is a routine arrest. If there is an accident, property damage, or an injury, the expenses can be astronomical.
- There will be jail time. A person arrested for their first DUI will most likely spend at least a few hours in jail. Individuals with prior arrests will certainly spend at least a few hours in jail and most likely will get some form of jail time, community service, house arrest, etc., upon conviction Depending on the outcome of the case, individuals can be incarcerated for a variable length of time. Multiple repeat offenders can expect at least some extended jail time.
- You will most likely be put on probation. If convicted of a DUI offense, you will most likely be put on probation. This incurs even more expense and regular visits to your probation officer. Be prepared to provide your probation officer with proof that you are not drinking or using drugs.
- Some type of educational program or therapy is in your future. Expect to have to attend some type of substance abuse class, get involved in some type of therapy, or provide proof that you are attending 12-Step meetings.
- Expect changes with your auto insurance. Expect your friendly neighborhood auto insurance company to not be your friend any longer. Insurance prices will shoot up, and you may not even be able to get insurance from some companies.
- There is always a record. These days, no matter what, there is always a record of a DUI arrest or conviction somewhere. Even though the conviction is removed from your immediate driving record after several years, a record of it may remain on your permanent driving record. Insurance companies typically look back five years, but there is a record of a conviction forever, even if you are assured that if you comply with probation, it will be removed from your record. There is always documentation somewhere regarding DUI arrests and convictions that can be referenced.
Some Strategies That Attorneys Can Use to Fight a DUI
Again, this article is not intended to provide legal advice, and there are no guarantees that adopting one of these strategies will get one off the hook. There are, however, some general strategies attorneys often pursue if they can.
- Prove you are not driving. In rare cases, the wrong individual is arrested for a DUI. If the attorney can prove that the individual who was arrested was not actually driving the vehicle, the case is typically dismissed. However, this would require rather unique circumstances.
- Prove the officer did not have grounds to stop the person. A far more sound approach is for the attorney to prove that the officer did not follow the proper legal procedures when detaining the individual. The officer must have a solid reason for stopping an individual in the first place. Sometimes, attorneys can challenge this.
- The credibility of the evidence or of the officer can be challenged. If the officer took a video of the individual, and it appears as if the individual was not swerving on the road, breaking any laws, or did not appear intoxicated, a good attorney might be able get the case dismissed. Sometimes, individuals have medical conditions that make them appear to be intoxicated even if they were not legally intoxicated. This is a strategy that might help. Sometimes, using witnesses who can attest that the individual was not intoxicated can help to question the reliability of chemical tests or sobriety tests.
- Provide objective evidence that the individual was not legally intoxicated. If the attorney can provide objective evidence that the individual was not legally intoxicated at the time of their arrest, they may get the case dismissed. Attorneys have several ways they can approach this, including looking at the results of chemical tests and determining that given the time period that elapsed between the administration of the test and the arrest of the person, the individual’s blood alcohol level could not have been over the legal limit. Again, this requires expertise, and individuals attempting to do this without the use of an attorney would most likely fail.
Each experienced attorney has numerous approaches they can use based on the evidence, the specific conditions, and information provided to them by their client. This is why it is essential that an individual records everything they can remember about their arrest as soon as possible. If it is clear that there will be a conviction or to appeal to the judge, an attorney may often suggest that the individual immediately enroll in a treatment program or therapy, which can be used to objectively demonstrate to the judge that the individual is trying to change their behavior. Sometimes, this can result in a lesser conviction or lesser consequences; however, repeat offenders typically receive less leeway with these tactics.
How to Absolutely Assure That You Will Not Be Arrested or Convicted of a DUI
Do not drink and drive, ever.