Deseret News article: “First-Time DUI Fees Can Top $10,000” (10/16/09)

First-time DUI fees can top $10,000 Hefty costs come on top of losing driver’s license, having car impounded By Linda Thomson Deseret News In the midst of this recession, probably the last thing anybody needs is a new batch of bills that can easily add up to thousands of dollars.

In that case, it might be smart to rethink taking that next drink, or if you do have “just one more,” handing the car keys to someone else.

All lecturing and moralizing aside, many Utahns may be surprised at how expensive it is for just one DUI. A first-time misdemeanor DUI can cost a bundle, risk your driver’s license, hike your car insurance for a decade and consume hours of time.

“I have to tell you, it’s huge,” said Jason Schatz, a Salt Lake attorney with specialized training who handles many DUI cases.

A basic first-time DUI can end up costing a minimum of more than $3,000 from the start—and that is calculated with a straight-up guilty plea, no attorney costs and no figures added in for higher insurance rates.

That amount easily could rise to $10,000 or even much, much more, if an individual were to include such things as attorney fees, a higher fine imposed by the judge and more expensive car insurance, which often can be the most costly part of a DUI.

The figure would jump alarmingly higher than that if an individual ends up needing in-patient alcohol treatment or loses a job because of a DUI conviction.

Schatz has many clients who want to fight DUIs in court and retain their driver’s licenses, and he pursues these cases vigorously. But even for the person who simply wants to plead guilty, take the penalty and get it over with, the financial repercussions are still rugged.

From his perspective, Utah is too tough on the first-time offender who may never have broken the law before.

“In my opinion, it’s going a little bit too far,” Schatz said. “I can understand much harsher penalties for repeat offenders. I weigh 185 pounds and if I have five beers while playing nine holes of golf, I’d be risking all these penalties. People who are 45-50 years old, who are playing golf or attending a wedding—all of this could come down on their heads.”

One woman’s story

Sarah (not her real name) was shocked at the financial and emotional costs of a first-time DUI arrest. She is a Utah County woman who is a mom, a manager at a respected corporation and someone whose previous run-ins with the law only involved a few speeding tickets.

She said she had three glasses of wine with friends one day after work last year, was pulled over and tested drunk on a Breathalyzer. However, her case was later dismissed and she believes it was because of huge discrepancies in what the arresting officer said on the squad car video, in a written report, in testimony at a driver’s license hearing and in court.

Still, it was a miserable—and expensive—experience.

“It was $8,000 and all kinds of humiliation,” she recalls.

Sarah wasn’t booked into jail, but had to call a relative to come and get her. “That was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.”

She does not approve of drunken driving at all and still is amazed she did something so stupid.

he sought therapy and learned she is not an alcoholic, but she did need counseling for problems dealing with stress, as well as family and work issues.

Meanwhile, she lost her driver’s license for a time and had to have a close friend drive her to and from work.

Sarah admits her conduct that night was wrong, but was stunned by what she learned about Utah’s laws and how she was treated by officials who handle these cases.

“Their attitude is, ‘You screwed up and too bad—we don’t want to help you in any way,’?” she said. “It may be your first offense, but it might as well be your 10th.”

She was so embarrassed she told no one except her family and the one friend who kindly gave her rides.

She said she has truly learned a lesson—if she drinks at all, which is sparingly and seldom, someone else always drives.

Financial toll

To get an idea of the financial impact, assume an adult driver gets pulled over by police for a simple DUI. No accident. No injuries. No property damage.

It starts as a class B misdemeanor based on a breath or blood alcohol concentration of .08.

 

  • If arrested and booked into jail, it costs $150 to pay a bail bondsman for 10 percent of the $1,500 bail needed to be released. The bondsman puts up the full amount, counting on the individual to go to every court hearing.

    “A DUI is a rather routine part of our business,” said Gary Walton, owner of Beehive Bail Bonds. “Not every county does the booking (into jail), but most of them do.”

    Whether jail is involved or not, state law will not permit a friend or relative to come get the car—it must be towed or impounded, according to Scott Price, a driver for Valley Service Towing.

     

  • The state also has set the towing fee at $121 per hour with adjustments for the cost of gasoline, he said. After that, the driver must pay a state-mandated fine of $330 to get a “letter of impound release” from the Division of Motor Vehicles that lets the towing firm give the car back.

    “The average car sits here four or five days, and the average cost is in the $200 range,” Price said, referring to towing and storage fees. These, of course, can vary.

    One problem that must be addressed immediately is getting a hearing with the Utah Driver License Division, which is a meeting where someone can argue to keep a license before a hearing officer.

    This must be arranged within 10 days after the arrest. Neglect this step and the license will automatically be suspended for 120 days.

    Not everyone ends up with a suspended license with a first-time DUI, but it is a possibility.

    The Driver’s License Division can suspend a license “administratively,” which means losing it for 120 days for someone over 21. Anyone younger than that can have the license suspended administratively for either 120 days or until the person becomes 21, whichever is longer, under a new law that took effect July 1.

     

  • Getting the license reinstated costs a total of $300 if it involves a DUI conviction.

    Schatz notes that it is possible for the Driver’s License Division to administratively suspend someone’s driver’s license—even if that person is later acquitted of the DUI charge in court.

    Any type of suspension, whether administrative or court-ordered, stays on a driving record for 10 years.

    Schatz said a suspended license can mean real financial hardship for someone who needs to drive for his or her job, such as a salesperson. It also makes it difficult for lower and even middle income individuals to get to work to pay all the fines and fees associated with any DUI. “Not everybody can afford a cab or has access to public transportation,” Schatz said.

    He advocates some type of temporary license that would permit restricted travel for such things as work or school. “A lot of states will allow for a work permit on a first offense.”

    Then it’s on to court.

     

  • For someone who pleads guilty to the first DUI, a judge will impose a fine that can range between $1,295 and $1,850 (the amount is up to the judge’s discretion), require either 48 hours in jail or 48 hours of community service, and put the person on probation for 12 months. If the judge orders supervised probation, which involves regular reports to a probation officer, it costs $30 per month, according to Schatz.

     

  • Judges also order an alcohol screening, with costs that can range from $50 to $150.

     

  • Utah also requires first-time DUI offenders to take a state-created class called “Prime for Life” administered by a number of private agencies, which typically charge between $200 to $350.

    Going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings cannot be a substitute for the class, although AA, which is free, is strongly recommended by most judges for a defendant who appears to be an alcoholic.

     

  • Schatz also notes that under the new regulations that went into effect July 1: anyone convicted of a DUI—even for the first time—now must rent an ignition interlock device for 18 months.

    The costs for this requirements can vary.

    Chris Muirbrook, who owns Guardian Interlock of Utah, said it costs about $35 to get the machine installed and he charges a monthly fee of about $70. Some firms charge $80 or more per month.

    Muirbrook said many DUI offenders are unaware they need the device and inadvertently risk getting into even more trouble.

    “Ask if you need it,” he recommends. “Some people get pulled over and didn’t realize that they did. I hear that every day.”

    Insurance woes

     

  • Then come the insurance issues.

    Alicia Rider, a licensed agent working for State Farm Insurance, said what happens next depends on the circumstances and the company the individual has insurance with.

    “If we had a customer and they were insured with State Farm and we found out they had a DUI, they would be cancelled,” she said. “We would then send you to another company, a high-risk company, and your rates would skyrocket at that point. Most of your big name companies will not touch anyone with a DUI.”

    Dan Naylor, an agent with Naylor Insurance Agency, doesn’t take such a dim view.

    Insurance rates vary and circumstances vary widely, he said. “You’ll definitely see an increase, but it’s really not as bad as people make it out to be. In some cases, an accident—any old accident—can be weighed just as heavily as a DUI.”

    Naylor said there are many complex factors involving the individual and the circumstances that influence insurance rates, so it is difficult to come up with any averages.

    Hypothetically speaking, let’s say he sells an auto insurance policy for Progressive Insurance that costs $500 a year. If that person gets a first-time misdemeanor DUI, the company will not cancel the policy, but definitely will raise the rates. The person might have to pay $200 more per year. Someone else might see a different increase, again depending on the varying factors.

    However, Naylor acknowledges that people who might have gotten a very good deal on car insurance from their original companies, only to be cancelled, the increase costs for a DUI can come as a shock. Their insurance could end up costing two or three times more than what they are accustomed to paying.

    As for Sarah, her arrest turned out to be a “life lesson” she said she will always remember.

    “I will not have one drink and drive a car,” Sarah said. “I think you should be able to have a drink and drive home, but in this state, with how much it costs, I can’t afford that risk.”

  • The state saw 15,683 DUI arrests in fiscal year 2009, which is 386 more than the previous year.
  • About 67 percent of the arrests were for first-time DUI offenses. Twenty-one percent were second-time offenders.
  • 76 percent of the DUI drivers were male.
  • People ages 25-36 were involved in 39 percent of all arrests; 10 percent were under 21.
  • The average blood alcohol content was .14.
  • Municipal justice courts handled 84 percent of the cases, while state district courts had 16 percent.
  • 75 percent of DUI cases in justice courts resulted in guilty verdicts or plea bargains; the figure was 59 percent for district court.

    Source: Seventh Annual DUI Report to the Utah Legislature

    e-mail: [email protected]

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