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Do I Need A Lawyer For A First Time DUI?

Do I Need A Lawyer For A First Time DUI

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a very serious criminal charge in most states, despite how common it may seem, since impaired driving puts the lives of so many people at risk. Depending on factors such as your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC); your criminal record; or whether anyone was killed or severely injured as a result, you could be facing a significant jail sentence and/or hefty fines. On top of that, you will probably lose your driving privileges for a certain period of time and may need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) after a period of suspension (depending on the DUI laws of your state). You probably won’t need the help of a lawyer if it is your first offense; there were no injuries; and there is a very high probability that you will be convicted of a DUI. In these situations, chances are fairly high that you will plead guilty or no contest and then be subject to the standard sentence and administrative penalties.

If your BAC was particularly high (0.05 percent is the limit in Utah) and/or if the officer has additional, strong evidence of impairment (erratic driving, smell of alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, etc.), then the likelihood of a conviction is quite high. But even if your case fits this general description, there may be factors in your case that necessitate legal assistance.

If you’re in doubt about the prospects of your case, an attorney may be willing to provide a free initial consultation. If it’s not a slam-dunk case for the prosecution, generally speaking, then there may be an opportunity for a plea bargain. Trials are expensive and take up space on the docket, so the state may rather accept a plea to a lesser charge rather than go through a trial it may eventually lose. Some plea bargains can be accomplished without legal assistance, but experienced DUI attorneys understand how to negotiate with the prosecution (and probably already have relationships with them).

Also, a prosecutor with a weak case may try to bluff in order to induce a guilty plea in situations where a plea bargain would be more advantageous to the defendant. Typically, reckless driving will be the lesser charge; but some states also have what is called wet reckless, which acknowledges the impairment but carries a lighter sentence than DUI with no jail time. Also, your driver’s license will not be suspended after a wet reckless unless your BAC is higher than .05 percent. But keep in mind that a wet reckless conviction may still be considered a prior DUI offense if you are charged with a second such offense.

Courts in most states are willing to bargain down a DUI sentence in exchange for a guilty plea in certain instances. For example, you may be facing charges for a second or third DUI, which can land you in prison for a few months or years. Instead of taking it to trial, the prosecution may be willing to reduce the sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. And if it’s a DUI charge involving drugs other than alcohol, an attorney may be able to negotiate away random drug testing or other conditions of probation. But, as with plea bargaining, “sentence bargaining” goes much smoother when handled by an attorney. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to negotiate the sentence for a first-offense, non-injury DUI case. It can be difficult deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer if you’ve been charged with a DUI. On one hand, an attorney can help defend you against less-than-solid charges or where the stakes are especially high. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend all of that money for something you think you can do yourself with a little elbow grease and determination. But, considering the consequences of a DUI conviction, it’s usually a good idea to at least consult with a local DUI attorney. After all, the attorney will be much more knowledgeable about your local DUI laws and how best to defend against the charges.

Defending a Utah DUI or alcohol-related charge can be quite challenging. This is due to the fact that the main witnesses against you are the police, and there is scientific evidence from the breath test and/or blood test being presented against you. The videotape of your arrest, the officer’s testimony, and your performance on the Standard Field Sobriety tests may also present damaging evidence against you. This is when you need DUI lawyers in Utah.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

The first thing you need to know is that, if you want to preserve your driving privileges, you need to request a hearing with the Driver License Division within 10 days of your arrest. This process can be time-consuming and confusing, but a qualified DUI lawyer in Utah will handle this process for you! A first-offense DUI is usually a misdemeanor, and many courts hand down a standard sentence. If you were driving while intoxicated and there’s strong evidence backing that up elevated blood alcohol content (BAC), witnesses stating you were driving erratically, failed field sobriety tests, etc. some people simply choose to plead guilty. In these cases, an attorney may not be able to do much for you. However, if there are any facts about your case that may increase your penalty, such as an extremely high BAC or an accident, or aspects that might decrease your penalties, such as procedural issues during your arrest, you may want to hire a lawyer. If you’re not sure, an attorney can help recognize these facts and help you come up with a plan of action, including representing you at trial if necessary.

Some of the factors that can create doubt about the justification for your arrest include:

• Questionable field sobriety test results

• BAC below 0.05%

• Questions about the accuracy of the BAC

• Procedural problems with your arrest, like not reading you your Miranda rights in cases like these, an attorney may be able to get the charges thrown out or reduced. Local DUI attorneys generally have a good idea of how the prosecutor works and what arguments are most likely to win a reduced plea.

In some states prosecutors can reduce the charges to something called a wet reckless. This is a reckless driving charge where alcohol played a factor. This charge usually leads to a lesser sentence than a DUI. In states without the wet reckless charge, you may be able to plead down to a reckless driving charge. You can win a plea bargain on your own, especially if the facts are strongly in your favor. However, if your case is less clear, an attorney may have a better chance of success. Where judges have discretion in handing down punishments, sentence bargaining may help you get a lesser sentence. However, even if a judge has discretion they don’t always use it. Many see so many DUI cases they don’t have time to look carefully at each one, so they stick with a standard sentence for nearly all DUI first offenses. If judges in your jurisdiction do regularly accept sentence bargains, an attorney is likely to know what legal facts are more likely to win a successful outcome. If your case is more than just a misdemeanor DUI, having an attorney becomes more important. Some situations can turn even a first-time DUI into a felony:

• DUI with a child in the car

• Very high BAC

• Causing injuries

These and other factors are serious and can lead to a year or more in prison, among other penalties. An experienced DUI attorney may have a better chance of reducing your plea or sentence than you would on your own. Representing yourself in plea or sentence bargaining is challenging but not impossible. However, if your case will be going to trial you want to consider getting a lawyer. Trial procedures are more complicated than bargaining procedures, and you’ll be expected to follow all procedures correctly. Judges won’t give you any breaks for not knowing them. If your income is low enough you may qualify to have a public defender represent you. In many jurisdictions public defenders handle a lot of DUIs.

They’ll know how the system works and how to get you the best deal possible given the facts of your case. If you qualify for a public defender, try to find out what reputation the public defender’s office has in your jurisdiction. If it’s positive, the prosecutor may be more willing to negotiate a good deal. If your income is too high to qualify for a public defender, you’ll need to hire a private attorney if you want representation. For the best chance of success, keep a few things in mind:

• An attorney who handles DUI cases regularly is more likely to get you a good outcome than a generalist.

• Make sure you find out up front how much your case is likely to cost, including factors that might increase the cost.

• If possible, talk to at least 2 or 3 lawyers to find one you are comfortable with.

An initial consultation is often free, so you can see if the attorney is a good fit for you. Some attorneys do charge for the initial consultation but will apply the fee to the cost of your case if you hire them. In many cases you won’t need an attorney for a first offense DUI. But if your case isn’t straightforward, an attorney may be able to get a better outcome for your case than you could alone. If this is your first drunk driving offense or your first brush with the law for any reason, expect that you might be in for an expensive process. Sometime after your arrest for a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated), you’ll have to appear before a judge for your arraignment. An arraignment is a court appearance in which a defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond to the charge by entering a plea.

At your arraignment, you’ll be asked to plead to the charge. Typically, the options are guilty, no contest, or not guilty. A lawyer may also be appointed for you and the amount of your bail may be set. Most defendants charged with misdemeanors who haven’t already posted bail are released on their own recognizance at arraignment. Having an attorney represent you at arraignment is normally unnecessary. At this stage, you are only entering a plea, and you can plead not guilty. You can always change your plea to guilty or “nolo contendere” (no contest) later. In most states, you can also insist on a jury trial. In these states you don’t have to specifically request a jury trial; it is assumed you want one unless you expressly waive that right. You can always drop your demand for a jury trial later. If you’re charged with having prior under-the-influence convictions, you should deny these convictions so that you or your attorney can challenge their validity later.

After you’ve been released from jail, try to objectively evaluate your case (most likely with the help of an experienced lawyer). Your alternatives include:

• simply pleading guilty as charged

• trying to plea bargain down to a reduced charge like reckless driving (a “wet reckless” is a term used for reckless driving involving alcohol)

• asking for a trial before a judge, or

• demanding a jury trial (available in most, but not all, states).
Generally, the wisdom of fighting a DUI charge depends on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. So, if there’s evidence showing you had a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or that you were extremely intoxicated, negotiating a plea deal might be the way to go. In all states, you can be convicted of a “per se” DUI for driving with a BAC of 0.08% or more, regardless of whether or not you were actually affected by the alcohol you drank. So, when a driver has a high BAC (about 0.12% or above), it becomes a lot more difficult to win at trial. Even if your attorney can raise some doubt about the precision of the BAC measurement, it might not be enough to convince the jury that you were below the legal limit. Your chances of beating a per se DUI charge at trial get better with a BAC that’s closer to 0.08%. With a BAC that’s 0.08% on the dot or only slightly above, all your attorney needs to do is persuade the jury that you’re within the margin of error of the testing procedure.

Depending on the circumstances, your attorney might also be able to convince the jury that your BAC was below limit while driving but has raised by the time you was tested known as the “rising-blood-alcohol defense.” Evidence of impairment is also an important consideration. Even if the prosecution doesn’t have a chemical testing showing you had a prohibited amount of drugs or alcohol in your blood (evidence of a per se DUI), there’s a second type of DUI based on actual impairment. In other words, proof that you were driving while affected by drugs or alcohol you ingested can also lead to a DUI conviction. Evidence of impairment often comes in the form of bad driving, poor field sobriety test (FST) performance, slurred speech, and behavior indicating intoxication. Sometimes, evidence that seemingly indicates impairment can be explained. For instance, a person who fails to complete an FST perfectly might have been tired or just simply uncoordinated. But for evidence of intoxication like a driver swerving all over the freeway and reeking of booze an explanation might not cut it.

DUI Lawyer Free Consultation

When you need legal help with a DUI Charge in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
itemprop=”addressLocality”>West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506