How a DUI arrest can haunt you for life

From employment prospects to insurance rates, being caught driving under the influence can have lasting consequences.

By QuinStreet Nov 1, 2013 1:32PM

This post comes from Jennifer Nelson at partner site

Credit: Doug Menuez/Getty Images
Caption: A police officer giving a driver a sobriety test
On Sept. 3, 2013, San Francisco opened a seismically safe eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Not two hours later, the California Highway Patrol made its first DUI arrest on the bridge.

Whether it's called driving under the influence (DUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), drunk driving is a nationwide problem of seismic magnitude. A majority of states use .08 percent as the legal level of intoxication for adults.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 10,228 people died in drunk driving crashes in 2011, accounting for 31 percent of all traffic deaths that year.

Since NHTSA began recording alcohol-related statistics in 1982, drunk driving fatalities have decreased 52 percent, from 21,113 in 1982, in large part because of public awareness campaigns and tough nationwide laws. Nonetheless in 2011, Florida's Department of Motor Vehicles alone still recorded 33,625 DUI convictions.

"Drunk driving is incredibly serious," says Benjamin Luftman, a DUI attorney at Luftman, Heck & Associates in Columbus, Ohio. "In Ohio, you can't expunge or seal a conviction of DUI. It's on your record for life."

And a DUI can haunt every aspect of someone's life, from employment to insurance rates.

"I strongly believe that a DUI conviction can be a bar to employment. I usually explain that if an employer has 10 qualified applicants for a position, does a background check and one of them has a DUI conviction, that person will likely be amongst the first cut. That is especially true in as competitive a job market as we have today," says Luftman.

DUI punishment

Ohio's OVI (operating a vehicle under the influence) penalties are particularly harsh. A first offense gets you a possible three-day jail stint, a 72-hour intervention program (usually held in an area hotel), a three- to six-month license suspension and fines of $375 to $1,075. Blow over .17 on a breathalyzer test and your jail time is mandatory -- and you've bought yourself a specialized bright yellow DUI license plate for your suspension period that lets everyone know you got a DUI.

Upon a second offense in Ohio, you get a mandatory ignition interlock, which costs up to $200 for installation and $80 per month maintenance. It uses a breathalyzer system that's connected to the vehicle's engine that's required to start the car and keep it running. If alcohol is detected the car won't start or will disable in motion. Currently 36 states have ignition interlock system laws.

Refusing to blow

So why not refuse the breathalyzer? Here's why: The majority of states have some type of "implied consent" law.

"This means that when you sign up for your driver's license, you also consent to taking a breathalyzer test upon demand from a police officer," says Eric Misterovich, a DUI attorney at Newburg Law in St. Joseph, Mich.

Many times people refuse a breathalyzer because they don't want to provide evidence of their blood alcohol to police out of fear of being arrested. However, the penalty for refusing the breath test can be harsher than the OWI charge, says Misterovich.

"A first-time OWI charge in Michigan is a misdemeanor punishable by 93 days in jail, $2,500 in various fines, six points on your record and a 30-day license suspension with an additional 150 days of a restricted license," he says.

The majority of first-time offenders are not sentenced to jail; rather, they are given probation, fines and license restrictions.

However, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer or refuse to take a chemical rights test in Michigan (but in some states called chemical test rights), you are subject to an automatic license suspension of one year and given six points on your record, among other penalties. "Worse, even if you refuse the chemical rights test, the police will be able to obtain a warrant to draw your blood," says Misterovich.

The one-year license suspension will likely have a greater impact on your life than an OWI charge. Plus, given the police's ability to draw your blood anyway, you could still be charged with OWI.

"In short, at least for first-time offenders where there is no car accident or bodily injury, refusing to take a breathalyzer will likely subject you to greater penalties than the OWI" in Michigan, says Misterovich.

On the flip side, "from an evidentiary perspective, no breath test means an attorney may be able to argue away the subjective evidence,'" says Luftman. All that's left is how you appeared at the time of your arrest, what you said, how you smelled, and the officer's opinion of your field sobriety tests. You may be able to argue away those things.

Every DUI case is different and many variables -- from your past driving history, the judge assigned to your case -- and even the courtroom you're in -- play a role, as well as your attorney.

Did we mention you'll likely need an attorney? Luftman says he doesn't twist anyone's arm to retain one, but it's advisable. Attorney fees will rack up your total drunk driving experience to the tune of $1,500 to $10,000. But an attorney can help minimize penalties, sometimes avoid a DUI conviction and/or may get you an amended charge such as reckless driving.

Drunk driving laws across the country

Interestingly, Mississippi has no law that prohibits operating a motor vehicle while possessing an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. Yet 24 states have DUI laws that apply directly to bicycles. Alaska has the highest minimum fine for a first offense at $1,830, while Colorado has the highest minimum jail time for a first offense (seven days). In New York, Oklahoma and Indiana, a second offense is a felony and 25 states including Ohio require vehicle forfeiture after multiple drunk driving offenses.

Forty-two states suspend licenses for first-time offenders. An SR-22 form is required to reinstate driving privileges after a DUI in most states. The form, which must be carried for three years, also puts offenders in a high-risk insurance category and raises rates by at least 30 percent.

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Nov 1, 2013 2:41PM

while i believe strongly in all penalties for the immediate time and place. i feel that offenders should be allowed to have it taken off your record after a certain amount of time as long as there haven't been any repeat incidents involving controlled substance. maybe 10. 15 years. i just dont think a 21 year old who made a huge mistake should be labeled as a bad person when they're 40 or 50. People change. Offer them a reward for staying on the right track and learning from mistakes

Nov 1, 2013 2:31PM

Yes, make a mistake here in the U.S. and you are committed to being branded with the red letter for the rest of your life and forfeit some of your Constitutional rights forever.


For all hypocrites, let he who is without sin cast the first stone...

Nov 1, 2013 3:03PM

In 2013 DUI is not pursued as a means to make the roads safer, it is a money maker and excuse to take a persons rights away.  If you don't believe that look at the arrests at low BAC levels such as .08 in which neither an accident, property damage, or signs of dangerous driving were involved.  I was pulled over for not using a right turn signal coming home from a bar.  The cop admitted my driving did not give any noticeable signs of being impaired or dangerous.


I spent 10 weeks in a class with others who had similar stories.  They were all somewhat well dressed, well spoken, drove good cars, and generally not what I consider a representative sample of the population. 


For all you judgmental people out there remember this when it happens to you or someone you love.  Common sense in enforcement is a thing of the past.

Nov 1, 2013 4:31PM
the lady who started MADD(mothers againts drunk drivers) got a DUI.. she should have been sentenced to life for being a hypocrite..
Nov 1, 2013 3:39PM
I think if you appear to be driving drunk and are pulled over, then fine.  However, these sobriety check points are unconstitutional!  You cannot stop a vehicle without  reason.  They only do it for the astronomical fines that generate revenue.  
Nov 1, 2013 3:22PM
Our justice system is broken. If you have paid your dues, nobody but the police dept. should have access to your private information. All this does is create a more hostile environment and anger at the system....We are not a free democracy as we are led to believe, we are a police state with the highest prison population in the world. 

For what? A substance that people choose to put in their bodies? Who the hell is the government to tell us what we can or cannot do with our bodies.

I have lived in other countries for most of my adult life and everytime I come "home" it feels like a chained society bursting at the seams from an overload of law.
Nov 1, 2013 3:26PM
Of course drunk driving arrests remain high..they keep changing the standards. .08% is inane.  The state where I practice law, when the standard was .1%, used to videotape OUIL (yeah we're progressives so dui is too low class for us..we Operate, we don't Drive) arrests and bookings.  They no longer do. Why?  No juror in their right mind would look at someone who blew a .12% on videotape and convict.  People looked fine and we had to do was argue why believe the machine when you can look at them and determine for yourself if they seem too intoxicated to drive.  Now we use trial by machine.  Blow a .08% and voila..guilty.  Luckily as everyone who has ever owned a phone, computer, car, appliance etc. knows that machines are perfect, always right and no miscarriage of justice ever occurs. Although I no longer do drunk driving cases, I still get to see them.  People falling asleep causes more deaths, but shhh don't let anyone know that falling asleep and texting are the two main reasons, not drunk driving. If you get caught texting and driving the penalty should be the same.
Nov 1, 2013 3:45PM
Drug dealers get off with probation most times. The fine is less then dui. All it is a moneymaker for the state and health care professionals. People get off with probation for rape. Just had a person receive it in my state.
Nov 1, 2013 3:46PM
First of all, .08 is hardly drunk.  .12 would be a more reasonable limit.  Second, just because someone was drinking and involved in an accident it doesn't mean the alcohol caused the accident.  About 1/2 of so called drunk driving crashes would have occurred with or without the alcohol.  The laws in this country are seriously out of whack.
Nov 1, 2013 3:12PM
You see the chest pounding hypocrites out here calling for the death of the DUI offenders.... until it happens to them or someone close to them.
Nov 1, 2013 4:18PM
At the company I work for, you cannot be hired if you've EVER had a DUI.  I think it's crap that it can bar you from employment for life in certain companies.
Nov 1, 2013 3:15PM
I find it odd that cops will refuses the breath test. do they know something we dont?

Nov 1, 2013 3:36PM
I also feel it should be expungeable or sealable after some period of time.  jtm770 makes a good point about rewarding people who learn from a past (often youthful) mistake.  I can't see the fairness in allowing some people who commit serious, intentional crimes (even felonies) to clear their records, as is the case in most places, while denying the same thing to those convicted of a DUI.  Yes, DUI is a serious, dangerous problem, and the current range of penalties is probably fair and just.  But to make it a permanent stain on one's record seems wrong.  
Nov 1, 2013 4:22PM
Here in WY they want to lower the limit to .05.  You wouldn't even be able to have a beer with dinner.
Nov 1, 2013 2:44PM
i dont consent to them drawing blood,  if they do this I will go after them and their families.... DWI is bad however should not be reflected on your job or any other aspect of your life other than the fine or loss of license. no one else outside the system should have this information
Nov 1, 2013 3:41PM
A DUI should not interfere with your job. You want to make the information available to the cops and court systems - that's fine, but do not make that information available to the public and the companies performing backgroud checks for job offers. And do not slander and make fun of the ones in a damn "Jail Report". Someone should not be refused a job that he has the qualifications for because of this. The only thing you are doing is making that person hopeless, thus turning to drinking even more. Because what's the point? You can't move past it, no one will hire you - might as well drink your sorrows away...
Nov 1, 2013 3:07PM

Wow supposedly Ohio has one of the harshest punishments? I live in Iowa, have a few friends who have had a DUI and both of their sentances were much harsher- 3 days in jail, 48 hour lock down intervention class that you have to take at some hotel (which costs $350), lose your license for 6 months, you HAVE to have a breathalyzer in your vehicle if you want to get a "work permit" so taht you can only drive to and from work, and that also costs you an additional $75 a month to rent out, plus $150 to install. Then the fines are never under $1,000, in fact they are usually between $1,500-$2,500. If you have an attorney try to help you add those fees on top of it. Then to get your license back you have to pay another $250.00. Oh, I forgot about the mandatory psych evaluation you have to take before your first court appearance, that costs at least $75. If you happen to fail that psych test then you also have to go to rehab because they determine whether or not you're an alcoholic based on how you answer the questions.


So, Ohio actually has it pretty good. Believe me you do not want to get a 2nd one in IA, a 3rd will land you in prison for quite a few years.

Nov 1, 2013 3:50PM

I don't understand how anybody can make you give them your blood or urine.

But I know they can.

But then again it's against the law to reveal somebody's medical condition.


Nov 1, 2013 4:04PM
once cars can drive themselves this issue will go away.
Nov 1, 2013 3:21PM

really, any criminal conviction-no matter how minor-will mess things up.


with everything now entered into computer data bases, that bad stuff as public information will follow you around forever.


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