In the U.S., 1.5 million people—or 1 in every 121 drivers—are arrested for drunk driving each year.
If you or someone you love is among them, you’re probably worried. You need advice. You need to know what happens when you get a DUI and how to handle the consequences.
Read on to learn what happens when you are arrested for drinking and driving.
What Happens When You Get a DUI?
The road to a DUI conviction begins, of course, on the road. However, getting pulled over for drinking and driving is just the beginning of what can be a long journey through the criminal justice system.
Getting Arrested: On the Road
If a police officer pulls you over because he suspects you were driving under the influence of any impairing substance, he’ll ask you to take field sobriety and breathalyzer tests.
If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher, you will face immediate arrest.
You may consider refusing to submit to these tests. However, this also leads to your immediate arrest. Under “implied consent” laws, which have passed in all states, you have agreed to submit to field sobriety and breathalyzer tests simply by getting behind the wheel.
It’s important to keep in mind that an officer can ask you to take field sobriety and breathalyzer tests even if he pulled you over for a different reason. In these cases, as well, if you fail the test or refuse to submit to it, you will be arrested.
If you’re arrested, the officer will search you and your car. Your car will be towed, and the officer will take you to the police station. He will also take your license and, in some states, issue you a temporary one.
In order to get your regular license back and continue driving after the temporary 30-day license expires, you will need to successfully argue your case in court. If your court case is unsuccessful or you don’t request a hearing, your license will be suspended for at least some time. The length of the suspension depends on your BAC, any prior violations, and other factors.
Getting Booked: At the Station
When you arrive at the police station, they will photograph and fingerprint you. If you refused a breathalyzer test on the road, you will take a blood, breath, or urine test at the station.
As with any arrest, you will be permitted to use the phone after a drunk driving arrest. It’s wise to contact an experienced DUI attorney. You might also ask a trusted friend or family member to make that contact for you.
In most cases, you’ll be released within a few hours on bail or your own recognizance. To leave the police station, however, you will need to have a sober driver take you home.
If the circumstances of your arrest are more serious or you have prior convictions, you may have to wait in jail for your first hearing.
If you are permitted to leave, you’ll receive a summons to appear in court at a later date.
Getting Convicted or Acquitted: In the Courts
At your arraignment, you’ll be formally charged. Here, your lawyer can help you decide if it’s in your best interests to contest the charges or seek a plea bargain.
Seeking a plea bargain may be a good idea if this is your first arrest. With the help of an experienced lawyer who can gather more information about your case, you may be able to get your charges reduced. Reduced charges mean reduced consequences. These include criminal penalties, like fines and jail time, and financial consequences, like insurance rate increases.
If you plead not guilty, be prepared for a trial where your alleged offense, behavior at the time of your arrest, and any other relevant information, including past convictions, will become public. With dash and body cams, this almost always includes footage of your field sobriety test.
First time DUI offenses are usually misdemeanors. However, this depends on state laws and the circumstances of your case. If your impaired driving damaged property or injured or killed someone, you’ll face felony charges. These can include felony vehicular manslaughter and life in prison.
Other factors that affect the seriousness of the charges include any prior and concurrent offenses, your BAC, the type of vehicle you were driving, and your age.
If convicted of driving while impaired, you’ll face a combination of the following criminal penalties:
- Jail time
- Community service
- Alcohol education and treatment programs
- Suspension or revocation of your license
- Vehicle impoundment
Once again, the circumstances of your case determine the penalties you’ll face. Each state sets the minimum and maximum fines and requirements for jail time and probation. Most states now require at least some jail time and a period of license suspension for all DUI convictions. Usually, the sentence is much shorter for first-time rather than repeat offenders.
Getting Your Life and Your License Back
Once your trial and any jail term are over, you’ll be eager to get back to your life and back on the road.
If your sentence included probation, you may have to wear a bracelet that uses your sweat to monitor your alcohol level. Ignition interlock devices can also monitor your breath and prevent you from starting your car if you are impaired. Courts increasingly use these devices as an alternative to impounding your vehicle because even with a suspended license, you may have limited privileges for work or school.
To regain full driving privileges, you’ll often have to complete a court-ordered alcohol assessment. Here, a trained counselor will evaluate you for an alcohol disorder. He may then order you to complete an education or treatment program.
For first-time offenders, these programs can be a good step toward regaining a regular driver’s license. However, habitual offender laws mean that drivers posing the highest risk can lose their licenses for years or even permanently.
When you are able to get back on the road, you’ll need to check with your insurance company. Along with legal fees and fines, increased insurance rates are among the most common financial consequences of a DUI.
Some companies may choose to drop your coverage after a DUI conviction. You may also need to look for a new policy if your current insurance company does not file SR-22 forms. The DMV requires this form to document that high-risk drivers have the necessary insurance.
Besides financial penalties from the courts and insurance companies, you may also face civil lawsuits if your DUI involved damaged property, injuries, or death.
Plus, you’ll need to adjust to the long-term financial, professional, and mental health consequences of having a criminal record.
Navigating a DUI Arrest: A Journey Best Taken with a Skilled Lawyer by Your Side
If you’ve read this guide after a DUI arrest, you’re probably still worried. The consequences are serious. Now, however, you’re also informed. You know what happens when you get a DUI, and you can work with your lawyer to mitigate the consequences as much as possible.
As you overcome this and other obstacles in the road of life, check out our blog to make sure that the life you live is your best life.