You made an error in judgment and drove after drinking. You didn't think you were intoxicated but the police disagreed and charged you with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (“DUI”). Now you're panicking. You have a court date but no idea how to prepare or what to expect. This guide will give you answers to calm your anxiety and prepare you for next steps.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney?
You can certainly try to navigate the ins and outs of the court system on your own when you're facing your first DUI. If you do not have a viable defense, you can go to court, face the judge and apply for a pretrial diversionary program without legal counsel. The problem is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a non-lawyer to determine whether there is a defense to the charge. How do you challenge the claim that you were intoxicated? How do you challenge the claim that you were operating the vehicle? How do you argue that the police had no legal right to stop you in the first place? Yes, it costs money to hire an attorney, but it will be your only way of making an educated decision whether and how best to fight the charges.
What Will a DUI Lawyer Do to Defend Me?
After you hire an attorney, she will go to court and do all the talking in front of the judge. She will speak to the prosecutor, so you do not have to. She will request the dash cam, body cam, and booking videos and then analyze and review them with you to determine whether there is helpful evidence. She will carefully examine the police reports and determine whether the police had a legal right to stop you and probable cause to arrest you. She will know whether you can argue that the state cannot prove you were driving. She will know whether you can argue that the state cannot prove you were intoxicated. She will understand how breathalyzers work and how to challenge their results. She will know all about Field Sobriety Tests and how to challenge them. She will know the players in the courthouse -- prosecutors, judges, clerks -- and have a rapport with them that will ultimately be to your advantage. In short, she will KNOW WHAT TO DO. Just as you wouldn't try to perform surgery on yourself, you need the expertise of a specialist to navigate the criminal justice system.
What Happens If There Is No Defense to the DUI Charge?
After your attorney has carefully examined and analyzed the evidence and concluded that there are no viable ways of challenging it, she will discuss your other options. In Connecticut, if there isn't a defense, the best option for most first offense drivers is the Pretrial Impaired Driving Intervention Program (IDIP), the successful completion of which will result in a dismissal of the charge. To apply, you complete the application form, pay a $100 application fee and a $150 evaluation fee, unless you are found to be indigent and unable to pay the fees. The judge will then direct you to speak to someone in the bail commissioner's office who will direct you to be evaluated to determine your need for intervention. The person who conducts the screening will then recommend to the court that you either complete 12 or 15 counseling sessions and pay $400 unless you are indigent and unable to pay the fee. You will return to court in 6-8 weeks, learn whether the bail commissioner has confirmed that you are eligible for the AEP, learn the evaluator's recommendations regarding the classes, and be heard on the application itself. The judge will take into account such factors as your personal and professional history, the strengths and weaknesses of the state's case against you, how quickly you were driving, your risk of reoffending, your driving record, etc. The judge will then rule whether to grant the program or deny it. If granted, you will be ordered to complete the program of sessions and attend one Victim Impact Panel session put on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving ($75) (be sure to get a certificate of completion for attending the panel). You have one year to complete these requirements, at the end of which your attorney will tell you whether or not you need to return to court. If successful, the charges will be dismissed and the matter will not show up on your criminal record.
What About the Consequences of a DUI at the Connecticut DMV?
Yes, there are collateral consequences when you are criminally charged with a DUI. After the arrest, you will receive in the mail a license suspension notice from the DMV. A lawyer will help you determine whether to challenge the 45 day suspension (which will begin 30 days after you receive the notice) and request a hearing. If you opt for an Administrative Per Se hearing, you will meet with a DMV hearing officer, who will be a private attorney highly skilled in this area of the law. The hearing officer will consider four questions: was there probable cause to arrest? Were you arrested? Were you operating the vehicle? Did you have a breath alcohol content (BAC) demonstrating intoxication? If the answer is "no" to one or more of these questions, then your license will likely be restored. If the answer is "yes" to all of these questions, your 45 day suspension will stand. You will also be ordered by the DMV to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID), which requires the driver to breathe in it for the car to operate. It must be installed for 6 months for a first offender who is over 21 years of age and one year for a first offender who has refused to take a breathalyzer. With the IID, there are costs for installation and administration of the device. When your suspension period is over, there is also a $175 license restoration fee. And, yes, DUIs are money making endeavors for the DMV as well as for the criminal court system.
What Else Should I Know?
Keep in mind that if you fail the IDIP or do not qualify for it, the criminal penalties for a DUI conviction are a 45 day license suspension, a fine of $500-1000, and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 48 hours or 6 months suspended with probation and 100 hours of community service. If you are under 21 years of age, the length of the license suspension and the maintenance of the IID will be longer than for those who are over 21. If you refused to take the breathalyzer, the maintenance of the IID will be for 1 year rather than 6 months. And if you have no other means of transportation and need your license for your employment, you can submit a request, signed by your employer, for a work permit to the DMV.
Also keep in mind that there will inevitably be car insurance ramifications as a result of a DUI. Talk to your lawyer about the possibilities and to your insurance agent about what to expect in terms of points and an increase in your rates.
Although it might feel like it is the end of the world, you will get through this. Be sure to find an experienced DUI attorney like Attorney Birckhead at Birckhead Law LLC whom you like and trust. Approach the process step by step so that you are not overwhelmed. And, most importantly, never drink and drive again -- it's not worth it.