What Happens When You Get a DUI: 3 Considerations for First-Time Offenders

Getting a DUI can be terrifying. For many, it’s their first and only criminal offense, with no idea how they got charged or what to do about it.

If you find yourself charged with a DUI, then take a moment to breathe. It might be scary, but the process is afterward pretty straightforward – and able to be fought in court.

If it’s your first time getting a DUI, then keep these three things in mind:

  1. What happened during the traffic stop can actually help your DUI defense.
  2. The differences between a drug and alcohol DUI can impact potential sentences.
  3. DUI convictions lead to fines, license suspension, and even jail time – but a traffic lawyer can decrease your sentence.

Getting a DUI: The Traffic Stop

Typically, an officer will approach the vehicle. They usually already suspect that individual has been driving a vehicle while intoxicated – where the term “DUI” comes from – and so will be on the lookout for any signs of drinking.

Their reports usually say that as soon as the officer approached the window, they smelled the odor of alcohol, or that the driver was slurring or had bloodshot eyes. This “observation” will justify the stop and investigation for intoxication.

The officer will ask the driver to exit the vehicle and to perform field sobriety tests.

The three main field sobriety tests are:

  1. The leg stand test, during which an officer instruct the driver to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands (one-thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) for as long as they want.
  2. The “horizontal gaze nystagmus,” which is the one where the officer asks the driver to follow their finger with their eyes. When someone is intoxicated by alcohol or certain drugs, they have difficulty keeping still and just using their eyes to follow. 
  3. The walk and turn test, where they make you walk a straight line to check for stumbling. Walking in a straight line can be challenging for completely sober people, so imagine how much worse it is while intoxicated!

Challenging Field Sobriety Test Accuracy

Although they are widely used by police and accepted as evidence at trial, are field sobriety tests truly an accurate measurement of a person’s level of intoxication?

As it turns out – they’re not!

There is no conclusive evidence that these field sobriety tests can accurately tell who is and is not sober.

There have been instances all over the country of suspected drunk drivers who allegedly “failed” the field sobriety test. That is, until video evidence of the testing surfaced which revealed that the suspect had actually passed.

Thankfully, the field sobriety tests are nationalized exams, which means every officer should know exactly how they’re run. A good Baltimore DUI defense lawyer can cross-examine an officer to see whether their defendant completed a properly conducted test.

>>READ MORE ABOUT DUIs IN MARYLAND<<

Getting a DUI: Alcohol vs. Drugs

A police officer will also offer a preliminary breath test during a traffic stop to determine if there is alcohol in your bloodstream. If you refuse the temporary test, it is not held against you, but the officer will make note of the refusal.

After the attempted test, the officer will usually arrest the individual and take them back to the station. Then, you must take the breathalyzer or another intoxication test – urine, blood, saliva, etc. – or you’ll be considered automatically guilty.

Alcohol-based DUIs

If your blood alcohol content (“BAC”) test results are above 0.08% -- the legal limit in Maryland before you’re considered legally drunk or impaired – you will be charged with a DUI and possibly other accusations.

Drug-based DUIs

DUI drug cases can be tricky. A person who takes legally prescribed medications can be arrested for DUI if an officer determines that the person is impaired by the medication during a traffic stop.

(If your medication says not to operate machinery while taking it, then you may be at risk!)

Any illegal substance that caused a DUI is treated as a much bigger crime than becoming intoxicated on a typically legal substance such as alcohol.

Getting a DUI: Temporary Licensing Issues

If charged with a DUI, you’ll receive a temporary paper license that allows you to drive for 45 days following the incident. Your license suspension will begin on the 46th day.

You must request a hearing within ten days to protect your license until you have that MVA hearing!

If you wait longer, there is nothing that a lawyer can do for you. Especially if you are a first-time offender, request a hearing first, then immediately talk to a lawyer!

Getting a DUI: Consequences in Maryland

The penalties for a DUI conviction– which is different than a DWI – are the same whether it is with drugs or alcohol.

A first offense has the lightest consequences, though still severe enough to effect everyday life. In Maryland, the maximum penalty for a first offense is:

  • One year in jail
  • $1,000 fine
  • Driver’s license suspension of up to six months
  • 12 points on your driver’s license

An example of a first-time offense that receives greater punishment is an offender who was transporting a minor passenger. These cases face maximum penalties of $2,000 for fines and a maximum of two years in jail.

There are ways you can reduce your sentence, too. A suspended driver might be able to operate a moving vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device (IID) during the suspension period.

If you were charged with a DUI, then don’t panic. For a lot of people, a DUI is their first (and hopefully only) criminal charge. A good lawyer can argue your side and get you a reduced sentence. Contact us for a free consultation – but after you request your hearing!

[CHECKLIST] If you need a criminal defense lawyer in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.

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