Many drivers in the U.S. are arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs every day. The negative consequences of drunk driving have recently increased, largely in response to public outcry and the influence of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). If you find yourself arrested for illegal drunk driving, an attorney with experience defending drunk-driving cases can help protect your rights.
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A drunk driving conviction can mean the loss of your driver's license, time in jail and a criminal record. Protect your rights by talking to an experienced DUI defense lawyer who can guide you through the DUI criminal process and any DMV license proceedings.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Drunk Driving
Q: What is "blood alcohol concentration" or "blood alcohol level"?
A: Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the bloodstream from drinking alcoholic beverages. BAC readings are used in court as evidence in drunk driving cases. The most common method of measure is a breath test, although blood and/or urine testing is sometimes done. A result of 0.08 or higher may establish a presumption of intoxication. The details of the 0.08 BAC presumption laws vary among the states, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted 0.08 as their official intoxication level.
Q: Can I refuse a Breathalyzer® test?
A: Every state has its own version of an implied consent law providing that, by exercising his or her driving privileges on the state's roads, a driver impliedly consents to submit to alcohol testing. In many states, a refusal to take a breath test is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties like license suspension or revocation. If you are ultimately found guilty of a drunk driving offense, there will likely be additional penalties if you refused to submit to breath testing, such as a stiffer sentence. Your test refusal may also be used as evidence against you in a drunk driving case.
Q: Are breath test results always accurate?
A: Some courts allow the defendant in a drunk driving case to challenge the scientific accuracy of breath tests in general, whereas others may allow challenges based on the particular circumstances of a test (improperly calibrated equipment, inadequately trained officers, etc.). If the breath test results are inadmissible or can be challenged, the case will probably have to be proven based on other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony and field sobriety or blood/urine alcohol concentration test results.
Q: What if I lose my license but continue to drive?
A: If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to drunk driving chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences, including possible fines, imprisonment, forfeiture of his or her vehicle or extension of the license revocation/suspension. The more prudent course of action is to rely on friends and family for rides or use public transportation during a license revocation or suspension.
Q: Can I get automobile insurance after a drunk driving conviction?
A: Although your rates will likely be higher, your insurer may continue to insure you even after a conviction. A subsequent clean driving record may lower your rates in the future. If your insurer drops you as a result of the conviction, another insurance company may be willing to accept the risk. In fact, some companies specialize in offering nonstandard insurance to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving or have multiple accidents or moving violations, but the rates are usually much higher. Another possible source of insurance for high-risk drivers may be state insurance programs created for just these types of drivers.
Q: What is the punishment for drunk driving?
A: Drunk driving convictions carry serious penalties that vary some among the states. Although courts may go easier on first-time offenders, even in first-offense cases the possible sentences usually include stiff fines, jail time and license suspension or revocation. If the circumstances warrant it, however, the court may have the discretion to choose less-restrictive options or a combination of options, including probation, diversion programs, community service, alcohol awareness education, abuse counseling, ignition interlock systems, home monitoring, suspension of vehicle registration, vehicle impoundment or in-patient substance abuse/alcohol treatment. For subsequent offenses, the likelihood of imprisonment and the steepness of fines usually increase. In all drunk driving cases, the loss of driving privileges — at least temporarily — is almost guaranteed.
Q: How can I get to work if I cannot drive?
A: Many drunk driving offenders are forced to rely on public transportation or rides from friends, family or co-workers for transportation to and from work during periods of license suspension or revocation. In some states, an offender may be granted what is known as a "hardship license," sometimes called a "limited license" or "probationary license," that allows him or her to drive in limited circumstances to a handful of locations (to and from work, school or medical appointments, for example). Some states require an alcohol evaluation as part of a limited license application. If an offender with a hardship license is caught driving outside of its strict limitations, further penalties may be imposed.
Q: What is the best way to beat a drunk driving charge?
A: The best way to avoid being convicted of drunk driving is, of course, to not drink and drive. Use a designated driver, call a taxi, call a friend, walk home or don't drink alcohol if you are going to need to drive within a few hours. For some people, even one drink can impair their driving abilities. However, if you have been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced drunk driving defense lawyer can work to improve the outcome of your case.
Q: If I intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?
A: Even if you did unwisely drink and drive, experienced legal counsel may be able to help minimize your legal problems and maximize your opportunities to move ahead toward a brighter future. A criminal defense attorney helps to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and works to preserve the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all criminal defendants.
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