Getting a DWI charge can set in motion a sequence of events such as fines, court appearances, finding a DWI lawyer, and loss of driving privileges to name some.
These can leave you drained not just financially but also physically and emotionally. Since every DWI charge is unique understanding the implications of your particular circumstances and doing everything possible to minimize penalties is important irrespective of whether you are a first-timer or a repeat offender.
The following information will help you with this.
Difference Between a DWI and a DUI
A DUI means “driving under the influence” and is usually associated with drunk driving but is also applicable to those who are driving under the influence of medications or drugs.
Meanwhile, a DWI means “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired”. The term used will depend on the state that you are in.
In some states that use both terms, DWI is used for driving while impaired (can be alcohol, drugs, or some other unknown substance) whereas it is DUI if driving under the influence of alcohol.
While it is necessary for the person to be actually driving the vehicle for a DUI conviction to come through, there are changes happening and the scope of the charge is being widened to include instances such as sitting in the driver’s seat with keys in the ignition.
In the case of a DWI, any kind of impairment, including nodding off when at the wheel or driving when you are physically incapable of handling a vehicle can also lead to a criminal charge. A DUI or DWI arrest can also lead to a separate Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) court case.
What Are DWI Penalties?
If convicted of a DWI charge in criminal court, you can face a number of penalties. And if you are the victim of a DWI driver, then you will have to make sure that you are adequately compensated for your loss or injuries.
While specific penalties differ from state to state, the common ones for a simple DWI conviction are:
- Heavy fines as well as any out-of-pocket expenses that might arise from stipulations such as treatment for substance abuse or ignition interlock devices
- Imprisonment or community service or a combination of both
- Revocation or suspension of the driving license
- A fee to reinstate the license after the suspension period
- Requirement to attend traffic school
However, these penalties apply only to DWI convictions in cases where there is no injury or death involved. The penalties are extremely severe for DWI convictions where there has been injury to another person or a fatality has resulted.
Do I Need a DWI Lawyer?
A DWI can result in criminal charges in all the states and usually ends up in criminal court. While you have the right to defend yourself in court, it is recommended that you find a lawyer to represent you.
You can choose to hire a private lawyer and if this is something that is not within your financial means, then a public defender may be appointed for you by the court.
However, public defenders can only appear in criminal court while this is not applicable to private lawyers. Consider the following before you decide:
- Public defenders can be a good option because they are likely to be handling DWI cases on a regular basis and thus, well-versed with all the legalities involved.
- They are also likely to have significant trial experience as public defenders take a lot of cases to court
- Cost is the major drawback when it comes to private lawyers and cases that go to trial can burn a hole in your pocket.
- On the plus side, with a private lawyer, you will not have to appear in court for routine appearances thus preventing you from missing work
- Also, private lawyers can give you more personalized attention than an overburdened public defender
Hiring a DWI lawyer is also a wise move if you have been injured by someone who you believe was driving when impaired. You might be able to secure compensation for the damages suffered as a result of the accident and bring the perpetrator to book.
Lawyers are familiar with the legal system and know how to navigate it to ensure that you get the best possible outcome. This can be especially beneficial in getting the penalties reduced or getting you the compensation you deserve.
If you are on the lookout for a good DWI lawyer, keep these points in mind:
- Ask for references from people you know – this could be family or friends who have sought out DWI lawyers earlier or know someone who has
- Look for lawyers with significant experience in handling DWI cases in particular
- Go with a DWI lawyer who practices in your state, particularly your city. Not only are such lawyers familiar with the legalities involved, they are also likely to have worked with local law enforcement and court authorities that gives them some insight into the working of the system.
- Do not sign up with the first lawyer you meet up with. Interview a few before making your choice.
- Be sure to discuss the matter of your lawyer’s fee right from the start.
Being armed with all this information can help you find the best lawyer for your case.
How Can a DWI Lawyer Help?
Every DWI case comes with its own set of merits and weaknesses. Only a qualified DWI lawyer with sufficient experience can assess your case accurately.
The laws regarding DUIs and DWIs are complicated and also change frequently. Since a large number of DWI attorneys provide a free first consultation, it might be a good idea to seek an opinion from one.
Even if the initial consultation is not free, it might be wise to spend some money on getting professional help. Some things to remember when going in for a consultation are:
- Take along a copy of the police report and any other related documents
- Make a list of questions you want answered and bring them up during the consultation
The best way to avoid a DWI charge is to play it safe and avoid driving when you are drinking or taking any kind of drug or even prescription medicines.
Prescription medications usually come with the warning that they might lead to drowsiness or cause lack of concentration. So, make sure you take this warning seriously if you are not looking for a criminal charge or a day in court.
And while there may not be a foolproof way of avoiding such charges, it might be possible to bring down the sentence to a more favorable one.