What To Do When You’ve Been Charged With Driving Under the Influence
You wake up and realize that you got stopped last night by the Police. They arrested you for DUI and punched a hole in your license. After giving you a bunch of paperwork, they sent you home. Now what?
After the initial shock of being charged with a crime wears off, you will need to start making decisions on what to do. There are two distinct areas you will have to concentrate on: The DUI Court Process and The Department of Licensing.
The following steps will get you off to a good start:
Organize your paperwork
1. Get a file folder to put all you paperwork in. This may seem unnecessary, but you will be glad you did later.
2. Find your citation. It’s the small yellow piece of paper. This will tell you the date and time of your Arraignment. Mark this date on your calendar as you will need to be in Court at that date and time. We’ll discuss how to prepare for your Arraignment later.
3. Find your Department of Licensing Hearing Request Form and read it.
Write down what happened
While everything is still fresh in your mind, write down what happened. The natural human reaction is to write down only the significant events – like how the officer treated you. However, your attorney is going to want to know what you were doing before you even began drinking. Start the page with “For my attorney” then write down the answers to: Where were you? Who was with you? When did you start drinking? How much had you had to eat? How much did you have to drink? What did you drink and over how long of a period? Do you have receipts – can you get them? Write down the whole time period including before, during and after the arrest.
DOL Hearing request
The Department of Licensing will to try to suspend your license once the officer sends them a Report of Breath or Blood Test. The Department will automatically suspend your license 60 days after your arrest – unless you challenge the suspension.
Among all the paperwork given to you by the officer will be a Request for Administrative Hearing. You have only 30 days to send in your request and it will cost you $200. There should also be a Fee Waiver form that you can fill out if you cannot afford the $200.
One common strategy is to wait until the end of the 30 days before sending in your request. The idea being that since DOL has to schedule your hearing before the 60 days runs, taking your full 30 days (or to be safe, 29 days) will make it harder for them to schedule a hearing in time. Be careful not to wait longer than 30 days to request your hearing because the Department will deny your request if it is postmarked more than 30 days from the arrest. Another good idea is to send your request certified. That way, you will have proof you mailed it out in a timely fashion.
Going to Court
Going to Court can be extremely stressful. Knowing what you are in for, however, can greatly reduce that stress level.
Your first Court appearance, called an Arraignment, will probably be the only time you have to face the Judge alone. Whether you feel you are guilty of the crime or not, always plead not guilty. Do not feel as though pleading not guilty, if you think you are, is lying to the Court. What you are really saying is that you want to take the time to: First, see if the State can prove you are guilty and Second, even if they can then to decide on what punishment is appropriate given the facts of what happened and your criminal history (or lack thereof). A Judge will not punish you for taking your time in deciding what to do with a criminal charge.
A lawyer will probably accompany you at the rest of your Court Dates. Although it is entirely your choice to have a lawyer or not, very few people have the skill to successfully defend against any criminal charge, yet alone one as complex as a modern day Driving Under the Influence charge.
Having a lawyer help you with your case will often mean that you don’t need to talk to the Judge, other than answering questions like: Do you understand what is happening and is it OK with you? Your lawyer should be able to explain to you exactly what the issues are in your case and what is going to happen at Court.
If you don’t understand what is happening in your case or what the issues are, then talk with your lawyer. It is his or her job to explain everything to you. The mark of a good lawyer is one that can keep you informed all the way through and make you a part of the decision making process.
You will probably be going back to Court several more times over the course of your DUI case. The number of times you have to go back and what happens at those Court dates is a function of the number of legal issues (defenses) in your case and how well plea negotiations are going.
The goal of any competent attorney is to get you choices on how to resolve your case. These choices range from going to Jury trial all the way down to pleading guilty to something – preferably to a reduced charge.
Whatever the options turn out to be in your case, remember that you are the one who must decide which option to take – so make sure you understand all of the ramifications of each option before you decide.
The hearing you request from the Department of Licensing (DOL) is very different from the types of hearings or trials you will receive in Court. Over the years, our Court System has developed rules designed to ensure that everyone receives a fair hearing. The Washington State Legislature has decided that such safeguards are inconsistent with how they want DOL to operate. As a result, the hearing examiner at a DOL hearing is required to:
1. Assume the truth of the prosecution or department’s evidence. RCW 46.61.506(4)(b). This means that if the officer writes down something in his report and you testify that the officer is wrong then the hearing examiner is required to believe the officer.
2. If a sworn report is submitted to DOL, then that report is deemed to be “prima facie evidence” that the officer had “reasonable grounds to believe that the person had been driving or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs…” RCW 46.20.308(8). You may notice that the officer’s sworn report does not have to actually say that you were intoxicated (or anything else for that matter) rather the law says that the hearing examiner is to treat it as though it does.
There are other differences, of course, such as dispensing with the Rules of Evidence (WAC 308-103-120) and not requiring that the witnesses against you to actually be present. However, using just the two points listed above means that the only way to prevail in a DOL hearing is: 1. If the DOL cannot schedule the hearing within 60 days or 2. The Officer fails to submit a sworn report.
Whether you loose your license because of a Department of Licensing action or because you were convicted of a crime, do not drive until you are reinstated by the Department of licensing.
The amount of time you will loose your license depends on factors such as: The number of priors, The alcohol level in your body, and Whether or not there was a refusal of the Breath or Blood test. The suspension lengths are listed out in DUI Penalties [http://www.cahoonlawoffice.com/duipenalties.htm]
The Department of Licensing will notify you in writing on the things necessary to get your license back. Typically this means that you must:
1. Wait out the suspension time
2. Pay a fee to be reinstated
3. Show proof of SR22 insurance
4. Show proof of completing an alcohol evaluation
Getting caught driving before your license is reinstated can be very serious and lead to both time in jail as well as additional license suspension.
During the period of suspension, you can apply for an Occupational or Restricted Driver’s License. If approved, this temporary license will allow you to drive to work and back. It will not, however, substitute for a normal license since authorizes driving only for particular purposes.
Hiring an Attorney
The most important attribute of an attorney is the ability to communicate clearly. If you can’t understand what your attorney is saying, odds are that no one else can either. Pick someone that knows the law, can explain it to you in a way you understand, and is able to balance the ability to negotiate with the ability to aggressively fight for you.
Copyright (c) 2007 The Cahoon Law Office – All rights reserved.
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