Throughout the world, the abuse of alcohol is an ongoing public health, safety, and law enforcement concern. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is directly linked to 2.5 million fatalities every year. Nearly four percent of all deaths are alcohol-related, and for males, the figure is 6.2 percent. Alcohol is related to nine percent of all of the deaths in the 15-to-29 age group. Here in the United States, driving under the influence – DUI – is the most commonly filed criminal charge. Over a million drivers are arrested and charged with DUI (called “DWI” – driving while intoxicated – in some states) each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about thirty people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the U.S. every day, and in 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the United States.
If those statistics aren’t sobering enough, consider that the annual cost of alcohol-related traffic accidents in the U.S. totals more than $59 billion. That’s a huge financial hit for the nation, but you may be more interested personally in what a DWI accusation will cost you if you are one of the more than one million drivers who will face a DUI charge this year. Nationally, the estimated average cost of a DWI conviction is about $16,000. The best way to counter a driving under the influence charge – and its costs – is to contact a good DUI lawyer immediately after a DUI arrest, and in southern California, contact an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.
THE COST OF A DUI CONVICTION
Of course, a good DUI defense attorney will charge you a fee, but in the larger perspective, retaining the services of a good DWI lawyer is the wisest investment you can make when facing a DUI charge. Going to court without a lawyer has its own costs that are difficult to estimate. Consider, for example, the price you’ll pay to ride routinely in taxicabs if your license is suspended because of a conviction for driving under the influence. Riding regularly in taxicabs for a few months – or several years – is an expense that no one wants to pay.
That’s only one consideration. If you are arrested for driving under the influence, one of the first things that typically happens is that your car will be impounded and towed. Storage lots will normally charge from $100 to as much as $1,500 a day. Depending on the details of your case, you may have to pay bail, and if you do, that will probably cost from $150 to $2,500. The Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC) estimates that a first-offense misdemeanor conviction for DUI costs the average driver in the United States $15,649. Teens are hit even harder: a first offense misdemeanor DUI conviction can cost more than $22,000 if you are under 21. Not included in any of these figures are the costs of vehicle damages, bodily injuries, or the income lost while missing days from work due to injuries or court appearances. Although the penalties are somewhat different – though comparable – in every state, here’s what you’ll face if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, first-offense DWI in California:
- a fine ranging from $390 to $1000
- other court and court-related fees that can total hundreds of dollars
- up to six months in a county jail
- a six-month driver’s license suspension
- three to five years on probation
In Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda, and Tulare County, you will be ordered to install and pay for an ignition interlock device – an “IID” – in your vehicle. You’ll pay a restoration fee to have your driver’s license returned when your suspension is lifted, and you’ll also be ordered to attend DUI classes and to pay your own “tuition,” which isn’t inexpensive. Additional “enhanced” penalties may be imposed in California if your BAC level was above 0.2 percent when you were arrested, if you injured anyone, if you were driving recklessly, or if a minor child under age 14 was your passenger. Depending on the particulars of your case, an experienced DWI defense attorney may in some cases be able to have your charge reduced or dismissed altogether.
Of course, apart from the strictly legal penalties, a conviction for driving under the influence also has extra-legal ramifications. A DUI conviction will dramatically increase your auto insurance rates, and you probably will never again see the rate that you’re paying right now. If you drive for a living or if driving is a big part of your work, you may have trouble keeping your job or finding employment. If you hold a professional license, that license will very likely be suspended or revoked after a DUI conviction. You could lose the trust and confidence of your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues, and you’ll have a criminal record with a conviction. The cost of DUI is far too high, both for society at large and for the individual driver charged with the crime.
So what’s the best way to avoid being convicted for driving under the influence? Clearly, the wisest way to avoid a DUI conviction is simply to never drink and drive. Take a taxi, a bus, a limo, or call a ride service. If you trust a friend as a designated driver, let your friend drive. Even getting a room or sleeping on someone’s sofa beats a trip to the jail – or to the hospital or morgue. If you are wrongly arrested for driving under the influence – that is, if you are charged with DUI and you were not under the influence of alcohol or any intoxicating drug while you were driving – an experienced DUI attorney should be able to prove your innocence to the court, but if you can avoid being arrested, that’s even better.
IF YOU ARE STOPPED
What’s the best way to handle being stopped by the police? When the flashing red lights come on behind you, or when a law enforcement officer pulls up beside you and motions you to stop, immediately put the officer at ease. It’s important to do that because police officers have been killed conducting traffic stops, so – without compromising your legal rights – be as cooperative and as pleasant as you possibly can be. Pull over safely and away from any traffic. Turn off the engine, roll your window open, and put your hands on top of the steering wheel where the officer can see them. Don’t reach for anything until you are asked. Produce your license, registration, and insurance card when and if the officer asks for them.
In California, unless you are under 21 or on probation for a previous DUI, you are not required to submit to any DUI test unless and until you have been formally taken into custody. However, the laws regarding DUI tests – and your obligation to submit to those tests – are different in each state, so it’s important to know how the testing law applies in your own state. Don’t be confrontational or “have an attitude” when you’re stopped by the police, and if you don’t appear intoxicated, an officer may simply give you a warning, particularly if you were stopped for something like a broken windshield wiper or a busted taillight.
After producing your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card, you are not required to answer a police officer’s questions. You have the right to remain silent. Politely refuse to answer any question a law enforcement officer may ask regarding where you are going or coming from, if you’ve been drinking, or any other questions. If you’ve had a drink, don’t deny it; but simply explain that you would prefer to exercise your right to remain silent. Never admit that you’ve had even one drink.
SEEKING A DUI ATTORNEY
For diligent, successful DUI attorneys, protecting the rights and freedoms of innocent defendants who are charged with driving under the influence is a job that never ceases. Law enforcement officers embellish their stories in many DUI cases, but an experienced DUI defense attorney will take the time to thoroughly examine the charges against you, interrogate eyewitnesses, and gather evidence on your behalf. The legality of the traffic stop and arrest, the accuracy of any DUI test or testing device, and the credibility of eyewitnesses may all be questioned and challenged. Your attorney will negotiate to have your charge reduced or dismissed. In some cases, your attorney may recommend that you accept a plea bargain as the best possible outcome. In that circumstance, you’ll plead guilty to a lesser charge, usually reckless driving, or in California, “wet” reckless.
If your attorney recommends taking your case to a trial before a jury of your peers, your attorney will cross-examine the arresting officer(s) to find any discrepancies in the testimony, seek any inconsistency in the breath or blood tests, and search for any other factors that may help your defense. You’ll want an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable about field sobriety testing procedures, blood testing science, and breathalyzer devices. DUI trials can swiftly become quite complicated when 21st-century technology is introduced as evidence. You’ll need a good DUI defense attorney who can cast doubt on test results and explain to jurors why the evidence against you may be unreliable. In southern California, to learn more about DUI laws or to retain defense counsel if you’re charged with the crime, contact an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney promptly.