The vast majority of first-time DUI offenders find themselves completely overwhelmed by the situation.
Our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys know that for most, it's not just the first time they are facing drunk driving charges. It's typically the first time they've ever faced any charges.
Law enforcement officers will, almost without exception, exploit the fact that you are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. They will attempt to get you to submit to searches, testing and questioning that are not in your best interest. Police are not required to be honest or forthcoming with you, and you should never trust their promises that you won't face charges if you simply tell the truth.
That doesn't mean you should lie or be disrespectful. It just means you shouldn't give them any more evidence to use against you than they already have.
Here's what you should keep in mind if you get stopped for a DUI:
- You don't have to speak with an officer, except to provide your basic identifying information.
- You don't have to submit to field sobriety tests.
- You have the right to consult with an attorney before you consent to any questioning.
It's possible that officers could compel you to involuntarily submit to a search or blood testing, but they can only do so upon your refusal if they go to the trouble of obtaining a warrant. They can't force you to take a breathalyzer test (mostly because it requires your cooperation), but you should know that if you refuse it, you will face automatic penalties due to violation of implied consent laws.
But let's say you've already been arrested. The good news is that first-time DUI offenders, particularly those with no prior criminal record, a skilled defense attorney can often have those charges reduced or sometimes even dismissed. Even when that turns out not to be a viable option, reduced penalties can often be negotiated.
A person can be convicted of a DUI if he or she, while in physical control of any vehicle:
- Has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher;
- Is deemed under the influence of alcohol;
- Is deemed under the influence of a controlled substance rendering him or her incapable of safe vehicle operation;
- Is under the influence of any substance which impairs mental and physical capacity to the degree that he or she can no longer safely drive;
- Is under the age of 21 and yet has a blood-alcohol level that is 0.02 percent or higher.
School bus and commercial drivers, too, are held to higher standards.
Assuming a first-time DUI offense did not involve any property damage or personal injury and you didn't have a juvenile in your vehicle or a blood-alcohol level that exceeded 0.15 percent, potential penalties include:
- Up to 1 year in jail;
- A fine of between $600 and $2,100;
- License revocation for up to 90 days.
Prior DUI convictions received in other states can be counted against you in Alabama. A second conviction will result in a fine of up to $5,000, up to 1 year in jail, license revocation of up to 1 year and a requirement to have an ignition interlock device installed.
Some people make the mistake of assuming that because it's their first offense, they can get away without having an attorney present to represent them. This is a huge mistake because even a first-time offense can be incredibly costly.
Beyond just the fines, there is all this to consider:
- Court costs;
- Car towing and impounding;
- Alternative transportation costs;
- Temporary loss of income;
- Possible job loss;
- DUI school.
By some estimates, a first-time DUI can cost as much as $20,000. An attorney who will fight aggressively to have the charges reduced or the penalties mitigated is almost always well worth the expense.