Understanding DWI/DUI Laws

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Understanding DWI/DUI Laws

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Law enforcement officials take DUI arrests incredibly seriously; the penalties imposed on those convicted of DUI crimes can be steep and life-changing. It is important for anyone charged with DUI-related crimes to be knowledgeable about their legal options, especially in light of the upcoming holidays. DUI arrests across the country increase significantly on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Suppose you plan to attend holiday parties this year and enjoy alcoholic beverages. In that case, it is essential to have a designated driver appointed or to ensure that you use a service like Uber or Lyft to avoid a DUI charge. It may also be helpful  to understand what constitutes a DUI as we head into the holiday season. If you find yourself facing DUI charges, seek out the help of an experienced attorney right away. To help ensure your legal rights are protected.

What Constitutes a DUI?

It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. A driver is considered to be under the influence of alcohol when the driver has a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, or when the driver’s blood unlawfully contains any amount of recreational or illicit drugs. Driving is defined as operating a vehicle or being an actual physical control of a vehicle. 

Actual physical control does not require the vehicle’s engine to be turned on or for the vehicle to be moving. On the contrary, law enforcement officers only need to show that the driver can operate the vehicle and become a danger. Thus, it is possible for someone to be convicted of a DUI, even if he or she is sitting in a motor vehicle’s driver’s seat with the engine turned off.

Penalties for DUI Charges

Jail time and fines imposed on those who have been convicted of a DUI depend on several different factors. Judges will consider whether the defendant has prior DUI convictions and if so, how many and how long ago. A DUI is considered a second offense when it happens within 10 years of the first offense. For a first-time DUI offense, the defendant faces up to 12 months in jail and a fine between $500 to $1,500 if convicted. Those convicted of a second DUI offense face a jail sentence between 60 days in 18 months and a fine between $750 and $2,500.  

Most first-time and second-time DUI offenses are considered misdemeanors, but a third DUI offense is considered a felony charge. Third offenses carry between one and two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. When there are aggravating factors present, the penalties for a DUI conviction increase. If you are charged with a DUI while carrying a passenger who was a child under the age of 17, you will need to pay an additional $500 to $1,500 in fines if you are convicted. You also need to commit 40 hours of community service. If you have been charged with a subsequent DUI involving a minor passenger, you will need to pay an additional $750 to $2,500 in fines and complete 80 hours of community service.  

Revocation of Driver’s Licenses Due to DUI Convictions

Depending on the facts of your case, it is possible for you to lose your driver’s license permanently due to a conviction. The length of the driver’s license suspension depends on the defendant’s BAC levels and whether or not this is their first-time offense. For example, when a defendant has a BAC  level of .20% or higher and their second DUI offense, the state will revoke their license for 30 months. However, if their BAC level is over .08% but less than .16%, and it is their first-time offense, their license will only be suspended for a year. The higher a defendant’s blood alcohol level, and the existence of subsequent DUI charges will lead to an increased driver’s license suspension time.

Options for First-Time DUI Offenders

If you are a first time DUI offender, you have more options than repeat offenders. First-time offenders have the opportunity to waive trial and appellate rights in exchange for accepting a probation period under the First Offense Election Program. This program is only available when there are no aggravating factors present regarding the DUI and when the defendant does not have a criminal history. 

Defendants will need to complete mandatory treatment and agree to a one-year license revocation while paying all of the necessary fees on time. The benefit of going through this program is to avoid a DUI conviction on your record. However, taking part in the First Offense Election Program will still be considered a prior offense should you face another DUI charge in the future. Suppose you go through the First Offense Election Program successfully, but three years later, you face DUI charges again. Prosecutors will consider your subsequent DUI to be a second-time offense and increase the penalties accordingly. 

The First Offense Election Program helps many defendants, but it is wise to speak to an attorney before you agree to go through the program. For example, when the prosecutor in charge of your case does not have enough evidence to prove a DUI in the first place, you may benefit from fighting the charge in court. Your defense lawyer will be able to weigh out the advantages and disadvantages of accepting a plea deal or taking part in the First Offense Election Program.

Contact an Experienced DUI Lawyer Today

If you are facing a DUI charge over the holiday season, you should contact an experienced DUI lawyer today. Your lawyer will investigate your case thoroughly and advocate for you throughout the entire process, advising you of your legal rights. Contact Schwartz & Schwartz today to schedule your free initial consultation.

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