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1st-Time DUI: 5 Things You Should Know

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

After your first arrest for a DUI, you'll probably have a lot of questions. Don't worry, you're not alone.

First-time DUI, DWI, or OWI defendants typically ask how to potentially beat or reduce their charges, and what the legal consequences may be if they're convicted. As seen in our FindLaw Answers DUI and DWI forum, some questions are much more common than others.

For DUI defendants going through the legal process for the first time, here are five things you should know:

1. You're Not Necessarily Guaranteed a Public Defender

Despite what "Law & Order" may tell you, not everyone is qualified to get a public defender. If you're charged with a felony DUI and you qualify as a low income defendant, you'll likely be assigned a public defender. However, most first-time DUIs are considered misdemeanors, so your state's laws will determine whether you're eligible for a public defender. No matter what, you're always entitled to ask for a public defender after you've been arrested; just don't be surprised if your request is denied.

2. You May Indeed Be Able to Get a Drunk Driving Charge Thrown Out

Technical errors, like improperly calibrated Breathalyzers or an unlawful traffic stop, can work in your favor when contesting a DUI charge. For example, if you weren't swerving or speeding, but the officer still pulled you over for no good reason, you may be able to challenge whether there was enough reasonable suspicion to lawfully stop you in the first place. If there wasn't, you may be able to get your DUI charge dismissed.

3. You Could Get Probation Instead of Jail Time

First-time DUI offenders may be able to have their sentences suspended in favor of probation, if no one was hurt by your drunken driving. Making a plea bargain with the prosecutor could also result in probation instead of jail time for your DUI -- but you'll probably want to consult with an attorney before signing on to the deal.

4. You May Need to Pay to Get an Ignition Interlock Installed

Some states like California and New York require first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles. An ignition interlock device requires a driver to blow into a tube before the vehicle will start. If alcohol is detected, the engine won't start for certain period of time. The more times the driver fails the test, the longer the lock-out period will be.

5. Expungement May Be an Option

Expunging a DUI conviction means that it won't show up when prospective employers, credit issuers, and educational institutions conduct a background check. Your state's laws determine if your DUI is eligible for expungement. If so, you'll probably need to file a petition for expungement after completing your punishment.

Dealing with a first-time DUI on your own can be complicated, and you'll have many questions unique to your case. For answers to your specific concerns, consult an experienced DUI attorney in your area.

Editor's Note, March 1, 2016: This post was first published in March 2014. It has since been updated.

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