If there were no injuries, extensive property damage, or other extenuating circumstances with your arrest, and this is your first San Antonio DUI, it is generally classified as a misdemeanor. This offers the possibility of a range of fines, probation, driving school, and other court-ordered punishment. Even a misdemeanor can result in incarceration for up to a year.
For a felony DUI, punishment is more severe. In addition to the misdemeanor punishment options, you could serve jail time of more than a year; pay expensive fines; get probation; have your license restricted or suspended for anywhere from one to five years, or have your license permanently revoked, or receive court-ordered treatment for drug use or alcoholism. At your expense, an ignition interlock device may be installed on your car. This device requires the driver to perform a breathalyzer test before the car can be started. Expensive impoundment or even forfeiture of your car is possible.
A “driving while under the influence” (DUI or DWI) felony charge indicates that this was a situation where a driver did more than taking a drink and go for a drive. That situation is normally charged as a misdemeanor, although that, too, can have expensive consequences on many levels. However, the status of the charges could be raised to a felony for many reasons:
- Someone was injured because the driver of a vehicle was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
- There was a minor in the car and the driver was arrested for exceeding that county or state’s blood-alcohol (BAC) level
- This was not the driver’s first drunk driving offense
- Other crimes were committed during this incident
- There was extensive property damage due to an accident.
Misdemeanor crimes typically result in a wide range of punishments, from community service to fines from the relatively inexpensive to extremely high, and they can result in jail time of one year or less in some situations. Your punishment often depends on whether or not you have a prior record.
Felonies are much more serious and the implication is possible incarceration in a prison for more than one year as well as expensive fines. Convicted felons often have difficulty in finding jobs and obtaining other services once they list a felony conviction on an application, they cannot vote, and often application for expungement of the record is refused.
When convicted by trial or through pleading guilty to “driving while under the influence” (DUI or DWI), a driver faces a wide possibility of repercussions.
Your license can be suspended immediately:
- If you refuse to take field sobriety tests when requested to do so by a police officer. This happens whether or not you are ultimately convicted of being intoxicated in excess of the legal limits governed by that area’s laws.
- In some states, even if you cooperate with the police officer and take the field sobriety tests, you can be arrested for being intoxicated or under the influence while driving and your license is suspended at that point.
After your arrest, you go to court for an arraignment, trial, and sentencing, in that order. At your arraignment, you plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Pleading “no contest” is the same as pleading guilty as far as punishment, but you do not admit guilt. This can be important if other charges are pending in civil court, perhaps for property damage.
Your case may be resolved by a plea bargain before you ever get to trial. If you get an attorney, she or he may try to resolve your case by working with the prosecuting attorney – the state attorney. Also, court calendars are heavily loaded, so the state attorney may contact your attorney to try to make these arrangements.
A plea bargain means that you would agree to plead guilty to some lesser charge than DUI – perhaps a reckless driving charge, public intoxication, or open container – and your sentence will be arranged between the state attorney and your attorney without your having to go to court. You might have to pay a fine, attend driving school, or perform community service, for instance. This option depends on the seriousness of your crime.
If your DUI involved a great deal of property damage, personal injury, or death, however, your plea bargain may involve your pleading guilty to DUI rather than a more serious charge such as manslaughter. You cannot arrange a plea bargain without an attorney or a public defender.
An individual who has been convicted of DUI may “appeal” his or her case, asking a higher court to review certain aspects of the case for legal error, as to either the conviction itself or the sentence imposed.
DUI Sentencing – Arraignment
Your arraignment is typically within 24 hours of your arrest. For most DUI suspects, this will be your only appearance. You appear before the judge, who reads the charge against you. You are asked if you have an attorney or if you need a public defender. You are asked if you plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.” Pleading “no contest” has the same results as if you pled guilty as far as your punishment is concerned, but it does not require you to say that you are guilty of the charges. This is helpful if other charges in this case may result, such as for property damage or personal injury.
The dates of any future proceedings are scheduled by the clerk of the court at this time. You can leave relatively quickly by posting bail or being released “on your own recognizance.” This means the court believes you will attend your scheduled court appearances. If you fail to make your court appearance after being released on your own recognizance, a warrant is issued for your arrest.
A family member, friend or bail bondsman can pay “bond” to have you released and promises that you will report for scheduled proceedings. A bail bondsman usually pays 10 percent of your bail amount and you sign a bond that you will go to your court appearances. They must pay the full amount of your bond if you do not appear and a warrant is issued for your arrest. Your bail amount is determined by your criminal history, the seriousness of the offense, and whether you are a known member of the community in which you were arrested with family and business ties. Bail can be refused.
Some states have increased sentencing for convicted drivers who registered a blood-alcohol content of more than .20 percent; refused to submit to chemical test or field sobriety tests; caused injuries to others while under the influence; had a minor in the vehicle when the driver was arrested; drove at excessive speeds while intoxicated. Increased sentencing options include increasing the charge to a felony, higher fines, increased likelihood of probation and/or jail time, and other punishments at the court’s discretion.
In addition to your criminal arraignment for driving under the influence, in most states you will have to have an independent administrative hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within five to ten days after your license is suspended. It strictly deals with issues of whether or not you should be permitted to again have the privilege of a driver’s license. Your individual situation will be reviewed and it will be decided if your license should continue to be suspended for some period of time or if it should be entirely revoked.