Minimize the Penalties for a First DUI Offense

Ways you may be able to lessen the consequences of a first drunk driving conviction.

By , Attorney

In most states, a DUI (driving under the influence) conviction—even a first offense—will result in fines, license suspension, and possible jail time. A DUI conviction can also have negative effects on employment, education, and personal and family life. However, there are often ways to minimize these penalties and consequences. Here are some of the options that might be available to lessen the impact of a first DUI conviction.

DUI Court and Diversion Programs

Many states have DUI first-offender programs that can significantly mitigate the penalties of a DUI offense. These programs go by different names—for example, some states use the term "DUI court" and Oregon has a "DUII diversion program"—but they generally all provide eligible offenders with an opportunity to avoid at least some of the consequences that would otherwise result from a DUI conviction.

The eligibility requirements for diversion and DUI court programs vary by state. But these programs typically won't accept applicants whose cases involve significant aggravating factors like extremely high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) or injuries. Also, first-offender programs are generally available only to offenders who don't have any prior DUI convictions.

The benefits of diversion and DUI programs also vary depending on the state. However, offenders who successfully complete their program can often avoid jail time, license suspension, and a criminal conviction. In exchange for these benefits, program participants will be subject to certain requirements like drug or alcohol abuse assessments and treatment, drug and alcohol testing, and having to use an ignition interlock device (IID).

Plea Bargaining Options

Plea bargaining is another way to minimize the damage if you're charged with driving under the influence. The laws of each state set the minimum and maximum penalties for a DUI conviction. Generally, plea bargaining involves reaching an agreement with the prosecution for penalties that are at the low end of the spectrum. In other words, the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to the DUI charge in exchange for penalties that are less severe than they otherwise could be.

In some cases, a driver who's charged with a DUI might be able to negotiate a plea deal for a reckless driving charge. This type of plea bargain is sometimes called a "wet reckless." The penalties for reckless driving are somewhat less serious than they are for a DUI.

Fighting a DUI Charge

Depending on the circumstances, fighting a DUI charge in court might be another good option. Of course, the facts of every case are different. But DUI defenses often focus on possible weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence or arrest procedures that might have overstepped the defendant's constitutional rights. For example, defendants often dispute the reliability of the prosecution's evidence related to blood alcohol concentration. And in some cases, there might be a good argument that the traffic stop itself was illegal.

In deciding whether to fight a DUI charge—or just how to handle your situation in general—it's always best to get in contact with an experienced DUI attorney who can help evaluate your options. Even if you ultimately decide to admit guilt, a DUI attorney can guide you through the process and advise you on things like how to obtain a restricted license to drive to and from work during a license suspension.

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