DUI Arrest: Can I save my drivers license?
How to Save Your License if Arrested for DUI
Getting stopped while driving and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) can be a traumatic experience. You will need to attend one or more hearings, and, in many states, can lose your license for at least a few months. There are some things you can do to try to avoid losing your license.
Managing the Traffic Stop to Try to Save your License
Avoid getting stopped at all, if possible.If you have been drinking, have someone else drive you, take a taxi, or just walk. Don’t put yourself in the position of getting into serious trouble and possible injuring other people. You can also minimize the possibility of getting stopped by making sure that your car is in good operating order, that all your headlights and taillights are working properly, and by obeying all the rules of the road.
Be courteous and respectful if you are stopped.If a police officer does pull you over while you are driving, you may be able to avoid a DUI arrest if you are respectful and cooperative. You may not know why the officer stopped you, and it could be for something unrelated to drinking. If you can address the officer’s initial concerns, you may avoid further problems.
Invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege.As with any other criminal charge, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and you have the right not to incriminate yourself. If the officer asks whether you have been drinking or where you are coming from, you should politely decline to answer. Answering these questions is not likely to help you, but your answers could get you into further trouble.
- Understand that the familiarMirandawarnings do not generally apply to a DUI traffic stop because you are not deemed to be "in custody" at the time.Know that whatever you say may be used against you in court, whether or not the officer recites theMirandawarnings.
Be alert and try to remember everything that happens.It will be important for your defense later to try to recall as many details as possible from your traffic stop. Pay attention to what the police officer says and directs you to do.
Perform the field sobriety tests as accurately as you can.There are a few different tests that the police officer may instruct you to take at the time of the stop. If you participate in these, you should pay attention to as many details as possible about their administration. If the officer does not administer the tests properly, you may be able to challenge the results later in court. There are three primary tests that are likely to be administered:
- Nystagmus gaze test. The officer will position an object, usually a pen or a finger, about a foot in front of the driver’s face and move the object from side to side while watching the eye movement. This is generally a reliable test, although some people may successfully challenge it in court because the police officers are not medically trained.
- The walk and turn test. This test is about 68% accurate in determining whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol. The officer will ask the driver to walk in a straight line and then turn around and return. The test can be challenged in court if the officer fails to administer the test on solid, level ground, or if the driver had some other condition that would interfere, such as leg or back pain.
- The one-leg stand. The officer will ask the driver to lift one leg and stand still on the other, usually while counting. Drivers may be able to challenge this test if the ground was not level, if the driver was wearing high heels, or if the driver has leg or back problems.
Pay attention to any chemical test that is administered.If the officer administers either a breathalyzer or blood or urine test, you should try to note the type of test, as well as the time that it is administered. Some states have certain requirements about when these tests must be administered in relation to the traffic stop. If too much time goes by, the test may not be valid. In some states, you also have the right to request an independent test of your own, and if this does not happen, you may challenge the test as well.
Consider refusing the chemical test.Depending on your familiarity with the law of your jurisdiction, you may wish to refuse a breathalyzer or blood or urine test. However, be aware that many states have enacted “implied consent” laws, which basically say that when you get your license and operate a motor vehicle, you are giving your consent to a chemical test. If you are stopped in a state with implied consent laws, then refusing to undergo the test could result in suspension or loss of your license, regardless of the result. It is important for you to understand your local laws before making this decision.
- In many states with implied consent laws, simply refusing to take a breathalyzer test is treated as an indication of guilt, or is a crime by itself. Whether you are ultimately found guilty of DUI, you could have your license suspended just for refusing the test.
Keep written notes.As soon as possible after your traffic stop, write down your observations. Keep thorough notes of what the officer did and said, and how any tests were administered. These notes may provide you or your attorney with details that could help your case at trial and minimize an suspension of your license.
Preparing Your Defense to the Charges
Hire an experienced DUI attorney.A good attorney who is experienced in the field of criminal defense work, and particularly working with DUI charges, will be able to help you challenge your stop and may be able to reduce the charges against you.
- If you have the resources to hire your own attorney, look for someone with experience in your area, in working with DUI cases. Try to get a referral from someone you know, or contact the bar association in your area for possible referrals.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, the court is required to appoint you a public defender. If you are in police custody, ask for an attorney right there. If not, contact either the police station or district attorney’s office to find out how to have a public defender appointed to you.
Challenge the police officer’s probable cause for stopping you.In most states, a police officer must have a valid reason for stopping you in the first place. If you were driving safely and there was no supportable reason for stopping you, then everything else that came from the stop may be inadmissible in court.
Question the officer’s conclusion that you were under the influence.Very often, a DUI conviction rests on the police officer’s own conclusion that you “appeared” to be under the influence. Usually, this will be based on such factors as slurred speech, watery or bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol. You may be able to challenge these conclusions by providing alternative reasons. If you were ill, had been using mouthwash recently, or were overtired, you may be able to explain the officer’s observations.
Challenge the validity of the field sobriety tests.As noted above, the field sobriety tests have only about a 65% reliability level when administered properly.While this statistic alone is not likely to help you, you can question whether the officer administered the tests properly, or raise alternate explanations for your ability to perform well. If you had a recent injury, if you were overly tired at the time, or if you believe the officer did not explain the instructions adequately, you may be able to minimize the value of the officer’s testimony.
Gather witnesses to help you present your case.If there was anyone else with you in the car, or if you were with other people before driving, those witnesses may be able to testify that you were not drinking or that there was some other explanation for the police officer’s observations.
- For example, if the officer stopped you because you went through a stop sign, a witness might testify that you went through the stop sign because you were distracted by the conversation in the car. (This doesn’t make running the traffic light acceptable, but the penalty is much less severe than DUI.)
Preparing for a Trial or Hearing
Familiarize yourself with trial procedures.Whether or not you are represented by an attorney, you will help yourself if you are familiar with the courtroom expectations. You may want to visit a courtroom and simply observe a trial in progress.
Consider a plea bargain.After reviewing all of the evidence, you may wish to meet with the prosecuting attorney and enter into an agreement, called a plea bargain, for a lesser charge. By doing this, you may be able to avoid the harshest penalties and could prevent a suspension of your license. By avoiding trial, you avoid the uncertainty of whatever outcome a judge or jury may impose, and you gain a level of control. Depending on the evidence against you, the prosecutor may or may not be willing to offer a deal of this sort, but it is worth considering.
Attend the trial or hearing.If there is no plea bargain, then you will need to present your case at a hearing or trial. Whether you do this on your own or with an attorney, you will need to be organized and appear professional. You need to show the court that you are a responsible individual and raise doubts regarding the charges against you. You will have the opportunity to challenge any witnesses that the prosecution presents, and then to present your own witnesses or explanations for the incident.
Suggest alternative punishments to avoid suspension of your license.If this was a first offense, you may be able to convince the judge to assign some alternative punishment, rather than suspending your license. This could include having your vehicle fitted with an ignition interlock device, which prevents your car from starting if your blood alcohol level exceeds a certain minimum.
- Understand that many jurisdictions have harsh DUI laws, and the prosecutor and/or judge may have limited leeway in assigning the punishment.
Taking Steps After the Trial to Save Your License
Comply with any orders of the court or prosecutor related to a plea bargain.If you were successful in reducing the charge against you to avoid a suspension of your license, there may very likely be certain restrictions. You may be required to seek counseling or attend a program like Alcoholics Anonymous. Whatever the requirements, be sure to meet them in a timely fashion and report back to the court or prosecutor as ordered, in order to save your license.
File an appeal, if you are convicted.The original trial does not have to be the final word. If you are convinced that you are innocent of the charges, and if you believe that there were some irregularities that prevented you from having a fair trial, you can file an appeal. Understand that appeals can be costly, and time consuming, and that if the trial judge ordered a suspension of your license, then your license will likely be suspended pending the outcome of any appeal. However, in the end, if you succeed, then your record would be cleared.
Apply to have your license reinstated as soon as possible.If your license is suspended, and if you choose not to appeal, then you should take steps to minimize the time that you are without it. In some states, in order to drive again, you need to file a special application to reinstate your license, and pay a fee.Make yourself aware of these procedures and take care of the reinstatement as soon as you can.
- The best way to save your license from being suspended or revoked is to avoid putting yourself in this situation in the first place. Don’t drink and drive. If you have been drinking, have someone else drive you home.
- Learn the laws of your state. Every state, and Washington, DC, has laws making driving under the influence illegal. You should become familiar with the laws of the jurisdiction where you live. You can probably contact your local police station or district attorney’s office for information.
- Be aware of the possible penalties. The penalties that you face will vary from one jurisdiction to another based on the severity of your offense, the level of your blood alcohol, and the number of times you have been previously convicted of the same offense. Penalties can include payment of a fine, suspension or revocation of your license, jail time, or insurance surcharges.
Video: Save your license after a marijuana arrest in Marietta or Atlanta | Atlanta Lawyer
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