You had a little too much to drink. Okay, you had a lot too much to drink. You thought you could drive home, but ultimately made the wrong decision. You were pulled over, given roadside sobriety tests, and arrested on a driving under the influence (DUI) charge. For most of us, getting arrested for a first offense DUI is a serious ordeal. A DUI conviction can cost you your freedom, your license, increased insurance rates, and more.
There are a number of questions that are likely going through your head, such as whether you can fight the charges, obtain a reduced sentence, or get your license back. While this can all seem overwhelming, you don’t have to go through it alone. A good lawyer will be able to answer many of your questions, but here is a summary of what a first offense DUI may entail, including license revocation, alcohol education classes, possible jail time, probation, fines, and more. DUI laws are constantly changing, so it is imperative you check the laws of your state for the most up-to-date information.
Possible Jail Time After a First Offense DUI
Let’s start with possibly the most troubling concern: loss of freedom. Will you go to jail for a first offense DUI? It depends. Every state has its own laws and penalties. In most cases, you can face up to a year in county jail, but usually serve far less time. Often times, if you don’t have a high blood alcohol content (BAC) and an otherwise clean record, you may be able to serve your jail sentence on an alternative work or community service program. But that also could mean taking time off work or giving up your weekend plans.
While most first-time offenses are charged as misdemeanors, there are situations where your case can be elevated to a felony DUI. For instance, if you drove while intoxicated and caused great bodily injury or death to another, even if this is your first DUI. If you are charged with a felony DUI, you may be dealing with a possible prison sentence.
License Suspension After Your First DUI Offense
Perhaps a penalty that hits harder than community service or even jail is losing your driver’s license. We use our cars for many important activities including getting to work, dropping the kids off at school, going to the doctor’s office, and even for our livelihood in the cases of commercial drivers. For most first offense DUIs, you will automatically lose your license for just the DUI arrest. In many states, it can be as long as 90 days or more. If you refuse a chemical test, the suspension can be even longer.
In most situations, you will likely be able to apply for a restricted license allowing you to go to and from work, school, and any court-mandated alcohol treatment programs. Keep in mind, if you are arrested and convicted of a DUI-related charge, your license suspension can be even longer. For instance, in California a first offense DUI carries a six-month license suspension (with the possibility of a restricted license).
DUI Fines and Fees
Let's be up front here -- DUIs aren’t cheap. In addition to paying anywhere from $500-$2,000, you will also have to pay court courts and fees, including a license reinstatement fee and more. You’ll also have to pay higher car insurance rates, ignition interlock device (IID) fee (if one is required), and mabye the amount to get your car out of impoundment.
First Offense DUI and Car Insurance Rates
An often overlooked point of discussion, your car insurance rates are likely to go up appreciably in the event you are convicted of a first offense DUI. In some situations, an insurance carrier can simply cancel your policy if you are deemed “too high a risk.” Moreover, a person who has multiple DUI convictions creates the biggest risk for an insurance company and will see the biggest insurance premium increase.
Mandatory DUI School or Alcohol/Drug Treatment Program
Many states will require you to undergo mandatory alcohol education classes in order to get your driver’s license back. For instance, California’s “First Offender Program” consists of a three-month/30 hour series of courses designed to encourage participants to address alcohol or drug problems and create a plan to treat the addiction.
Talk to a Lawyer About Your First Offense DUI Charge
A DUI conviction can be a costly experience for the average person. From the fines, to court costs, possible jail time, and suspended license, an impaired driving conviction can negatively impact your life. It pays to at least be aware of your legal options before pleading guilty. Before going to court, consider speaking with an experienced DUI attorney who can answer your important questions.