First DUI: What You Should Know
Although most states categorize a first DUI offense as a misdemeanor, do not underestimate the serious consequences of your first DUI arrest or conviction. When you are charged with your first DUI, you need to understand the mandatory sentence and punishments associated, the nature of a DUI charge, and the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction.
Consequences of a First DUI Offense
Whenever someone picks up their first DUI, they immediately think they will get probation because it’s a first DUI offense. Most first time DUI offenders do get placed on some type of probation, however, the court can still order you to serve time in county jail as a condition of your probation. Even for misdemeanor offenses, you may be required to serve some jail time, depending on the laws in your state. In addition to mandatory jail sentences, virtually every state will suspend your license for a period of time, even for your first DUI offense.
Depending on your history, you may be able to apply for an occupational driver's license or a hardship license so that you can still drive to work and school. Conditions of probation for a DUI charge usually include a substantial fine, court costs, probation fees, and urinalysis fees. Your total monthly payment can easily equal a small car payment. You will also be required to attend and complete drug and alcohol counseling and community service hours.
Punishment for a First DUI
Generally, your first DUI charge will be considered a misdemeanor offense, and you will be punished with fines, community service, license suspension, and possible probation. However, other factors can change the level or nature of your charge resulting in enhanced sentences or penalties. For example, if you have an open container in your vehicle, you may still be charged with a misdemeanor, but your fine or mandatory jail sentence could be increased. If a child was present in the vehicle while you were driving, some states will elevate your misdemeanor charge to a felony offense, even if you have never had a prior drunk driving conviction.
In addition to the criminal nature of a DUI, every DUI has an administrative element that can be just as painful as the charge itself. For example, before you are ever convicted, some states will automatically suspend your license if you refuse to provide a breath test. This license suspension is a separate suspension from the one that comes after a DUI conviction.
Conditions of License Suspension for a DUI Offense
If you want to quickly regain your license after it was suspended for a DUI, you will have to deal with an administrative law judge and a criminal law judge. Do not drive while your license is suspended. If you are caught driving during the suspension, you will only pick up new charges and more fines. Some states will also require you to install and pay for an ignition interlock device while your case is pending. Cost for this device can run up to $200 per month. Failure to comply with this condition can result in your bond being revoked and you being sent back to jail.
Long-Term Consequences of Multiple DUI Offenses
Probably the most important aspect of your first DUI is the long-term consequences. Even if you are placed on probation and do not receive a final conviction because your sentence was probated or deferred, your probated sentence will remain on your record and it can be used against you later. If you pick up a second DUI charge, your first DUI will cause the sentences and penalties to increase.
States vary, but if there are multiple DUI arrests on your record, then a DUI conviction can be elevated to a felony level offense. Where you are arrested will control whether your subsequent offenses will be consider a felony level. For example, in New Mexico, you are not elevated to a felony until to obtain your fourth DUI. However, in Texas, your third DUI will be considered a felony. Do not assume that just because your home state would consider your charge a misdemeanor that a state in which you are visiting will do the same.
How a First Time DUI Changes Employment and Auto Insurance
Even a first time DUI can affect your employment and your auto insurance policy. Because a DUI conviction is part of your criminal history, many employers will run criminal histories and know about your conviction. Some employers will not employ individuals with DUI’s on their records because they view you as a safety risk or their insurance rates could potentially increase.
Because you are now a risk factor, you can also expect your auto insurance rates to go up as well. If you were in a wreck because of your DUI, and your offense is somehow elevated to a felony, your insurance company may not cover to the costs of your accident. Many insurance policies exclude coverage for damages that arise from the commission of a felony, including drunk driving offenses.
Getting Help from a DUI Attorney
Even your first DUI arrest can have a significant effect on your criminal history, your finances, and your employment opportunities. Do not take the charge lightly, just because it’s your first DUI arrest. Act quickly to visit with a DUI attorney who can help you get in front of many of the issues associated with your DUI charge.