So you got a DWI? Now what?

DWI is one of the most common cases we see. Someone had a few too many at the office party or celebrating a promotion and managed to get charged with driving drunk. So what happens next? There are several steps to take (all of which a good criminal attorney can help with) to ensure that you make the best of a bad situation. Your first DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) is generally a class B misdemeanor, with a punishment range of jail time (no more than 180 days) and a fine (no more than $2,000. But without the right help, it can cost you much more than that.

There are several procedures involved in a DWI, from your arrest on the scene to a final conviction. It’s important to understand what’s at stake and how you can handle each stage of the process. Ultimately, a DWI includes several steps: (1) the arrest, (2) an Administrative License Revocation Hearing (ALR), (3) an occupational driver’s license (where available), and (4) the criminal action itself. Understanding each steps makes things go a little more smoothly.

DWI Arrest

The first thing that happens when you are found to be intoxicated is that you are arrested and taken to jail. A police officer, when pulling you over, may ask if you’ve been drinking, ask you to submit to a Breathalyzer or blood test, and/or ask you to take the SFST (standardized field sobriety tests). All of these are tools the police use to gather evidence that you’ve been drinking and are driving while intoxicated.

This is the first step of a fairly long and potentially expensive process and we will cover it in greater detail in a later article. This is where an attorney can help you through the ordeal. But fairly quickly after your arrest, it’s important to start working on your case. The next step in the process is the Administrative License Revocation Hearing

License Suspension And The ALR Hearing

Anyone who has either failed a Breathalyzer test, or refused a Breathalyzer test will automatically get their driver’s license suspended.  If you fail the test, your license will be suspended for not less than 90 days; if you refuse, it will be suspended for not less than 180 days. But, you are given the right to request an Administrative License Revocation Hearing (ALR), but you must do it quickly.

If you request an ALR hearing no more than 15 days after you get notice of your license being suspended, then you will have an opportunity to present evidence about whether your license will be suspended. This hearing can be done on the phone or in person (depending on your request). But, beware, if more than 15 days pass before you request the hearing, you will lose your right to have one.

At your ALR hearing, you will have the opportunity to provide evidence to an administrative law judge. You can provide evidence of certain things at this hearing:

  1. Was there reasonable suspicion for the peace officer to stop you?

  2. Was there probable cause for the officer to believe the you were intoxicated?

  3. Were you offered the opportunity to provide a specimen of breath or blood?

  4. Did you refuse to provide a specimen?

If you (or your attorney) can show that any of these elements were missing, you have a chance of the Administrative Law Judge not suspending your license . If you are unsuccessful at this point, your license will be suspended, and the next step is getting an Occupational Driver’s License (also known as an essential needs license).

Occupational Driver’s License

If your license does get suspended, you can request that the court issue you an occupational driver’s license. This will give you a license that will allow you to continue to go to work, school, and perform other necessary household duties. For many people, this is a necessity so that you can keep your job while you work your way through the rest of the process.  While you use an occupational driver’s license you have greater restrictions than you previously.  You will be required to carry special insurance on your vehicle, keep a driving log, and many other restrictions depending on the situation and the judge.  An attorney can help you request and secure an ODL (occupational driver’s license).

Criminal Proceedings

The last step will be the prosecution of the criminal action against you. This is where you go to court to determine whether you will be convicted and what your punishment will be if you are.  There are a range of punishments, depending on how many DWIs you have and any other extenuating circumstances. For the most part, the list below explains how each offense will be prosecuted:

  1. First DWI—class B misdemeanor (up to 180 days in county jail and no more than $2,000 fine)

  2. Second DWI—class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year in county jail and no more than $4,000 fine)

  3. Third DWI—third degree felony (2-10 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine)

Additionally, if there is a child passenger (someone under 15) then the offense could be charged as a state jail felony (6-24 months in state jail and up to $10,000 fine) even a first offense of DWI with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) greater than 0.15 can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor.

What happens in a criminal intoxication case will also be the subject of a later article where we will look into how it starts, what happens while the case is pending, different ways that case can end, and how the outcome can affect you.

Why Hire a DWI Attorney?

Your attorney has experience with every step of the process and will be able to help you make the best of a bad situation. You can rely on an attorney to explain your options to you, represent you at all stages of the process, and walk you through the court process when it’s time to go to court. Most importantly, your attorney can help you deal with the legal aspects  and give you a little peace of mind knowing that you are in good hands.

There’s a lot to know and do when you get a DWI and it can be both confusing and frustrating. The steps above are just a very brief view of what it looks like when you are charged with a DWI. There’s a great deal of information on the Internet about the process itself, but reading about it and knowing about it are two different things. If you want to be sure to make the right choices along the way, hire an attorney early in the process and put your best foot forward.