Welcome to the club. You have now joined the millions of people in this country charged with the crime of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI). According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics nearly 1.5 million people are arrested annually and charged with this offense.
Now you are facing your first court appearance and wondering what to do and what it will cost you to clear up this situation. The answer depends on a number of factors, including where you were arrested, the facts of your case, and how you choose to resolve it. Let's look at your options.
To Plea or Not to Plea
When you are charged with a crime, it is common to receive a plea offer from the prosecution. In exchange for admitting culpability you are offered relatively favorable terms and the certainty of knowing what your punishment will be.
Taking a plea may be less expensive than fighting your DUI at trial. But where you are subject to incarceration for the crime, you should be appointed a public defender (many of whom have handled numerous DUIs) and are entitled to have your day in court.
A plea can end up costing a lot over the long term because DUI deals particularly tend to have many conditions attached to them. You may have your license suspended and have to come up with costly transportation alternatives, have to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and pay fines and court costs.
Trying a Case
If you decide to fight your charge and make the state prove its case, then you may end up paying a private attorney more than you would have if you just took the plea offer. But you will be free of a conviction, keep your license, and be done with the whole ordeal once you are found not guilty.
Of course, you could be found guilty, which means you end up with even more obligations than you would have had you taken a plea, and all the attendant costs. But many very good attorneys who handle DUIs regularly work with payment plans or a per case fee, so don't just assume that it is easier and cheaper to plead guilty.
While money is of course an important factor in making a decision about your case, it should not at all be the only factor you consider. A criminal charge has many consequences that go beyond financials.
There is no way to say what exactly a first DUI will cost you in the abstract. If you are charged, do not panic. Speak to a lawyer who can help you figure out what the best decision is for you and what costs to anticipate.
DUI laws vary from state to state, as do mandatory minimum penalties. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee, and will be happy to discuss your case. Get guidance.