How Bad Is Your First DUI?
by Unbundled Legal Help
Your first DUI charge can turn into a bad experience because of where you live. Your offense can be treated with serious criminal charges in one state but you could receive less serious charges in a different jurisdiction. Regardless of where you live, your first DUI charge can have negative outcomes simply because you will have to devote substantial resources to defend yourself in court. Many do not have $10,000 for a DUI lawyer’s upfront retainer whose business model is to manage all possible aspects of your defense.
Depending on the circumstances, the evidence against you, and the charges brought, you may not need to retain a DUI lawyer for each detail of your case. If you live in a jurisdiction that historically treats DUI cases with heavy punitive sentencing (including first-time offenses), you may want a DUI lawyer standing next to you in court. However, if you live in a jurisdiction with DUI diversion or treatment programs, you may be able to resolve your case with less legal assistance.
The seriousness of any DUI offender’s situation is always dependent on the specifics of their case. In some jurisdictions, life may not be significantly different after resolving their DUI charges. But some jurisdictions can make life difficult even after a first DUI conviction. Jail time is a possibility in some cases.
Understanding the Elements of a DUI Offense
Before considering the consequences and severity of your first-time DUI charge, you should have a solid understanding of what it means to be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). DUI and DWI charges are similar nationwide, with only minor differences. Generally, a DUI or DWI charge means the following:
- You were driving or in physical control of a vehicle at the time you were stopped or pulled over by law enforcement
- Your blood-alcohol content (BAC) was .08 or more at the time you submitted to a breathalyzer test (.08 is a legal limit in most states)
- You failed a field sobriety test
- You exhibited physical signs of intoxication, which legally permits police officers to exercise discretion to test you to determine if you were driving under the influence or intoxicated while in control or operating a vehicle
State laws vary, so be familiar with your state’s DUI laws and confirm their procedures and penalties in your jurisdiction.
With any criminal matter, you are innocent until proven guilty. However, most DUI charges are resolved through plea deals rather than a guilty or not guilty decision in court. Generally, without clear and convincing evidence to disprove the prosecution’s claims, a DUI charge is likely to be resolved with a negotiated plea resulting in some degree of guilt for the accused.
Whether you are facing a DUI charge for the first time or not, you have to defend yourself against the allegations brought against you and choose sooner rather than later whether you want to plead guilty to obtain a reduced penalty. While criminal penalties are always bad, they are likely to be much less harsh for first-time DUI offenders compared to a second or subsequent offense.
Predictable Consequences of a First-Time DUI Conviction
If you elect to resolve your first-time DUI charge with a guilty plea, you may be able to avoid having a DUI conviction with jail time on your record. For example, some jurisdictions may allow you to plead guilty to a less-serious traffic offense, and in exchange, you will receive penalties that do not involve jail time. Examples of non-jail time sentences include the following:
- Routine drug or alcohol testing
- Driving restrictions (such as driving only to and from work, school, the grocery store, church, the doctor’s office, etc.)
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), which requires you to blow into a breathalyzer machine before you will be able to start your car
- Payment of a court-ordered fine
- Mandatory counseling to address your substance abuse issues
- Participation in a drug or alcohol abuse program
- Community service
Many jurisdictions offer first-time DUI programs to help limit government costs of confinement from jail time.
Do I Need a DUI Lawyer for a First-Time DUI Charge?
You should consult with a lawyer about your first-time DUI charge if your jurisdiction does not offer programs that incentivize plea bargain outcomes with reduced sentencing. If you decide you need a lawyer, you should consider whether you can handle some parts of the case yourself.
After consulting a lawyer, you may find you have grounds to dismiss your DUI charges or have reasonable options to plead guilty to a lesser offense and obtain a lesser sentence. Consultation should include a thorough case evaluation so your DUI lawyer can formulate your best defense. If you are innocent, hiring a DUI lawyer is money well spent. Paying a lawyer to prove your innocence can prevent you from having to experience the long list of consequences outlined earlier.
With Unbundled Legal Services, you can consider whether you need full case legal help with your DUI matter, and how much legal help you do need. After consulting with a lawyer, if you decide you need help with one portion of your case (such as filing a motion to dismiss the charges), our network of lawyers at Unbundled Legal Help can help you do that.
What Jurisdictions Take DUIs More Seriously Than Others?
The incidence of DUIs in a community often has a direct correlation with how their courts treat a DUI offense. In low DUI-incidence cities, first-time DUI offenses may be a low priority when it comes to a prosecutor’s charging list. Fighting violent crime may be more beneficial to the community than aggressively prosecuting every first-time DUI offender.
If you live in a high-incidence DUI community, a first-time DUI charge may be treated more seriously than, for example, a minor drug possession charge in a different jurisdiction. But then sometimes, bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time create circumstances that lead to higher penalties for what would otherwise be a minor criminal offense.
Let’s say you and another person are charged with the same crime, but you are each in different jurisdictions One may have a higher probability of jail time than the other person, for wholly unpredictable reasons. As DUIs become more common in some cities, courts often develop DUI programs that try to resolve DUIs without sending otherwise law-abiding citizens to jail.
The fact that smaller communities treat first-time DUI offenses more seriously may be enough to convince you to consult a DUI lawyer for help deciding what your best options are.
Unbundled legal services will help you answer these tough questions without forcing you to retain a lawyer for thousands of dollars upfront. You can work with our Unbundled lawyers to formulate the best legal plan that may allow you to do some of the work on your own while leaving the hardest part to a legal professional.
How an Unbundled Lawyer Can Help You
If you are facing your first DUI charge you need a plan of action that fits your specific circumstances. If you don’t have the money to pay a DUI lawyer a large upfront retainer to handle everything for you, Unbundled Legal Services will describe another solution to protect your legal rights and help you move forward.
You are not alone. Many individuals find guidance from a DUI lawyer without paying a full upfront retainer of thousands of dollars. With Unbundled Legal Services you work with a lawyer or small law firm that can provide you with legal representation for a portion of your case.
With our hybrid model, you can choose from an a la carte menu of legal services with one of our unbundled lawyers, and spend as little as $500 to $1,000 for your DUI lawyer to handle the most important aspects of your case. Unbundled Legal Services bridges the gap between needs and affordability. Do the work you can do on your own and speak to a local unbundled lawyer to have a strong advocate on your side.