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I Just Got A DUI, What Do I Do?

If you're reading this article, chances are you're having a bad day, and this is not going to be fun. It will also most likely be expensive. The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath, calm down, and remember that time heals all wounds.

The best advice in a situation like this: always get professional legal advice. If you haven't done that yet, stop reading and do it now. This article is NOT professional legal advice. It's a heads up, describing what you can expect from the process ahead of you. It will be painful, but a good lawyer can make it less so.

So what happens?

You've most likely already experienced this bit of unpleasantness by the time you're reading this sentence. If pulled over by a law enforcer who suspects you might be a drunk driver, you will be asked to take some simple sobriety tests at the scene. If you've got a better chance at refurbishing your kitchen while riding a unicycle than walking a straight line, or if standing too close to an open flame could light up your alcohol-fumed breath like a dragon's, you'll be arrested and delivered to jail. There, a less-than-friendly photographer will take your mug shot (no, no autographs), and treat you to the exciting process of fingerprinting.

Having someone come and pay your bail could mean immediate release, as long as that person also drives you home! Let's not forget how you won a trip to this lovely establishment in the first place. In some states, you'll be detained until you've sobered up.

Court appearances
Along with the free ride in a patrol car and a trip to the most secure bed-&-breakfast in town, you'll be given a summons, indicating the date you face the charges of DUI. Appearing in court for charges of drunk driving is not fun, and it's not intended to be. That's part of the lesson.

There is only one person who can truly help you at this stage: a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer. Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty, and even if you're found guilty, professional help can mitigate the consequences. Speak to a qualified and experienced DUI lawyer the minute you get your cell phone back!

What happens next depends on the outcome of your court appearance, but there are some probable consequences.

Your license (what license?)
Hate the photo on your driving license? Tired of your driving privileges? Well, that's about to change. A sentence like this will result in the loss of your driver's license in all states, even if this is the first offense. Some states offer the ability to drive to school or work using what's known as a "hardship license." Nevertheless, driving privileges are severely curtailed.

No dodging this one if the court convicts you of drunk driving. All states set in minimum and maximum penalties. No matter where you are in the U.S., your sentence is most certainly going to include paying fines. The circumstances of your case can dramatically worsen the penalties. Fines can increase if you damaged property or injured another person, especially if you endangered a child. You could even be looking at paying your case's associated court costs.

The aftermath
Jail. There's no easy way to say it. Many states have mandatory jail terms. Don't panic, though. First offenders are typically looking at only a day or two behind bars. But don't take this too lightly. Even if you do your time during the weekend, it doesn't change the fact that you went to jail.

Jail is typically mandatory if you're a repeat offender, and you're going to be in there more than a day or two. If your case has any aggravating circumstances like the ones listed above, you might be looking at increased penalties.

Even if you're not sentenced to bunking up with Bubba, and can avoid jail, you'll typically serve probation. At this stage, you shouldn't be surprised to learn this expense of administering and supervising your probated sentence is a bill you'll have to cover, usually with a form fee made payable each month. The sentencing judge will determine the terms of your probation. Failing to meet the terms of probation will put you behind bars.

The school of drunk driving

No, it's not the title of a Jack Black movie. If you expect to get those driving privileges back, you must complete an alcohol and drug education program. This program is known as "Drunk Driving School." Classes include training on DUI prevention and a drinking habits assessment. Yes, there's a fee for these classes. And yes, you guessed it; the bill is on you if you ever want to see that driver's license again.

In all honestly, though, completing these classes can be an absolute lifesaver for many people, helping them to turn their lives around rather than risking another painful drunk-driving conviction.

Alcohol evaluation
An experienced counselor will evaluate the pattern of your alcohol consumption as part of the court-ordered program, and determine whether you suffer from an alcohol abuse disorder. If the counselor determines that your level of alcohol consumption is that of abuse or dependence, you will have to go through an alcohol treatment program. You won't get your license back until you complete it.

If this sounds like a significant pain, think again. Substance abuse is no joke, and if you've just been through a DUI arrest and conviction, it's time to look seriously at what you need to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. These programs have helped many people to achieve freedom from substance abuse, helping them get their lives back. A drunk-driving arrest is never a good thing, but if it ends up being the wake-up call you need to get your act together, it's not altogether a bad thing.

Auto insurance
Now you're behind the wheel again and have to face some unpleasant facts. A DUI conviction will more than likely land you with an insurance policy know as SR-22. This particular insurance policy can double or triple premiums, but all states require it. It's a substantial hit, for sure, but it's also not forever. Usually, you will be needed to carry SR-22 for about three years.

There's also a new requirement in an increasing number of states. If you get a DUI conviction, you may have to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicles. To explain it in simple terms: you need to blow into the device, and your car will not start unless your breath is alcohol-free. Who pays for the expensive installation and monthly fees? That will be you.

A brighter future
Despite the fun poking above, remember that every day is a new day. The past is just that - the past. You get the chance to choose your future every single moment of every single day. Consider your DUI to be a heads-up. Choose life!

You're not in this alone. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has an available Treatment Facility Locator. It's an easy way to search for alcohol treatment facilities.

You can also call their toll-free 24-hour treatment referral Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP.

You get to decide who you want to be, and nobody can take that away from you. Remember, you're in charge of your choices. Here's to you, now a safe and sober driver!