Nobody wants a DUI on their record. It’s like having a scarlet letter next to your name. But if you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, there are certain steps you may be able to take to reduce it down to a lesser charge.
The Consequences of a DUI Conviction
Being pulled over and charged with a DUI is certainly scary and embarrassing, but it goes much deeper than this. The consequences of a DUI are multifaceted and (in many cases) long-term. Here are a few of them:
- Jail time. The first thing most people think about is the potential jail time. In the majority of states, first-time DUI and DWI offenses are considered misdemeanors (which makes them punishable by no more than six months to one year in jail). And while most states don’t have jail time requirements, there are some that require offenders to spend a minimum of several days behind bars. With each conviction, the maximum jail time and requirements only increase.
- Fines. The financial ramifications of a DUI conviction are quite pricey. Each state has its own fees, but you can expect a first-time offense to cost somewhere between $500 to $2,000 in fines. But that’s just the start. When you throw aggravating factors and attorney fees into account, the average cost nationwide is $10,000. In states like Massachusetts, the total cost of a first-time DUI often gets as high as $14,000 or more.
- Driver’s license issues. As a DUI offender, you’re going to face certain driver’s license problems. Depending on the state, a first-time offense may include a minimum suspension of six months. Subsequent DUIs can lead to suspensions of two or even three-plus years. This can prevent you from driving to and from the places you need to go (like work, school, or the supermarket).
- Future background checks. In the future, anytime someone runs a background check on you, they’re going to see a DUI charge and conviction. This could impact your ability to find employment and/or obtain scholarships for education.
- Insurance rate hikes. Simply having a DUI on your record can raise your auto insurance rates by several thousand dollars per year. And if you have multiple convictions, it could be so expensive that you’re financially unable to drive.
- Reputation. You might not be able to quantify it in dollars and cents, but the embarrassment of a DUI charge is often one of the most excruciating parts. For better or worse, you become the person with the DUI. Time will heal certain aspects, but your reputation is going to take a big hit.
- Mental health. Research shows that people charged with a DUI also face higher than average rates of alcohol use disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of these issues may already be present before the incident, but the stress and frustration of the aftermath often causes or exacerbates these problems.
As you can see, a DUI conviction is complicated. It comes with a lot of strings attached – strings that will take years to untangle and straighten out. Anything you can do to avoid being convicted, or at least to have your charges reduced to a lesser offense, will serve you well.
3 Tips for Getting Your DUI Charge Reduced
Every state is different. A DUI charge in South Carolina is handled differently than a DUI charge in Southern California (and everywhere in between). Having said that, there are several tried and true ways to get a DUI charge reduced to something lesser. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Take a Plea Bargain
It’s possible that the prosecutor will offer you a plea bargain. And while you should certainly consult with your attorney to figure out the details and negotiate certain aspects of the plea bargain, this could be a really great opportunity to reduce your charges.
“Most people don’t know that prosecutors are often willing to reduce DUI charges to reckless driving,” attorney Rowdy G. Williams notes. “This typically happens when there’s a weakness somewhere in their case. However, it could be a quick and easy way to reduce the charge and move on.”
While both reckless driving and DUI convictions carry serious consequences, the former is much preferred to the latter. This is true for a number of reasons. First off, a DUI is very hard (if not impossible) to remove from your driver’s license. A reckless driving charge could eventually be sealed or expunged from your record.Secondly, a reckless driving charge is usually significantly less expensive than a DUI. (The exact figures depend on your state, but reckless driving fees may cost just 25 percent of what a DUI does.)
Finally, there’s less of a stigma associated with a reckless driving charge. Right or wrong, people look at a DUI charge differently. Getting your charge reduced to reckless driving can save you from being stigmatized.Again, you and your DUI attorney will have to figure out the best possible defense, but if a plea bargain is presented, you should at least entertain it.
2. Find a Weakness in the Case
There are literally dozens of different DUI defense strategies and tactics that could allow you to get a charge dropped altogether. Examples include:
- The police officer pulled you over without a valid reason.
- The police officer physically forced you to take a roadside test.
- The police officer didn’t read your rights after being arrested.
- The police officer arrested you for DUI but never actually saw you driving.
- You have a medical condition that could cause a test to read a false positive.
- The DUI test was faulty and/or inaccurate.
These are just a few of the most common examples. There are probably 15 to 20 additional tactics that you and your attorney can consider using. The goal is to find a weakness that discredits that charge and leads to them being reduced or dropped.
3. Accept and Complete Probation
If you have a clean criminal record with no prior DUI charges, you might convince the prosecutor to offer you probation instead of sentencing. During this period, your driver’s license will be suspended, and you must submit to random drug testing. You also have to pay certain fees and fines, while meeting with a probation officer on a regular basis. None of this is fun, but it sure beats the alternative of having a DUI conviction on your record.
Putting it All Together
There’s no such thing as a good DUI charge. However, if you can lower your charge to a lesser offense, it could help you avoid some of the long-term consequences we highlighted above. And, depending on how good your lawyer is and what sort of weaknesses exist in the case, you could possibly get the charge dropped altogether.
This is not a situation that you want to take lightly. Step up, make the right decisions, and let the process play out.