= Featured Provider
DUI, or driving under the influence, is a criminal charge applied to someone who is suspected of operating their vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant, such as drugs and/or alcohol. Every state in the U.S. has a law on the books that bans driving while intoxicated; however, the specific criteria may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some states, a driver with blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of 0.08% can be brought up on DUI charges while other states set a higher threshold or increase the severity of charges in accordance with the level of intoxication. In some cases, DUI is determined not via testing but by behavior; drivers who are intoxicated to the point of impairment and who cannot safely operate their vehicle may be arrested on suspicion of DUI.
The terms driving under the influence (DUI), driving while impaired (DWI), and operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) are all legal phrases that refer to the crime of operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs (illegal or prescription), alcohol, or both. These terms are largely interchangeable though some states use only one acronym in their statutes for the sake of clarity. There are also other acronyms occasionally substituted for DUI, such as DWAI (driving while ability impaired), OWI (operating while intoxicated), OUI (operating under the influence), and DUII-CS (driving under the influence of intoxicants: controlled substances).
In addition to the more immediate penalties that come with a DUI conviction, this costly mistake can have other consequences. DUIs stay on your driving record for years with the exact length of time differing from state to state — the California Department of Motor Vehicles, for instance, tracks DUIs for 10 years and may use that information to determine things like license eligibility. In Alabama, DUIs stay on the record for five years while in Alaska they're permanent. In states that use point systems to track driving infractions, DUI points may stay on the record far longer than the DUI itself.
The cost of a DUI lawyer depends largely on three things: geographic area, the lawyer's experience, and whether the case is settled quickly with a plea or ends up going to trial. Attorneys may charge a flat rate, more commonly used for simple cases that are likely to wrap up quickly, or they may charge by the hour, which can add up quickly if the case requires a lot of pretrial preparations and court time. Ultimately, a DUI lawyer could cost as little as $700 or bill in excess of $4,000.
Finding the right DUI lawyer is crucial, especially when it comes to preventing a suspended license and minimizing fees and other penalties. To choose the right one:
Individuals detained on suspicion of a DUI are typically taken to jail, their vehicles impounded, and either held on bail or processed and released pending a court date. That initial court appearance is a chance to enter a plea; it's a good idea to retain legal representation prior to this hearing so they have an opportunity to argue for reduced charges or even dismissal.
Drunk driving charges are often enough to warrant a suspended license pending the outcome of the case. A DUI conviction could mean losing that license entirely as well as paying fines, court costs, and DMV fees and paying for treatment or other intervention programs as instructed by the court — perhaps even completing jail time. These penalties tend to be less severe for first-time offenders and increase significantly thereafter.
While it's possible to contest a DUI without a lawyer present, case law is complex, and navigating those laws can be tricky. A DUI lawyer can't guarantee a positive outcome, but they are in a far better position to make crucial moves, such as challenging the legality of the original traffic stop, questioning the officer-led sobriety tests, and introducing evidence that could lead to an exoneration. In short, it's tempting to save money by going it alone, but the consequences could be costly. Before deciding against a lawyer, take advantage of a free consultation and weigh their recommendations. If budget is a factor, there are court-appointed public defenders who may take on the case.
DUIs are expensive. In addition to attorney fees that often run the gamut from $700 to over $4,000, there may also be bail costs, court-ordered fines, alcohol education courses, traffic school, DMV fees, the cost of increased insurance rate, fees associated with recovering an impounded car, and the possibility of paying for a court-ordered ignition interlock device. All together, the average cost of a DUI sits at around $6,500 not counting peripheral expenses, such as alternate transportation while unable to drive and lost income due to court dates and incarceration.
Driving under the influence is classified as a misdemeanor unless the DUI meets certain state-specific criteria such as:
Since car insurance rates are based on driving history and projected risk, it stands to reason that a DUI conviction will result in higher insurance rates. How much those rates go up depends on the state. In Colorado, insurance rates jump around 18% following a DUI conviction while North Carolina sees a median rate increase of more than 300%. To put that in further perspective, consider New Jersey; the state's average insurance rate is $1,419, but the average rate with DUI increases 132% to $3,292.