When the DUI Grinch Steals Christmas

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The holidays can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to drinking and driving. A combination of holiday parties and networking events can lead to novice drinkers taking an open bar tab too far. Imagine you are a civil trial attorney and you are at a holiday networking event with insurance adjustors and other business professionals. One particular gentleman has one too many gin and tonics. Fast forward to the next morning. You get a call from him and he tells you that he found himself riding to the jail in the back of a cop car last night. He was charged with Driving While Impaired and it’s the first time he has ever been in trouble. It’s a Saturday, and he can’t get a hold of a DWI defense attorney for a consultation until Monday.

While he awaits a consultation with a DWI defense attorney, he wants to know what he is looking at in terms of costs and his ability to get back on the road to drive to work. His phone call might not be the only call you get over the next few months. Friends and family members who fall into this unfortunate situation may lean on you for some quick general advice. The following information should prove helpful.

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Between lawyer fees, court costs and fines, and insurance premium increases, a DWI conviction can ultimately cost upwards of $10,000 or more. If there is a fightable issue in the case, it should almost always be litigated due to the financial impact it can have. Notwithstanding the financial cost, an increasing number of employers are viewing DWI convictions in a negative light in terms of a hiring standpoint, making it difficult to obtain a new job or receive a promotion. Finally, defendants with cases involving prior DWI convictions within seven years of the date of the current offense, or cases involving passengers under the age of 18 in the car, jail time is on the table. While this may not ease the insurance adjustor’s mindset, it is important to let him know how serious a DWI charge can be. However, generally speaking, a person without any prior DWI convictions, like your colleague, is much more likely to receive community service in lieu of jail time.

The single-most important question and probably the first thing on that insurance adjustor’s mind – can I beat the charge? The key to answering this question is to obtain as much information as possible about the facts of the case from the client, law enforcement, and the state. It would be a good idea to tell your colleague to write down as much as he possibly remembers about the night in question. For instance, make sure he writes down every question the officer asked him, such as how many drinks he had, what did he have to drink, when was the last drink, etc. Also, if the case involved an accident or bad driving, the client might want to sketch a diagram of the road or intersection, or go back to the scene and take pictures.

As I discuss in my book, “A Cup of Coffee with 10 of the Top DUI Attorneys in the United States,” one of the strategies I use to attack the state’s evidence in a DWI case is to pepper the officer with questions regarding his administration and interpretation of the standardized field sobriety tests. I will use their own training manual against them and attack the credibility of the test results in court if they don’t properly administer the tests. From prosecuting DWI cases as an intern at the Moore County DA’s office, I am familiar with the state’s techniques and strategies, which gives me an advantage in court defending my clients.

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The second most important thing on your colleague’s mind will be when he can get back on the road. Since the DMV likes to remind us that a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right, they will revoke it automatically for a minimum of 30 days under the following circumstances:

1.) The driver registers a BAC of .08 or more on a chemical test.

2.) The driver of a commercial vehicle registers a BAC of .04 or more.

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3.) The driver is under the age of 21 and registers a BAC of .01 or more.

4.) The driver refuses to submit to a chemical test.

The defendant may typically pick up their license after 30 days from the clerk’s office by paying the $100 civil revocation fee at the courthouse. Some defendants are eligible for pre-trial driving privileges starting on the 10th day after the arrest. To petition the court for a pre-trial driving privilege, he will need to get a substance abuse assessment, obtain a certified driving record, obtain a DL-123 form from his insurance company, and get a letter from his employer if he works outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday (to request nonstandard hours, if needed). Assessments usually cost $100 and the driving privilege court cost is $100.

With all the cheer and promise of vacation days and good times with family that the holidays bring, there is a chance you get a phone call from someone who overindulges in alcohol and makes a poor decision to get behind the wheel and the DUI Grinch will steal someone’s Christmas. Matthew Golden

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