Being arrested for driving under the influence ("DUI") can be a very harrowing experience. You will be detained at the scene, placed in a squad car, your car will be impounded, and in most cases, you will have to spend a significant amount of time in police custody. This ultimate guide provides a breakdown of common DUI questions and some insight into how your attorney will craft your defense.
What Do Police Look for When Searching for Drunk Drivers?
When officers are patrolling the streets and highways, they are often checking for the telltale signs of drunk drivers. Some of the common indicators are:
- Failure to maintain your lane
- Undue swerving
- Driving more than 10 mph under the speed limit
- Slow response to traffic signals and signs
- Accelerating or decelerating rapidly
- Abrupt turning
In addition to the exterior signs of drunk driving, it is also important to know what a police officer will be searching for once you are pulled over. Generally, a police office is looking for evidence that you have been drinking. The most common signs are:
- Alcohol odor or drug odor in car or on breath
- Slurred speech
- Watery eyes
- Stumbling while walking
- Inability to follow directions
Some Things to Remember If You Are Stopped for DUI
If you are pulled over under the suspicion you are driving while intoxicated, there are a few things to remember during your interaction with the police.
First, if an officer suspects you have been drinking, one of the first questions he or she will ask is "Have you been drinking this evening?" As a general rule of thumb, you are not required to answer any incriminating questions posed by the officer. Always remain polite and inform the officer that you would rather speak with an attorney before answering any questions.
On the other hand, you may answer the question by saying you’ve only had one or two drinks this evening. Depending on your size and the time frame in which you consumed the drinks, this normally is not enough alcohol to cause intoxication. Having had one or two drinks might explain the odor of alcohol on your breath or in the car. That being said, you should only use this response if it is the truth and you are not under the influence. If it is apparent you are more intoxicated than you claim, an officer is not likely to appreciate being misled.
Field Sobriety Tests versus Chemical Tests
Once you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI, an officer will ask you to submit to a Field Sobriety Test (FST). If an officer is administering an FST, he or she has likely already made up their mind to arrest you and is simply compiling more evidence.
FSTs come in a variety of forms. Some common examples are:
- Heel-to-toe walk
- One-leg stand
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
- Alphabet recitation
Officers will also ask you to submit to a chemical test in order to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). Two tests are commonly used: blood sample and the breathalyzer. Some states also offer a urine test, but it is very rare given its minimal accuracy to determine your BAC.
Unlike the FSTs, refusing to take a chemical BAC test carries adverse penalties that vary from state-to-state. There are typically three results from a refusal to submit to a chemical test. They are:
- Refusal to take a test will result in the suspension of your license. The length of suspension varies, but can be significant. In California, a first time refuser will lose their license for one year, regardless of whether or not they are found guilty of DUI.
- Refusal can also be considered a separate crime or can add to the length of your time spent in jail.
- The fact of your refusal can be introduced as evidence at trial that you had a guilty conscience.
- Given the harsh penalties for refusing a chemical test, it is probably in your best interest to submit to the test.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI Conviction?
Convictions for DUI vary from state-to-state and will also depend upon your own driving record. Typically, a first-time offense carries a suspension or restriction of license, a fine, mandatory attendance at a DUI education course, and, in some cases, probation. Some states may also impose community service, ignition interlock devices, and AA meetings.
How Much Does a DUI Defense Attorney Usually Cost?
As with any attorney services, the costs of your DUI defense will vary depending upon the circumstances of your case and your geographic location. In small rural communities, an attorney might charge less than $1,000 to defend your case. Attorneys in urban areas will understandably have higher rates. More experienced attorneys will charge a higher amount, but also provide the peace of mind that your case is being handled correctly.
There are a variety of situations that will affect the cost of your case. Some examples:
- Are you being charged with a misdemeanor or felony?
- Is this your first offense, or have you been convicted of DUI before?
- Were there injuries sustained in the accident?
If your case is especially complicated, your attorney may also want to high expert witnesses to testify about the administration of the field sobriety test as well as the blood test. Hiring an expert witness will add to the overall costs of your case.
What Defenses Can You Expect from Your Attorney?
If your DUI case heads to trial, your attorney will present your defense in front of the judge and/or jury. Below are some of the common DUI defense strategies.
- Driving. In addition to be under the influence, a DUI conviction also requires the prosecution to prove you were driving the vehicle. If there is any confusion regarding who was driving, your defense attorney has a strong argument that the prosecution hasn’t met its burden.
- Under the Influence. On this point, the case rests on your word against the observations of the arresting officer. You may present witnesses that claim they thought you were sober or that you did not appear intoxicated.
- Blood Alcohol Content. One of the most common DUI defenses is attacking the method through which the police tested your BAC. There are a variety of ways to challenge the accuracy or administration of the test.
- Miranda Warnings and Probable Cause. These two defenses depend upon whether there were procedural errors during and after you were arrested. Your attorney should be able to spot these errors quickly and can use these defenses to suppress evidence against you.
The above list of defenses is not exhaustive. Defense attorneys are creative and will craft a thorough defense specific to your case.
Should You Hire a Defense Attorney?
If you have been arrested for DUI, you will likely need to services of an experienced DUI/DWI lawyer. Your defense attorney will be familiar with the courts in your area and may already have a working rapport with judges and prosecutors in your county. Your attorney can also draw upon their experience in creating a defense strategy that lowers your penalties or gets your DUI charges dropped completely.