Common Mistakes and Myths about DUIs

1. Going without an Attorney

This is a BIG mistake. There is an old saying: “a person who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.” Trying a case seems easier than it really is, especially when you know someone who has hired an attorney in the past and seems to know a lot about the law. For example, a friend might have hired an attorney to handle her DUI case, and now the friend feels confident that she can tell you what you need to know to win your case. Every case is different and what happened in one case won’t necessarily work in another. Also, there are things your attorney will do that will be foreign to you, like securing expert testimony, obtaining the evidence necessary to try your case, and knowing what arguments are convincing to the judge. There is a reason why law school is so rigorous; use a lawyer’s expertise to your advantage.


2. I just answered all of the officer’s questions honestly. Honesty is the best policy, right?

Not always. Yes, being honest in all you do is generally a good thing, but the mistake here is waiving your rights and admitting to things that might incriminate you. You have a right to remain silent, and you have a right to not say anything that will incriminate you. You have a right to say “no” to a search of your car or person. Retaining your rights is not dishonest; you are simply ensuring that you are afforded the rights granted by the Constitution. It is best to politely decline to answer any questions before speaking to your attorney. This does NOT mean that you need to be belligerent or demanding. Rather, if you are courteous and polite to the officer, chances are you will receive similar treatment in return. Simply provide the officer with the documents he asks for (license, proof of insurance, etc), provide your name and identifying information, but decline to answer any substantive questions without speaking to a lawyer first.


3. DUI’s aren’t that big of a deal. I know tons of people who have got them, and it’s not like the end of the world.

A DUI is something to take very seriously, especially in Arizona. Arizona is becoming more hostile regarding DUI’s, and treating your charge lightly could have disastrous results. Some of the potential consequences of a DUI are: a criminal conviction, significant jail time, suspension of license, revocation of license, ignition interlock devices on your car, probation, impounding of your car,  significant fines, alcohol or drug counseling, and increased insurance rates. Some employers or occupational boards (i.e. nursing board, medical board, FAA, real estate board, etc.) might also require that you disclose a DUI arrest or conviction, which might have consequences for your employment. If you are not a citizen of the United States, a DUI conviction could also affect your legal status or your ability to become a citizen. The state is not treating your charge lightly and neither should you.


4. I have the right to refuse to take the tests that the officer asks for.

Yes and no. You do have the right to decline any of the field sobriety tests that the officer asks you to do. By the time the officer asks you to do a field sobriety test, he has likely already decided to arrest you and is just looking to further build evidence to be used against you later at trial. You do not have the right, however, to refuse the blood, breath, or urine test that the officer orders. You can choose to refuse the test, but if you do, the officer must both inform you that your license will be suspended for 12 months (24 months if you have a prior refusal within the last 84 months) and serve an order of suspension which becomes effective in fifteen days. Many law enforcement agencies will get a search warrant for your blood so, essentially, they will get the evidence and you will end of with the suspension for your refusal. It is best to tell the officer that you would like to speak with an attorney who can advise you whether to take the test. The officer should provide you with a telephone book and telephone to try to contact an attorney if you don’t already have one. If an officer denies you the opportunity to contact a lawyer, your case may be challenged on this issue and possibly dismissed.


5. There aren’t any consequences for a DUI unless I am convicted.

There are certain situations which can result in immediate consequences from getting arrested for a DUI, even before a trial or conviction. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that you are in violation of a DUI law, you are arrested, and a reliable and accurately evaluated test shows a blood alcohol level of. 08 or a non-prescribed drug in your system, then your driving privileges may be suspended for 90 days under Arizona’s Admin Per Se Statute. Furthermore, the officer may require you to immediately surrender your license. If you refuse a test as previously discussed, your license may also be suspended for 12 months (24 months if you have a prior refusal within the last 84 months). These suspensions are independent of whether your case is charged in a court.


6. If the officer asks me questions before he reads me my rights, I win!

If only it were that easy. Miranda rights apply to situations where you are “in custody” only. If an officer fails to read you your Miranda rights, then the things you tell the officer might not be admissible at trial. Even still, that evidence can usually be allowed in order to impeach your testimony, should you choose to testify on your own behalf and you say things in your testimony that contradict what you told the officer. Although the officer’s failure might provide you some legal advantages at trial, it certainly does not mean that your charges will automatically be dropped.


7. It would probably just be cheaper to plead guilty and pay my penalties rather than pay an attorney to try my case.

The consequences of a DUI conviction are more than just the initial fine you’ll pay. You may not be able to obtain future employment that you pursue based upon a DUI conviction. Your license may be suspended or revoked. You may have to miss work to attend mandatory alcohol counseling. A DUI conviction might cause harsher consequences for any other legal issues you experience later in life. Hiring an attorney (increasing your chances of winning your case) will often be a lot cheaper than the ongoing and extensive costs of a DUI conviction on your record. It is not uncommon to find an issue that can challenge the case even if you think that you are “guilty.”