I got a DUI –  what do I do?

First, get emotionally prepared.

Getting arrested for a DUI can be an embarrassing and traumatic experience for most people.   Getting arrested for DUI can leave the arrested person with deep and conflicting feelings that range from fear, shame, regret, and anger; the arrested person can experience depression, desperation and even self-loathing.

Being ordered out of your car, then forced to perform roadside tests in public, then being handcuffed, taken to jail, and then being stuck by needle to get a blood sample or blowing into a breath machine, can have a negative effect on a person.

The prospect of being punished, jail time, huge fines, loss of driving privileges, and perhaps the loss of a job can be terrifying.  In addition, the thought of letting down family members only adds to the pain.

Remember, you can’t unscramble an egg.  But you can make an omelet.

The point is, you must get your emotions under control, and focus on what actions you are going to take.  You must decide where you want to go from here, and have a state of mind prepared to handle the situation.

You are not alone.

DUI arrests are common.  In any given week, many people have been arrested for a DUI in your County. Courts throughout the state of California are filled with DUI cases.  Your initial fears may be justified, but they will fade as soon as you act to make sure your situation does not get any worse.

Take action.

Don’t fall into the trap that many people do after getting arrested for a DUI – doing nothing.  If you do nothing, you will fail to protect your rights.  You will likely suffer greater anxiety by doing nothing.   Be proactive and take control of your situation by acting.

Remember that the DUI arrest itself often triggers an action by the DMV against your license AND a criminal case against you in the court. Once you have taken the steps to hire an expert DUI defense attorney, you will feel your anxiety reduced as now you have an expert on your side, fighting to protect your rights.

Selecting an attorney.

Do your research. Most criminal attorneys will handle a DUI case, but there is a wide range in the skill level among attorneys.

For DUIs, you want an attorney with specialized training and experience with DUIs.   You want an expert.  Ask the attorney if they have taken any DUI cases to trial. What were the results?  Look up the attorney’s bar record at the California State Bar website to see how long they have practiced law.  Look at the attorney’s website.  Are they an expert in DUI defense, or do they handle all types of cases, such as bankruptcy, family law, personal injury cases?

Keep in mind that even if an attorney works in criminal defense, he or she is not necessarily qualified to handle a DUI defense case.  DUI cases are complex to defend and require specialized knowledge in DUI investigation, field sobriety testing, how the human body processes alcohol or drugs, as well as breath, blood and urine test analysis. Without an expert DUI defense attorney defending you, you will likely not be able to get the best possible result in your DUI case.

Don’t be fooled by search engine paid advertising, or lead generation websites such as Avvo.com; these websites put attorney’s ads at the top of the list because the attorney is paying them to do so.   On Avvo.com many attorneys that are listed as a #10 have never taken a DUI case to trial.   Don’t be fooled by “pay to play” websites.

Develop a short list of three, then call and talk to the attorney, not a sales person.

Don’t listen to friends or family who say that you don’t need an attorney. That could be true, but only if you don’t care about what happens to your case.

Expertise in the court room matters.

DUI cases are complex, but they are defensible, and the knowledge of the attorney defending you is crucial.

Remember, the tests for alcohol, drugs, or medication are very complex and errors can occur.   In addition, the procedures used by the crime lab when analyzing your blood sample may be faulty.

It is not as simple as just blowing into a machine or having a blood or urine sample taken from a driver. The sciences behind breath testing, and blood or urine sample analysis are very complex; there are many factors that affect the accuracy and reliability of the alleged results.

The question is not “what are the results of the chemical test?”    The question should be “how did the crime lab arrive at those results, and are those results reliable and accurate?

Unfortunately, many lawyers that pretend to defend people accused of DUI do not have the knowledge and expertise to successfully challenge the chemical test results, so they take the results at face value, and simply plead their clients guilty in court.  You could have done that yourself.

Secrets about attorney fees.

There’s an old saying – “cheap lawyers are not good, and good lawyers are not cheap.”

Don’t hire a defense lawyer strictly by price.  Most DUI attorney fees are a “flat-fee.” The cheapest attorney may not be the best one and the most expensive one may not be the best for you, either.

You will want an attorney who cares about your case and that you feel comfortable with. Talk to the attorney directly and find out about his/her experience, training, knowledge, and trial experience.  Don’t assume that just because someone has an Internet ad that they are the best choice.

DUI cases are very complex, but they are defensible, and the knowledge of the attorney defending your case is extremely important.  The analysis of the evidence in a DUI case is essential in getting the best outcome both at the DMV and in Court.

Inexpensive lawyers will usually show up in court at the arraignment, get an offer from the prosecutor or judge, and continue the hearing out to another date.  Then, before the next hearing the lawyer will help you fill out plea documents, have you sign them, and then submit them to the court at the next hearing.   The result is, you are now convicted of a DUI.   That is not defending a DUI case; that is helping a client fill out plea documents and facilitating a conviction.

Getting arrested does not necessarily mean you are Guilty.

The fact that you got arrested for a DUI can’t be changed; however, the goal now should be to do whatever you can to not get convicted of a DUI.

Remember, being arrested does not necessarily mean you are guilty of a crime.  Cops write tickets and arrest reports, then send them to the District Attorney.  The District Attorney is the one that files charges in court accusing you of a crime.  The District Attorney is the one that must prove the charges against you, with reliable and accurate evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.  And that is not always so easy.

You have two options.  Option #1:  Do nothing. By doing nothing, you are giving in to the cop, the prosecutor, the court, and the DMV.   By doing nothing you are choosing not to contest the alleged evidence against you – but the result will be that your license will be suspended, and you will be convicted in court of a DUI.

Option #2:  Do something.   Do something means that you contest the charges against you.  In other words, you question evidence.  You question the alleged observations of the arresting officer and his DUI investigation; you question the legality of why the cop stopped you; you question the legality of the draw of the blood sample or the breath test; you question the reliability and accuracy of the alleged chemical test results.  It is your constitutional right to contest all of the evidence against you.

Some people think: I drank, I drove, I got arrested, so I must be guilty.   Not at all.  In California, it’s not illegal to drink alcohol and then drive a car.  Its only illegal if the evidence shows that you were “under the influence” at the time of driving, or that at the time of driving your blood alcohol concentration was .08% or more.  The prosecutor must prove these legal conclusions beyond a reasonable doubt with evidence that is accurate and reliable; and that is not always so easy for the prosecutor to do.

Your case may take many months to resolve.

A DUI arrest can happen very quickly, but to properly defend a DUI case can take 6 months to a year, and perhaps even longer.   It takes time to gather all of the evidence relating to the DUI investigation and the chemical test results. It takes time to analyze that evidence and then challenge it.   You should prepare yourself for the time that it is going to take to adequately defend your case.

Dealing with the DMV.

When you were arrested, the arresting officer likely gave you a (Pink) document entitled “Administrative Per Se Suspension/Revocation Order and Temporary License.”  This is a 30-day temporary license that you must carry with you when you drive.  This temporary license was given to you because, if you had a California driver license, the arresting officer took your driver license when you were arrested.

The “pink” is also a notice to you that your driver license will be suspended in 30 days, and that you have 10 days to preserve your DMV hearing rights to contest the suspension.  If you fail to request a hearing with the DMV within the 10-day period, your right to a hearing is waived and the suspension will go into effect automatically after the 30-day “pink” temporary license expires.  The length of the suspension will depend on whether you have prior DUI convictions.

It is better to have your attorney request the DMV hearing for you, because often the DMV staff will try to talk you out of a hearing so that your license can be suspended.   Yes, they really do that.

The DMV hearing is essential as it is the only way to challenge the license suspension.  The goal is to win the hearing so that your license is not suspended. During the hearing process, the evidence is gathered and analyzed in preparation for the hearing.   The arresting officer might even be subpoenaed to the hearing to get his testimony under oath.  Other witnesses may be subpoenaed as well. The evidence gathered through the DMV hearing can also be used in Court to defend your case.

Dealing with the Court.

Typically, after being arrested you were released on your “own recognizance” (OR) after spending a few hours in jail. In addition, you were given a Notice to Appear that you signed promising to appear in Court on the date indicated. This is referred to as a “cite and release,” which is how most DUI cases are handled.  The Court date is your Arraignment hearing which is your first Court Appearance.

If your DUI case is a felony, then more than likely you had to post a bail bond to get out of jail.

At the Arraignment hearing you are formally informed by the Court of your constitutional rights and the charges filed against you by the District Attorney.  If you plead GUILTY at the Arraignment hearing you will be convicted and sentenced at that time.  Pleading GUILTY at the Arraignment is usually not a smart thing to do since you have not had the opportunity to examine any of the evidence against you at this point.

It is better to have a qualified DUI defense attorney appear for you at the Arraignment and enter a NOT GUILTY plea on your behalf.  In most misdemeanor cases, you don’t have to appear in court at all.  If your case is a felony, you will be required to appear at all court hearings.

After the NOT GUILTY plea is entered, the misdemeanor DUI case is set for a pre-trial hearing maybe 6-8 weeks out into the future.  There may me several pre-trial hearings in your case.  During the pre-trial process, all the evidence is gathered and analyzed, and further investigation may be completed, to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence against you.  Thereafter, and if applicable, challenges to the evidence may be made by filing suppression motions.  In addition, negotiations are happening with the prosecutor to try to reach a resolution of the case for something less than a DUI conviction.

The pre-trial stage can take 4 to 6 months to complete, and sometimes longer depending on the case.   The goal is to resolve the case without having to go to a full Trial.

If the case is a felony, after the NOT GUILTY plea is entered at the Arraignment, the case will be set for a Preliminary hearing, where evidence will be presented by the prosecutor to convince a judge that the felony charges are proper.

If the case cannot be resolved for something acceptable, then going to Trial is the option.  Remember, it is always the prosecutors burden to prove guilt on all charges with evidence that is accurate and reliable beyond reasonable doubt; doing so is not always easy for the prosecution.

Having an expert DUI defense attorney represent you will assist you in determining whether you should go to Trial.

Let’s review.

To sum it all up, being arrested for a DUI can be a very traumatic experience; it requires that you get your emotions under control and take action to protect your rights.  Hire an attorney that is an expert in DUI defense so that you can achieve the best outcome at the DMV and in Court.  DUI cases are not open and shut cases and require a defense attorney with specialized knowledge to properly defend the case.    Be prepared to take the defense of your case one step at a time.   You will get through this.