My week started with this call – "Hey man, I’ve been charged with DUI.  Just how much trouble am I in?" This really seems like a great starting point to pull out the statutes and consider the DUI in Idaho.  Short answer – if you are charged in Idaho with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs you must take this seriously. The decisions you make will impact three areas of your life – your wallet, your freedom, and your reputation.  I mean it – your reputation matters! Employers care about whether the guy they trust to handle their business can handle his or her own "business."  And nobody wants to lose their freedom or their money!  So before you make any decisions about whether to hire a lawyer or go it alone, consider the Idaho punishments for a DUI conviction.  You can look at Idaho Code Section 18-8005 – the penalty section here.

First timers face 6 months in jail, a $1000 fine, 180 days drivers license suspension from the court, and a term of probation that will require an alcohol evaluation and treatment plus a visit to the Victim’s Panel.   Remember that under Idaho law even a first time DUI conviction will result in another drivers license suspension from the Department of Transportation for failing the alcohol test – 120 days, or for refusing to take the test – another year of absolutely no driving.  That second punishment may run consecutive ("in addition to") the court’s suspension.  So best case – a first time conviction DUI means you will spend money on fines and court costs, lose your privileges to drive, spend time in jail (work release or community service), and have the opportunity to be evaluated for your alcohol use and then be treated or educated – depending on your own use patterns.  Lost money, liberty and reputation.

Second time offenders face a longer jail term – not less than 10 days the first 48 hours of which must be served consecutively.  That means at least 2 days in jail. Two days knowing that you cannot leave. Two days wondering how this happened. Two days waiting to get out and vowing to never return.  The other big difference for that second conviction is the loss of all driving privileges for a year. No driving at all – not for work, or school, or to the store, or the doctor or your kid’s school.  And when you get your privileges back you may only drive a car with an ignition interlock device – this device will not allow you to start your car if it detects any alcohol.  Imagine trying to explain that to your new boss who needs you to run her to the airport.  "Love to.  Now I just blow into this tube…."

As they say, the third time is the charm, and that applies to Idaho’s DUI laws. A third charged DUI with 2 priors in the last 10 years brings a felony. Felony. Think real time, prison sentence, alcohol treatment of the intense variety, and having to explain that felony conviction for the rest of your life. But if you have that felony charge you already know this stuff because you almost certainly have a serious drug or alcohol problem. You may not admit it, but you know it. And the felony DUI can put you away for ten years, result in a $5000 fine, and mean the end of all driving for five years.

Just how did you get here? What does it take to be charged with DUI? Look, if you are in physical control of a motor vehicle and have an alcohol concentration of .08 or more by breath, blood or urine, you violate Idaho law.  But what if they can’t prove that you are over the limit?  If you drive and are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, regardless of the concentration, you can be convicted. Check out the Idaho Code here for the precise language.  

How are DUI cases generally proven? Two things are almost always there – first, there is the confession that the defendant has been drinking.  "Sir, have you been drinking tonight?" 

"Just two beers officer (or occasionally – "occifer")."

So there it is – a reason on which the officer can ask you to do the field sobriety tests.  The reports almost always say, "the defendant admitted he had been drinking and I smelled the odor of alcohol on my initial contact with the driver."  By the way – if you are going to admit you have been drinking you may as well tell the officer the truth. You do not have to admit anything. You may refuse to answer that question.

And the second type of evidence in virtually every case? The field sobriety tests. Apparently no person in the history of the world has ever passed the field sobriety tests. You will likely encounter three tests – the gaze nystagmus, the walk and turn and the one-leg stand. These "tests" are supposed to give the officer a reasonable basis to ask you to take the breathalyzer test.

So do you take the test or not?  To blow or not to blow – that is the question for our next post.

Charged with DUI?  Here is my best advice. Hire the best lawyer you can afford. Do not think you can just go it alone. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you keep your liberty, your money and your reputation. More about this in the rest of this series on driving under the influence in Idaho.