If you are arrested for DUI (driving under the influence), you will be arraigned soon after the arrest or within the day or so regardless or whether you are in jail or not. This means that you have to hire a lawyer soon after you are arrested to contest the administrative suspension of your license that may take effect immediately.
How to avoid the suspension of the driver’s license
There are implied consent laws that allow the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to administratively suspend your license after being lawfully arrested for DUI and fails or refuses to take the blood or breath alcohol test. To fight the administrative suspension, you have to request a hearing with the DMV within days of the arrest. States have different rules but generally, a driver is required to file a request for hearing within 10 days or so after the arrest.
The request for hearing will put the administrative suspension on hold pending the results of the DUI case. If a request for hearing is not made, your driver’s license will be suspended administratively 30 days or so after the arrest.
What happens during the arraignment?
During the arraignment, the judge will inform you of the charges and your rights. If you are in jail, the judge will set a bail amount for your release. You can also be released without bail through the own recognizance release. If you have not hired a private lawyer, the court will appoint a public defender for your defence. The judge will ask you how you want to plea – guilty, not guilty or no contest. Most defendants will opt for a not guilty plea to keep their options open. It is important to have a lawyer at this point to help you decide on your best options.
You have 2 options – plea bargaining or to fight the charge. Your lawyer can file pretrial motions like the motion to suppress evidence. If the desired results are not achieved, the best remaining alternative is plea bargaining. DUI plea bargaining is the process where you and/or your lawyer reaches a compromise with the prosecutor. A compromise amounts to you agreeing to plead guilty or no contest plea to the DUI charge in exchange for a lighter penalty. A DUI charge can be reduced to reckless driving charge.
You will likely get a better plea bargain if your lawyer finds weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. It is also possible to find significant mitigating factors. However, if the evidences against you are strong and there are no viable defences, your bargaining power will be diminished. It is also likely that there are aggravating factors that will work against you like an accident or high BAC.
Regardless of whether you choose to plea bargain or go to trial, it is important to hire a lawyer who is well experienced in DUI laws of the state to avoid jail time. There are states where first offense DUI is considered a misdemeanour and punishable by not more than 6 months imprisonment. In other states the maximum jailtime is shorter for first offense DUI.