Legal 101: What to Expect With a First Offense DWI
Were you caught driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI)? About 29 people in the US die as the result of motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. That’s one death every 50 minutes.
If you were driving while intoxicated, it’s no small matter! A lot can happen after you receive a first offense DWI.
Not sure what to expect? Here’s everything you need to know about DWI sentencing and penalties. With this guide, you can prepare yourself for the process ahead.
Table of Contents
What Is a DWI?
First, let’s define DWI. Many states define DWI and DUI (driving under the influence) offenses differently. The violations are punished differently, too. In some states, however, DWI refers to both driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
Whether you’re charged with DWI or DUI, the charge implies you were endangering yourself or others. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impact your ability to drive safely. Remember, someone, dies every 50 minutes as a result of impaired driving.
You can get pulled over for a DWI if a police officer believes you’re too impaired to drive. You can get charged for a DWI if your blood alcohol content (BAC) level is under the 0.08 legal limit.
Officers use a group of Field Sobriety Tests to determine if you’re impaired.
These tests will assess your coordination and balance. An officer will also determine if you can divide your attention between more than one task.
The Standard Field Sobriety Tests include three different assessments:
- The one-leg stand test
- The walk-and-turn test
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test
These tests are scientifically proven to confirm drunk driving in 90% of cases.
For the one-leg stand test, an officer will ask you to count up from 1,001 while standing with one foot off the ground. During this test, the officer will assess your balance. They’ll watch to see if you sway, balance, or use your arms to remain upright.
The walk-and-turn test, on the other hand, requires you to walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe. After nine steps, you’ll turn on one foot and walk in the opposite direction.
During this test, an officer will see if you can keep your balance. They’ll make a note if you use your arms to balance, lose your balance, or take an incorrect number of steps.
They’ll also make note if you don’t listen to the instructions completely.
Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerk that happens when your eyes rotate at high angles. When you’re intoxicated, the jerking will become more exaggerated.
The officer will see if your eye follows an object smoothly.
If you fail any of these tests, you might have to take a breath test or chemical test. Additional testing will confirm your blood alcohol content levels.
An officer might call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officer to the scene. The DRE officer will use their own evaluation process to determine if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The DRE protocol involves a 12-step examination to determine if you’re under the influence of drugs besides alcohol. The breathalyzer test is one of the first steps in the DRE protocol.
This test will determine if you have a blood-alcohol concentration over the legal limit.
You could receive drugged driving charges even if you haven’t consumed any alcohol. How?
Some prescription and nonprescription drugs can impact your ability to drive safely.
If you’re arrested for a first offense DWI, the consequences are often serious. You could potentially lose your driver’s license, pay court fees, and need to pay fines.
You might have to spend time in jail if you receive a second offense.
You’re considered innocent until proven guilty when it comes to a DWI charge. If you’re considered guilty, the penalty you receive will depend on state laws. Aggravating circumstances can determine the penalties, too.
For example, having an open bottle of alcohol in the car while you’re driving is considered an aggravating circumstance.
What potential DWI penalties could you face during a first offense DWI? Here are a few consequences you might encounter if you’re considered guilty.
How long do you stay in jail for a DWI conviction?
In all states, a first offense DWI is considered a misdemeanor. You could receive as many as six months in jail if you’re considered guilty.
However, your time in jail can increase depending on the circumstances of your case.
Some states decide on more severe punishments for DWI offenders if their BAC at the time of arrest was higher than normal. The legal limit is 0.08%. If you have a BAC of .20%, for example, you might receive more jail time.
Some states require a minimum jail time of a few days for first offense DWI cases. If you receive subsequent offenses in the future, you might receive a jail sentence of a few months.
Was someone injured? Did someone die because you drove while intoxicated? In these cases, your DWI misdemeanor might become a felony. As a result, your jail time could increase to a few years instead of days or months.
It’s important to note that the duration of your jail time depends on state laws. The discretion of your judge and the facts of your specific case can determine your jail time, too.
Jail time is only one potential consequence of your first-time offense. The court might also impose a high fine for your DWI misdemeanor.
The amount of your fine will depend on where you were driving. For example, the fines can range between $500 to $5,000 in a single state.
Help from an experienced, qualified DWI Lawyer might reduce your fines.
Driver’s License Issues
A DWI misdemeanor might result in a suspended license for some time, too. A court order or mandate from your state motor vehicles department will determine how long your license is suspended.
Many states suspend an offender’s license for 90 days in the case of a first-time DWI. A second offense might result in a one-year-long suspension, which a third offense could result in a three-year-long suspension.
When you’re pulled over and suspected of driving while intoxicated, you’re expected to take a test. If you refuse to take a blood, urine, or breath test, you could get your license suspended even if you’re not guilty. You could receive other penalties as well.
These penalties often depend on the state you were driving in.
Sometimes, the courts will allow you to obtain a hardship license. A hardship license will allow you to drive to and from work or school while suspended.
If you’re a repeat offender, the state might want to deter you from getting back on the road through other methods. For example, the state might confiscate your car. They could also cancel your car registration either permanently or temporarily.
Some states will require you to get an inhibition interlock device (IID) in your car. This device will require you to blow into an alcohol sensor that’s attached to the dashboard. If your BAC is above the set level, your car won’t start.
Some states use alternative punishments, whether it’s your first-time offense or third. For example, some states have offenders complete alcohol prevention programs. Others require offenders to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse.
The state might also require you to complete an assessment to determine if you’ve developed alcohol dependency or addiction.
Your DWI lawyer might recommend that you complete these programs instead of paying a fine or undergoing jail time. Some judges will combine these punishments along with other penalties.
You could experience other consequences, too. For example, your insurance company might cancel your insurance policy. Some companies increase your insurance rates once a DWI is on your record.
A drunk driving charge will remain on your record for many years.
If your driver’s license is suspended, your insurance company might cancel your insurance policy altogether.
You might have a difficult time finding a job, too. There are some jobs you can’t get after receiving a DWI conviction, such as driving a school bus or delivery van.
A minor who was arrested for a first-time DWI misdemeanor won’t get a break from punishment because of their age. In fact, a younger age could make your consequences worse.
Remember, the legal drinking age is 21 in most states. If you’re convicted of a DWI while under the legal drinking age, you could get convicted of a separate crime.
Developing a Legal Defense
If you’re guilty of driving while intoxicated, don’t hesitate to seek legal representation. Make sure to look for a lawyer who specializes in DWI cases. Their prior experience and expertise can strengthen your case.
The best way to beat a DWI charge is to work with a qualified lawyer. They’ll gather evidence to help build your case.
Without an attorney at your side, however, you might get yourself into more trouble.
Protect Your Rights: What to Expect With Your First Offense DWI
Don’t try to navigate the complexities of a DWI case on your own. Now that you know what to expect after your first offense DWI, you can see it’s important to find a lawyer. An experienced DWI attorney can build your case and help you avoid the worst consequences.
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