If you have been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) for the first time, you may have a lot of questions, perhaps first and foremost: “Do I need a lawyer?” The answer is yes, for many reasons. Here are just a few:
You Have Questions That Need Answers
The first reason to hire a lawyer when you are charged with DUI is because you have questions to which you need accurate answers. If you have no prior experience with the court system you may be worried or scared about the process, and how it may affect your life. Even if you have friends or family who have had DUI convictions in the past, their experience and advice may not be helpful information for you because every case is different and based on unique facts, the relevant jurisdiction, and the adjudicating court. The best way to get accurate answers to your questions is to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. They can review your case, answer your questions, and talk to you about your options.
Criminal courts can be overwhelming because they are often busy and fast-moving. There are also important procedures that prosecutors, law enforcement, and defenders must follow, and they can be confusing for a first-time defendant.
Under Pennsylvania law, DUI sentencing guidelines are three-tiered. The severity of penalties depends on many factors, including whether it is a first or repeat offense, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the defendant at the time of arrest, and whether injuries or fatalities were caused by the defendant.
First-time offenders generally have more options under the law than repeat offenders. For example, Pennsylvania has an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, which is a diversion program for first-time offenders that allows for expungement of a DUI conviction from their record upon successful completion of the program. If a prosecutor offers ARD or other less punitive penalties for your charges, you may need to make a quick decision about what to do. Do not try to evaluate your options alone; you need advice from a criminal defense lawyer.
Protect Your Rights
You have rights under federal and state law. The sooner you hire a lawyer, the better to ensure those rights are protected and that your case has the best possible outcomes.
One of the first things an attorney should evaluate in every case is whether law enforcement made any constitutional violations during the initial stop and arrest. Some of the questions your attorney will have include:
- Did the police have reasonable suspicion to stop you?
- Did the police obtain consent for testing for DUI?
- Were you read your rights upon arrest?
- Were the results of your blood, breath, or urine test accurate? Did the arresting officer follow proper testing procedure, including observing you for twenty minutes before testing you, and testing you within two hours of when you were driving your car?
- Was the testing equipment that was used capable of producing inaccurate results due to a lack of maintenance and calibration?
Depending on the answers to these questions, an attorney may be able to seek a dismissal of the case.
Avoid Conviction, Penalties, and Other Negative Consequences
The potential penalties and consequences of a DUI conviction are serious, and may include:
- Jail time. The court may order jail time, depending on the offender’s BAC level. For a first-time DUI offender with a BAC level of 0.10 or higher, penalties allow for up to six months in jail.
- Fines and fees. Even if your BAC level was just over the legal limit, you may be ordered to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees if you are convicted.
- Driver’s license suspension. If your BAC level was 0.10 or higher, or you refused to submit to a chemical (blood, breath, or urine) test upon being arrested, you could lose your license for a year. If you must be able to drive for work, you may be eligible to apply for an Occupational Limited License, but you will need the help of an attorney to complete the application process. Finally, if you have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and receive a DUI conviction, you may lose it under federal disqualification rules.
- Increased cost or inability to obtain insurance. After your DUI conviction, your insurance company may be required to submit an SR-22, and you may be required to purchase higher limits of insurance and substantially more expensive coverage.
- Negative impact on your employment. If your employer has a policy against employing anyone with DUI convictions, you may lose your job.
- Increased penalties for any future offenses. Because Pennsylvania has three-tiered sentencing guidelines, anyone who is convicted of a second offense will be subject to penalties that are much more severe than those for first-time offenders.
- Drug and alcohol treatment and education. You may be forced to undergo drug and alcohol treatment and education. If your DUI offense occurred while there was a minor in your vehicle, you could also be ordered to perform community service.
- Increased charges and more severe penalties. If you were involved in an accident when you were charged with DUI, particularly if someone else was injured or killed, you may have additional charges against you that carry more severe penalties. You may also be sued by your victims in civil court for personal injury claims. Such cases can result in judgments of thousands or even millions of dollars in damages.
Let Us Help With Your DUI Case
If you have been charged with DUI, regardless of whether it is a first-time or repeat offense, do not speak to the police without invoking your right to have your lawyer present first.
The legal team at The Zeiger Firm are experienced in DUI criminal defense, and we work hard to ensure our clients’ rights are protected. Contact The Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0304 or online today to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.