The first time you have been arrested for DUI, you will go to one of several courtrooms for arraignment in DC superior court.
At that point, your rights will be read to you. If you have been arrested for DUI the first time and you do not have any prior DUIs, you will end up going to an initial hearing in the DC Superior Court in one of several courtrooms before a magistrate judge.
A magistrate judge is not a full associate judge, but rather a level below. And, while you may start with that magistrate, you have the choice of asking for the case to be reassigned to an associate judge. Again, you do not have to stay there if you do not want to and you should consult with your Washington, DC DUI attorney before making that decision as to whether you want to stay with a magistrate or not.
A person facing first time DUI charges in DC should avoid not taking the charges seriously. It is a very serious charge that can have many collateral effects such as increased auto insurance prices.
A DUI conviction can affect the person’s ability to get or maintain a job because when someone is looking for employment, they are asked if they have any criminal convictions. It is very important to hire an attorney who knows what they are doing and aggressively handles the case.
A lot depends on the nature and circumstances of the DUI investigation. One big factor is if a DUI investigation arises out of a traffic accident. If there is no accident involved, prosecutors can be more lenient or they make an offer of diversion, which is what someone is looking for in a first- time DUI case.
If no traffic accident is involved, then the next thing to look at is the breath or chemical test. If someone’s breath score was above a .08 but was less than .12, they stand a good chance of being offered what is called a diversionary sentence.
Typically, prosecutors will offer someone a deferred sentencing agreement, which requires that they enter a guilty plea, and agree to put off their sentencing for between nine months and a year.
During that time, they have to take classes, pay a fine, and maybe make a contribution to an organization that works to prevent people from driving under the influence.
If someone successfully completes the requirements in their deferred sentence agreement, they will return to court on their sentencing date, at which time they will be allowed to withdraw their guilty plea.
They will never have a conviction on their record because a conviction legally requires a finding of guilt, and a sentence to be imposed, and they will never actually be sentenced in the matter, so there is no record.
A recent development in the District of Columbia is local police officers are now wearing body cameras.
More information is obtained on video to show how a person performed in the standardized field sobriety tests and how they behaved when they were stopped by the police. It is easier to evaluate the conditions when someone is accused of a DUI by a law enforcement officer with a body camera.
One of the first things an attorney looks at when preparing a defense for first time DUI charges in DC, besides the police report is the video.
After reviewing the video, the attorney talks to the client about issues that might affect their ability to perform the standardized field sobriety tests and might affect their blood alcohol content. The attorney then begins to build a defense in the DUI case.
The maximum penalty for a first-time DUI is 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Someone would also have to pay a contribution to the victims of violent crimes fund of at least $100.
There are potential diversion programs available depending on the score on their breath test. If it is just below .12, they have a good chance of being offered diversion depending on the nature and circumstances of the DUI investigation.
Probation for a first time DUI offense is a real possibility even if they score above a .12 and they are not diversion-eligible. Probation typically consists of completing a traffic alcohol program, a traffic safety program that can be done online, and a Victim Impact Panel, which is consists of listening to victims of a drunk driving incident talk for a few hours. Sometimes they are required to submit to random urine screening. They are also required to maintain school or employment under some probationary probation requirements.
Unless there is an accident involved or a really high BAC, courts are typically pretty lenient in the sense that they are willing to impose probationary sentences on some first offense DUI charges.
The conditions of probation may vary by judge, but typically the judge will require you to complete a traffic alcohol program, traffic safety program and a Victim Impact Panel.
So, as a defense lawyer, if you believe that a case is headed towards a pretrial resolution, an attorney will often have their clients complete these programs, which are the main components of DUI probation, ahead of time so they can walk into the court and ask for what is called unsupervised probation.
Unsupervised probation does not involve a probation officer. The probation officer would be there to provide oversight and to make sure that you complete the court requirements, which are the three classes that were mentioned above. If a person has already completed them, then supervision is not necessary.
There are no standard diversion programs offered for first time offenders in DC. It takes effort to get someone admitted into a diversion program, even if they are charged for the first time with a DUI.
If the blood alcohol content is low enough, sometimes there is an opportunity to get into one or two types of diversion programs. The more typical program is a deferred sentencing agreement where a person pleads guilty to a DUI and agrees to defer sentencing for one year.
During that year, the person does community service, participates in a traffic alcohol program, completes a traffic safety program, attends a victim impact panel, and agrees to pay several fines.
If they successfully complete the requirements, they are given the opportunity to withdraw their guilty plea and the case is dismissed.
There is also a more unusual opportunity to enter a deferred prosecution agreement which does not involve a guilty plea, requires the person complete 32 hours of community service, and the case is dismissed. Under rare circumstances, a deferred sentencing agreement is more commonly imposed as far as diversion.
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